Three Cheers For Standards

We are not involved with Twitter but somewhere we saw that The Donald had tweeted about the Kentucky Derby and concluded that, “The best horse did NOT win the Kentucky Derby – not even close!”  It happens in sports all the time that the best horse, dog, person, or team doesn’t win.  In some cases it is bad luck and in other cases they break the rules.  There were two cases of the latter that we observed yesterday.

The first was when Tottenham Hotspurs (Spurs) visited Bournemouth in a English Premiership soccer game the Spurs needed to and expected to win despite being the visitors.  The Spurs were third and Bournemouth 14th at the beginning of the match.  The Spurs needed a win to ensure playing in the lucrative Champion’s League next year while Bournemouth had no particular incentive.  The Spurs dominated most of the first half and only the heroics of Bournemouth’s debutant goalkeeper, Mark Travers, kept the game level.  Then, just before halftime, Son Heung-Min got a deserved red card for assaulting an opponent.  A red card means the player is out of the game and the team plays a man down for the rest of the game.  Two yellow cards equal a red so the coach, Mauricio Porchettino wisely, it seemed at the time, took out two players with yellow cards at halftime.  Yet one of the substitutes, Juan Foyth, earned a red card after just over two minutes of play in the second half.  The Spurs played nine versus eleven for almost the whole second half and finally gave up a goal in stoppage time to Nathan Ake (wouldn’t he look good in an Arsenal kit).  The Spurs were the better team but the referee, Craig Pawson, correctly enforced the rules that led to a different outcome.

The stewards at Churchill Downs did just what Craig Pawson did.  They enforced the rules under even more extreme pressure.  Maximum Security, one of the favorites, was first over the finish line but he clearly interfered with other horses near the top of the stretch.  Maximum Security was great coming down to the finish as he held off several strong bids including the long shot Country House who was second under the wire.  Maximum Security was, as The Donald said, a deserving winner of an exciting race.  But he interfered with and endangered horses earlier.  To almost everyone’s surprise the stewards did the right thing and disqualified Maximum Security making Country House the winner.

We wish The Donald was more attached to process rather than outcomes.  We want to remind him that it is about William Barr following process.  We think it is likely that William will find that some folks did not follow the correct processes.  But it is about doing it right like Craig and the stewards.  It is not about him bringing joy to The Donald.  We wish everyone on both sides of the aisle recognized that.


Soccer Rule Changes

NRO has reprinted Sami J. Karam’s suggestions for soccer rule changes under the title Soccer For Americans.  We guess that the title means that Americans would like soccer if it only changed its rules.  The problem that Sami focuses on is nicely illustrated by last night’s baseball game between the Nationals and the Marlins.  The Nats were down nine to nil going into the bottom of the fourth.  The Nats then scored 14 runs to take a five run lead only to see the Marlins score three to make it a nail-biter at the end.  On the other hand, when France scored the second goal versus Uruguay in the 61st minute (of 90) everyone assumed it was over.

Sidebar: When Japan went up two nil versus Belgium in the 52nd minute being earlier wasn’t the big difference.  The big difference was that Belgium had had numerous scoring opportunities and players with the skill to succeed.  Still, in order to win in regular time Belgium needed a blunder by Japan (not taking the corner short) and one of the great goals in World Cup history.  There can be comebacks in soccer but you need to watch lots of unsuccessful ones to see a success.  Sami does a good job of making that point.  End Sidebar.

Sami has three suggestions: change the rules for more goals, change the scoring, do away with penalty shoot-outs.  Sami’s only suggestion for more goals is changing the offsides rule which he concedes won’t produce much.  We are not impressed but there might be an idea out there that doesn’t change the game and produces more goals.

We like part of the scoring change idea.  Particularly we agree that a goal (notice the rhetorical device of implying that a penalty is not a “real” goal) should count twice as much as a penalty kick.  We don’t care if it is two versus one or one versus a half.  This will reduce the number of ties.  The rest we can do without.

Then there is doing away with penalty shoot-out and references this article with a list of alternatives to shoot-outs.  Other than the MWG recommendation that we reduce players we don’t see much interesting.  We do think that reducing players should be tied to increased substitution opportunities.  In this World Cup there is an extra substitution allowed in overtime.  We think that another plus allowing the removed players to be free substitutes would improve the quality of the overtime periods and decide soccer games with soccer.

It is highly likely that Sami’s first two suggestions will come to naught.  We still think fewer players and more subs in overtime means more goals.  Who can we find that can afford to bribe FIFA so we can get this fixed?


Soccer Tiebreakers

The World Cup has a problem with tie breakers.  First, Japan ousts Senegal based on FIFA Fair Play points

Sidebar: The terminology seems particularly ironic given the corruption that is endemic to FIFA.  End Sidebar

and then two of the first four knockout games are tied after 120 minutes.  They can’t make the teams play until a winner like hockey because they need to play in a few days and there are limits on substitutes.  Playing forever is unfair to the winner in soccer because it is a one game series.  Thus, FIFA goes to penalty kicks or spot kicks to resolve the tie.  It provides high drama but it isn’t soccer.

Here is how we think we could reduce the number of games that go to penalties.  We like the additional substitute that is allowed in overtime but we would go beyond that.  We would reduce the teams by by a man at the beginning of overtime.  But that man becomes an additional free substitute.  So you could take a star like Ronaldo out but then substitute him after a bit of rest.  Nine on nine in front of the goal keepers with, effectively two subs, should open up the game and lead to more goals.  We would even consider taking off a second player at the end of the first half (15 minutes) of overtime.  Let’s try it in a smaller tournament and see how it works.

