September 12, 2011

How Fantasy Sports Explains - Hurricane Irene


When Hurricane Irene was heading for New Jersey, where I currently live, it wreaked a lot of havoc on my fantasy football draft, which was very odd since the storm wasn't due to hit until sometime Saturday afternoon, and my draft was scheduled for Friday night. 

Part of the problem was that two of the owners in my league were vacationing in Ocean City, New Jersey and were told that there was a mandatory evacuation on Friday afternoon, and they had to pack up all their stuff and leave town, pronto. They ended up coming over to my house, ended up spending the night, and then headed out first thing in the morning so that they could get home to Connecticut in plenty of time to enjoy a power outage for over a week. 

Meanwhile, we got very lucky and although we lost one tree in the front yard, there was no significant damage, and in fact, we didn't even lose power. In fact, much of the area that was evacuated in South Jersey, because of the fact that the storm had weakened significantly by the time it arrived, ended up being just fine. 

What boggled my mind, though, as I watched the local television coverage as Irene slowly marched across the state of New Jersey, was how unwilling the anchors and meteorologists were to admit that the storm was not in fact going to be the end of life as we knew it, which is how it felt like it was being sold to the public by Governor Christie in an attempt to get people to evacuate in the first place.  

This footage - pretty much at the worst of Irene - was typical of how things were that night... certainly bad, but not nearly as severe as the "if you stay, you will die" tone before the storm arrived.

View more videos at: http://nbcphiladelphia.com.

One reporter for this station had been on the Atlantic City beach all afternoon, and each time the anchors threw to him, they'd say something like, "If you haven't evacuated yet, you need to do so... it is not safe to be in Atlantic City. Now, let's go to our reporter in Atlantic City...you look wet, Justin." And Justin would laugh and say he was and point to the one garbage can that had blown over as proof that the storm was going to be a killer. 

The fact is that we simply can't predict the path of a hurricane with complete accuracy anymore than we can predict how many yards a certain running back will gain when he takes the field this week. While we can get a general sense of the possible outcomes and potential paths that massive storms will travel, it's still only a guess -- just as we may have a sense that Steven Jackson is more likely to gain 100 yards than Ben Tate in any given week. But when Jackson gets hurt after two carries in Week 1, and Tate ends up as Houston's only healthy back halfway through his game, strange things can happen. 

Tate having 116 yards on the ground and Jackson only 56 was certainly not an expected outcome, but after having happened, it still wasn't an outcome completely out of whack with what someone might have predicted, albeit at the extremes.

So, while I am certainly not upset with the decision to evacuate coastal towns where the flooding could have been deadly -- because it certainly could have been that bad -- at some point, it would have been nice for the news to stop being fear-mongers and simply admit that the storm (thankfully) was simply not going to be as bad as it legitimately could have been -- just as at some point, although that point is not after just one week of play -- those who nay-sayed the fantasy value of players like Cam Newton should be willing to eat crow, provided he continues to excel.


I'll close with a video of a bit by Lewis Black, who correctly asserts that Al Roker and his ilk are often wrong -- by enormous proportions. I first saw him do a version of this bit in person in the early 90's, and at the time, he was talking about how if you predict 7 inches of snow and there's 14 inches of snow, nobody gets too upset because at least there was a "shitload of snow" but if you miss by the same amount in the other direction, and it doesn't snow, then there's going to be hell to pay. 

He closed the routine (when I saw it) by suggesting that if Roker wanted to impress him, he should predict something interesting -- like actual shitballs falling from the sky! "Get that right and maybe I'll listen to you from now on, but until then, no, I shan't be sure to bring my umbrella on this day."

My experience tells me though, that even if that was Roker's forecast, and it actually took place, a large majority of people would treat such an occurrence just like Cam Newton's Week 1, shrug it off and say,"He got lucky. Let's see him do it again." 

And so it goes...

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