Inefficiencies in sports

Via Kottke here is a (two-week-old) Wall Street Journal article about how sports strategy improves relentlessly.
Considered more broadly, Constructal Law may be the closest thing to a grand unified theory for the evolution of sports. In a sports context, the river is the relentless search for the easiest way to score or win more often. In soccer, there is the indefensible through-ball, passed between two defenders to a striker sprinting into open space. In basketball, the two-handed set shot eventually gave way to finding the tallest, fastest players who could jump the highest and dunk.
I've had this thought before; I think that the worst teams that play today could beat the best teams from twenty years ago. Teams adjusting to a rule change resemble a new marketplace; some try out outlandish new things, evaluate their success and the best solution emerges quickly. This is why every team at the Olympics almost exclusively used the pick & roll; when you have shooters and good ballhandlers it's close to impossible to prevent a team from getting a good shot. Furthermore this is why the referee's decision to award penalty kicks has taken on an increased importance in soccer, and diving has become such a problem; free goals are few and far between, so it's worth taking a risk to earn one. Sometimes the efficient outcome in a sport makes the resulting game pretty ugly. That's when rulemakers have to step in and change things. Twenty years from now I hope people will be embarrassed at how many football coaches punted and kicked one-point PAT's, and how many baseball teams used sacrifice flies and sacrifice bunts.

Liked what you read? I am available for hire.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Comments are heavily moderated.