Sunday, July 23, 2006

On joga bonita (encore)

I thought this would be the last post on football (that is, soccer), the World Cup is over after all. Indulge me just once more.

Marginal Revolutionary has a theory about why he, and maybe many like him, doesn’t like football. The idea is this:
1. the rules of the game are simple, but a lot of complex interactions result from this simple set of rules;
2. it is hard to quantify what is a ‘good’ play (that is, the data cannot tell you which complex interaction is better), and a lot depends on intuition that are typically developed at an early age.

I am intellecutally attracted to empiricism — using ugly data to slay beautiful hypotheses, this is the scientific process. The beautiful game may just be the stuff of metaphysics. One can argue that with an average that is more than two (or is it three) standard deviations above the mean of all batsmen, Bradman is the greatest. One simply cannot argue for Pele or Maradona that objectively.

The Marginal Revolutionary likes basketball because it gives solid real time data that tells one how well a team/player is playing. I don’t like basketball because the real time data is ‘too good’ — the team that dominates statistically halfway through the game wins most of the time, there is very little chance of a turnaround.

Test cricket is a sport where there are plenty of good real time data, but where both teams get a lot of chance of turning things around. It is a sport with drama a-plenty, and the drama here is obvious to anyone who knows the rules. It has all the twists and turns of a high-profile double homicide or a lawsuit over the presidency, and yet, there is method in the randomness such that one can objectively judge the performance. And, with the over break every couple of minutes, marketing opportunities are unparalleled.

The question then is not why Americans don’t like football, the puzzle is, why test cricket is not the number one sport in America?