Saturday, January 12, 2008

Lies damn lies and sports

When I started following hockey and college football back in the Eighties I learned of the necessity for a difference between a winning streak and an unbeaten streak. (The same distinction is necessary in the NFL but ties are not common enough to make the difference salient.) For a while I thought it was just an optimistic and pessimistic way of saying the same thing. Then I learned that the semantics went beyond attitude.

So a winning streak does entail an unbeaten streak; and when a team ties a game the unbeaten streak continues but the winning streak is over. So an unbeaten streak is less impressive than a win streak. But it's not too shabby.

Because of the point system in hockey it was a relevant statistic. The team got two points for a win one point for a tie and no points for a loss. Well that changed several years ago. Ever since the 1999-2000 season a team earns one point if the regulation period ends in a tie even if the team loses the game during the overtime period. Of course the other team gets two points for the win. And now there are no more ties. The game will always be decided; if necessary by a shootout.

This has introduced a new phrase for another somewhat relevant streak: the point streak. Even if a team loses a game the streak is still intact as long as the regulation period ends in a tie. A winning streak entails an unbeaten streak which then entails a point streak. And of course a point streak is less impressive.

And as far as headlines and sports commentary go there are several other streaks entailed by all these so far mentioned.

One AP headline today announces the end of one team's streak that isn't very significant and really not too impressive:

  • Canucks' 14-game home point streak ends

  • Over the course of those 14 home games (which stretch back to Nov 9) the Canucks have also played 14 away games. Their record in those away games is 5 wins 7 losses and 2 overtime losses. Combined with their home record over that period (before today's loss) the Canucks have won 17 games and lost 11. Four of those losses were tied at the end of 60 minutes so they get moved over into the points column.

    There are several ways to make their performance sound impressive. One line late in the story extends the span of the accomplishment by mentioning that their previous home loss was back on November 1. That statistic give the illusion of adding more than a week to their streak even though their next home game (the game that started the streak) was 8 days later.

    Another trick to make their performance sound more impressive: They're second in their division: the Northwest division of the Campbell Conference. But they're technically the 5th place team in the conference. And they're 18 points behind the conference leading Detroit Red Wings.

    Sort the league into 2 conferences and it's possible for the best team in one conference to fall below the 50th percentile overall. Divide each of those categories into three divisions and it's possible for the best team in a division to be around the bottom 15th percentile.

    In sports such a case is unlikely. And this isn't such a case. The Canucks are not a bad team. And they haven't been playing badly over this span of time. They're comfortably over .500 in their record. But it's been no more than a mediocre run.

    17-11: and they get a headline calling it a streak.

    1 comment:

    1. You and your veiled attempts to brag up the Wings. I'm onto your games.



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