Economics is not a zero-sum game. Regulators commonly assume otherwise. They think Firm A can’t grow without “injuring” Firm B somehow. There’s no accounting for the creation of new wealth and resources.In the artificial market of sports, however, there is a zero-sum game. There are 256 NFL regular season games. That means there are only 256 wins and 256 losses (excluding ties) to be allocated. Every team can’t finish 11-5.
In the sports market, you can do everything right in terms of hiring managers and talent and still not win many games for any of 100 reasons. And since the more successful sports leagues are closed systems, there’s generally no process for liquidating perpetually underperforming organisations. In most industries, the lesser firms can merge or reorganize; those options don’t exist in sports.
This is especially true in major college sports, where the teams are directly tied to universities. If School A has an underachieving football team, all it can do is fire the coach and hope the next guy does better. I’ve been reading Tweets today from Chadd Scott, a sportswriter and radio host, who has been banging the drum for Georgia to fire football coach Mark Richt. He thinks Georgia administrators and fans aren’t setting their expectations high enough and have settled for Richt.
Richt is hardly a loser. His record at Georgia is 96-36. Yet the last two-plus seasons have been mediocre, 14-14 since the start of the 2008 season. Scott says this is unacceptable and Georgia fans needs be more like their rivals in Alabama: “#Bama fans hold football program accountable to high standard of excellence YEARLY. No excuses, no exceptions. #UGA fans don’t.” As simple as that.
Or not. I get where Scott is coming from, but ultimately, there’s that pesky mathematical problem. Even if every team in the SEC aspires to be like Alabama and accepts “no excuses,” some teams will still underperform. If Georgia reaches Heaven, some other SEC school will march into Hell. It is literally impossible for every SEC team to succeed at the level Scott demands. And it’s really quite comical that he calls out Georgia fans for not setting more unrealistic expectations.
Now, that’s not a defence of Richt or Georgia’s recent performances. There may well be a better coach for Georgia who can elevate the program. Then again, there may not be. Alabama can set grand expectations with Nick Saban after plodding through the mediocrity that was former coach Mike Shula. But there aren’t 12 Nick Sabans to go around the SEC. In the end, you need talent to succeed, not screeching from sports-media Yahoos (not necessarily Yahoo Sports) about how you need to pound your fists and demand a “high standard of excellence.” That’s the kind of bullshit corporate managers come up with in “strategy” sessions. It doesn’t actually tell Georgia how to make its football program better. And it certainly doesn’t provide a realistic assessment of if that’s even possible given present constraints.
Georgia fans can rise up, oust Richt, and hire the flashiest and most expensive coach available. And the Bulldogs may still find themselves with the same record as Richt produced. That’s the problem with sports: Everything is designed to pull you towards mediocrity. Sports fandom isn’t about demanding excellence. It’s about coping with defeat in anticipation of receiving occasional rewards.
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