Premiership Roars

We don’t know which the best team in Europe for 2017-18 is yet but we do know where the best league is: England.  There is a weighting issue but we think the decision can be made now.

Sidebar: The weighting issue is how you weight the group stage versus the knockout stage of the Champion’s League (CL).  An imprecise analogy is the NCAA basketball playoffs.  If your bracket has every game but the last one right you will probably lose because most of the games weight the final game heavily (see here).  The CL competition is different from the NCAA because the group stage involves four teams playing six games home and home versus common competition.  Still if you weight the championship highly enough then the story isn’t over.

We think the story is over because of all the data.  Seven countries qualified multiple teams with England (and Wales if you want to be precise) leading with five and Spain second with four.  There are eight groups of four with the top two in each group qualifying for the next stage.  Since none of the countries with two or three qualifiers sent all of them to the next stage we can limit our discussion to England and Spain. England had four group winners and one second.  Spain had one group winner, two seconds, and one third (not qualifying for the next round).  Advantage England.  What happened in groups with English and Spanish teams?  Three groups had Spanish and English teams.  It all three cases the English team finished ahead of the Spanish team including the Spanish elimination.

Was the English group domination happened because the strongest English teams met the weakest Spanish teams?  Liverpool (currently fourth in England) beat Sevilla currently fifth in Spain).  Chelsea (third in England) beat Athletico Madrid (third in Spain).  Tottenham (sixth in England) beat Real Madrid (fourth in Spain but the defending CL champion).  In short, the England-Spain competitions seemed reasonably fair if not favoring Spain.

We think it is more likely that a Spanish team will lift the CL trophy but the best league should be heavily weighted on the large number of observations in the group stage.  Spanish teams would have to dominate the knockout stages for us to reconsider the 2017-18 league ranking.

Book Analysis

We are big fans of Iceland: The place, the soccer team, and Arnaldur Indridason.

Sidebar: We saw the Iceland soccer team play a FiFA qualifier in Reykjavik in 2002 or so.  They tied an eastern European team, Romania, we think.  The echoing cheers of Is-land and the folks that looked like Vikings made the game great fun.  We enjoyed, on TV, their success at the recent European tournament.  End Sidebar.

Arnaldur has written many books about Inspector Erlendur but we just finished reading a stand alone book: Operation Napoleon written in 1999.  All the books are written in Icelandic and translated into British English.  It might be described a political fantasy that pokes fun at Americans and Icelanders alike.  What got our attention was this on page 50:

“They [American politicians] were always putting themselves centre-stage.  Especially Democrats, with their demands for open government, for having everything transparent and above board.”

When we first saw it we thought that Arnaldur was just another clueless European leftist but the rest of the book led us to believe he as capable of deeper insights.  We would like to ask him but we think it is tongue-in-cheek.  Remember that is was published in 1999 so it was written during the height of one of the Clinton scandals.  Democrats arguing for open government would have seem dated by then.  Certainly Obama has convinced everyone that the Venn Diagrams of open government and Democrats do not intersect.

Arsene And Arsenal

Arsene Wenger and Arsenal have agreed to a two-year contract extension.  CNN thought he might be out a few months ago.  The put it this way:

Arsene Wenger admits his future should have been resolved sooner, but is “committed” to Arsenal and “forgiving” of his detractors.

Arlene’s extension was controversial.  It also goes against the grain as soccer managers are usually fired regularly.  Arsene was hired on October 1, 1996.  The second most senior manager in the 20-team English Premier League (EPL) started in 2012.  Other European leagues have similar tenures.

It was controversial because Arsenal was thumped by Bayern Munich in the Champion’s League and finished fifth in the EPL. They did end up with the most points ever for a fifth place team and won the FA Cup for the third time in four years.  Arsene has the record for FA Cup wins.

We support the extension because there is only one Bill Belichick.  What would have happened if the Browns kept him as head coach?  Is it really the intersection of Bill, Tom, and Robert?  A more relevant question is what would have happened to the Philadelphia Eagles if they kept Andy Reid as head coach?  Wikipedia tells us:

Reid was previously the head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles, a position he held from 1999 to 2012.[2]From 2001 to 2012, he was also the Eagles’ executive vice president of football operations, effectively making him the team’s general manager. He led the Eagles to five National Football Conference (NFC) championship games, including four consecutive appearances from 20012004, and one Super Bowl appearance in 2004. Reid was fired by Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie following the 2012 season.

Reid was hired by the KC Chiefs shortly after his firing by the Eagles.  In the four seasons that followed the Chiefs have been 43 and 21 and made the playoffs three times with one win while the Eagles are 34 and 30 with one playoff appearance.  Arsene is not Bill but he is a consistent proven winner like Andy.  Arsenal is better off with him then in the job market.  The constant turnover of coaches tells us that players matter and the next coach is rarely perfect either.

Good Sporting Fortune

When you have been involved in sports as a player and fan as long as us you know about random shocks to the system.  Today Arsenal overcame a red card to Granit Xhaka in the 65th minute.

Sidebar: A red card means you play a player short for the rest of the match.  In this case Arsenal was a player sort for over 25 minutes.  End Sidebar.

Arsenal scored on a 98th minute penalty to escape Burnley at home 2-1.  An expected win became a miracle escape.  They now sit second in the table.

On this side of the pond, the Patriots benefitted from an injury to Le’Veon Bell and defeated the Steelers convincingly, 36-17.  As sports fans, we know that there is both skill and randomness involved in these outcomes.  It brings you joy when the outcomes favor your teams.  Now we try to catch Chelsea and beat the Falcons.  Neither is assured but the latter is more likely but we know from experience that anything can happen.