Thursday, January 05, 2006

When’s a win not a win?

Mark Brown celebrates Longhorn victoryThe University of Texas Longhorns beat USC in the Rose Bowl last night. OK, so I’m a little partisan, but 41-38 is so close that if this were The Other Football (aka soccer) it would be a draw.

When a game is won, journalists find endless explanations for why the winning team won. But in a very close game it could easily have gone the other way, and they would presumably then have found good reasons why the other team won. (The generalization to the writing of history is left as an exercise for the reader.)

It set me to thinking – when is a win actually a draw? A very close game like this is a good candidate. On the other hand, a 63-25 score is a pretty unequivocal win.

The point spread limit that would indicate that one team’s victory over the other was just a matter of luck would depend on factors like:
  1. The point spread as a percentage of the score, 7-3 is more of a win in America football than 34-30.
  2. The typical scoring pattern in a type of game: a 3-0 win in soccer where few goals are scored is conclusive, whereas a 3-0 win in American football is a essentially a tie (and probably considered immoral, given that Americans like high scores in everything)
  3. The pattern over a series of games. If the Red team beats Blue consistently but always with a small margin, one could assume they’re the better team.
I’m hoping one of my Dear Readers will be able to point me to the appropriate research paper. I expect that these are the kinds of questions economists think about in their spare time.