On Sports Analysts and Accountability

11/6/12 in NFL   |   Trokspot   |   65 respect

A good friend* of mine said something to me my freshman year of college that has always stuck with me, and seems especially relevant as of late. It may not seem like the most profound or prophetic statement ever made, but as I said, it’s stuck with me for quite some time.

“The thing about sports analysts is that they have no accountability for their opinions, predictions, or picks.”
[Roughly paraphrased from memory.]

An astute observation. Something that I had never thought about, nor been forced to think about up to that point (I never really had access to cable television before college *gasp* and was thus not nearly as exposed to the plethora of analysts and sports talk shows that now flood various networks).

This statement about lack of accountability seems especially relevant during football season (though it surely applies to other seasons as well). Every week day, we are exposed to a barrage of analysts offering “expert” thoughts, picks, and opinions on current happenings. It seems that the first couple days of the week are spent trying to explain away or rationalize their blown picks (or conversely, play up those picks that they got correct – thus legitimizing their “expert” status). The second half of the week begins the build-up to the upcoming weekend and submitting a new set of “expert” picks for the next set of games to be played. I’ve come up with three different categories that help analysts shirk some of this accountability or responsibility for their sometimes dismal picks:

“Shoulda, woulda, coulda…”: I can go back after the game has been played and break down the events of the game to show that my pick was valid.  By pointing out “fluke” plays that did (or didn’t) happen, I can show why my pick is still correct (even though it’s not).  If only my (or the opposing) team had done what they shoulda/woulda/coulda done!

-If the team I picked would have just made(stopped) that one play…
-If team x’s coach would have played the right personnel…
-Player y never has a big game. That was a once in a lifetime performance and they would never win if they played again…
-They got a lucky break…
-If only the team I picked would have scored more points than the other team, we would have won! [Yes, you are exactly correct there.]
 
Hedged bets: I talk enough about sports and make so many predictions that surely at least some part of my prediction is correct. And if I make certain qualifications to be met for my picks to be valid, then I can never be wrong, right?!

-Well I know that I picked team x. But I did say that team y was a dangerous team on the move, so really I kind of called it…
-I said that player z needed to have a great game for my team to win, so I wasn’t wrong because he didn’t have a great game (like I thought he would)…
-Well I said that I was going “out on a limb” with this pick, so I knew that they weren’t really supposed to win…
-I picked team y early on to win the division, so even though I picked against team y this week (and they won), I’m still not wrong…
 
Controversial claims: I will make seemingly wild predictions and stick to them because it stirs up controversy and garners attention. Plus, when I do (rarely) get them right, then it makes me look like a really smart guy with some kind of secret formula or insider information.

-I was going out on a limb to make this pick because I’m so clever that I saw an angle no one else saw (I just happened to be wrong)…
-Everyone else made that pick; I was the only one who had the courage of my convictions to make a bold prediction…
 


Is there a precise “science” to these picks? No. Otherwise, we might expect a bit more – oh, I don’t know… – precision! But we don’t see that. And yet, we see these same analysts back on air week after week with newer, bolder, more certain predictions and analysis. They’re the “experts” even when they’re wrong; we rarely hold them accountable for poor performances (though with more and more interaction and access through sites such as Twitter and Facebook, we do see at least a little pushback from the Average Joe Fan critiquing some analysts).

After all, isn’t that why we watch the games; you are never certain about who is going to win. “Any given team can be beaten at any given time.”  That’s one of my dad’s favorite sports quotes, and it illustrates that exact point. If experts’ predictions were always correct, then we wouldn’t need to play the games.  But no one really knows. (Until it happens, and then those who were wrong – but are clever enough – can surely explain why their pick was actually spot on.) Sure, some of us are probably more knowledgeable and more accurate than others, but even then it’s a bit of a crapshoot. (March Madness, anyone?)

So should we rail against these experts every time they are wrong? No, not necessarily. But we also shouldn’t hold them up as if they are omniscient experts of the games. And we should not let them completely off the hook by hedging their bets every week or talking their way out of every missed pick with “shoulda/woulda/coulda’s,” or discounting them as simply making bold or controversial claims among other excuses… A little accountability may not be a bad thing.
 


*I did not consult my friend with any of the content of this post; I cannot say that he would agree with the content here or with how I have taken his quote and run with it. This was a quote from several years ago, but it was the impetus for my own awareness of some of these things, and I feel that it’s interesting to think about as we see the parade of analysts and hosts discuss and rehash these topics every day. 
 
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