Media · Sports

The follies of prognosticators

I no longer bet on sports. I discovered that the ROI is too small for me; even with all the knowledge I possess. I also do not have the bankroll to afford such a financial endeavor. Rule #1 about gambling: if you can’t afford it, then don’t play. Alas, I have known many gambling addicts. If you can bet on it, I have known someone who has. This includes, but not limited to: card games; lotto; table games; fantasy sports; political elections; award shows; video games; tile games; and of course, sports. All have their logical fallacies, but none are as worse as sports. And wouldn’t you know, there are more  sports prognosticators out there than you can shake a stick at. 

There is a reason why most “experts” out there have a 50% accuracy rate, (i.e.: a .500 winning percentage.) It is not because the powers that be in Las Vegas are that good at creating point spreads or betting lines. It is not because of the luck factor and the unpredictability of competitive sports. It is because sometimes they make arguments that make no sense. Here are a few examples. If you ever run across these reasons as to why a certain team is going to win, then go ahead and bet on the opponent. (This is not a complete list, so there may be a volume 2 sometime in the future…)

Logical fallacy #1: “I can’t see (Team X) losing”

This is the Stephen Colbert argument, where the prediction is based on gut feeling, rather than facts. In fact, most of these thinking errors can be simply reduced to, “Past performance is not necessarily indicative of future results.” In this case, this fallacy is applied to traditional powerhouse teams that are currently in a slump and/or down period. I do not understand how this line is constantly used without any followup. The point could be valid if one said, “I can’t see (Team X) losing because they are 20-30 year old grown men playing against a Junior Varsity High School team.” Don’t be surprised if you look back and find out that (Team X) was the prognosticator’s pre-season pick to win the championship, and is hoping against hope that the team will win in order to save face.

Logical fallacy #2: “This team is going to rebound after a tough loss last game.”

Going by that logic, every team would have a .500 record, and there would hardly be any winning streaks. Most of the time, you are going to see the words “pride” and “proud” used as part of their reasoning. Somehow, some people just believe that professional athletes have no pride in their job, just because they are getting paid. Motivational tactics work in the short-term, but most sporting contests last longer than the initial adrenaline rush. This argument, like most of these other false arguments, only apply when one team is clearly superior to the other.

Logical fallacy #3: “The third time’s a charm.”

This is usually used for the post-season, and/or the championship game/series. Once again, see the past performances disclaimer. The only way this argument makes sense if everything was constant. But it can’t. The players are older, (this assumes that this team made zero roster changes throughout this time), and the playing conditions are different, (e.g. the weather, the crowd, the officiating crew, and in most cases, the location). This also assumes that the opponent is also the same team all this time, which is hardly ever the case. Even if we assume that both teams are equal in skill and talent, this is no different from the coin-flip argument. That is to say, if a coin is flipped so many times and has always landed on heads, then the next coin flip just has to land on tails.

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Finally, here’s an anecdote: One Friday, I went to lunch with a co-worker who was a Oakland Raiders fan. He brought the New York Post with him in order to check the football predictions. He was upset when he noticed the majority of the sportswriters picked against the Raiders that week. I consoled him with the following, “Look at their betting records for the year. Most of them are under .500. And number two, it’s the f***ing New York Post! If they knew what they were writing about, they would be working for Sports Illustrated… or at the very least, the Daily News.” And I didn’t even like this guy! I think the Raiders won that Sunday.

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