As more and more people become cordcutters, it’s useful to know how to watch the Super Bowl if you don’t have cable. Fortunately (or not), for the first time, they’ll be streaming the commercials while they’re shown on TV.

How Big-Time Sports Ate College Life

“Here is evidence that suggests that when your football team does well, grades suffer,” said Dr. Waddell, who compared transcripts of over 29,700 students from 1999 to 2007 against Oregon’s win-loss record. For every three games won, grade-point average for men dropped 0.02, widening the G.P.A. gender gap by 9 percent. Women’s grades didn’t suffer. In a separate survey of 183 students, the success of the Ducks also seemed to cause slacking off: students reported studying less (24 percent of men, 9 percent of women), consuming more alcohol (28 percent, 20 percent) and partying more (47 percent, 28 percent).

As much as I love college football, there is much wrong with institutional football especially given its tradeoffs with academics and misplaced priorities.

[Link to How Big-Time Sports Ate College Life]

On the Suarez Handball

[image source]

Luis Suarez will sleep well tonight and he shouldn’t. The best bit of acting today was by Suarez with his “Who me?” expression when the referee showed him the red card for thinking he was playing volleyball at the end of extra time. I believe that this was probably the most flagrantly deliberate handball I ve ever seen.

I agree and disagree with Dave Brockington here: yes, Suarez did cheat and he got caught (he wouldn’t have been sent off otherwise) and yes they should change the rule under those circumstances, the referee should be allowed to consider that a goal. I think that they should go even further: allow the goal, send the man off and give the attacking team a penalty kick. This is the type of behavior that FIFA should want to discourage.

Every time we see someone taking a penalty kick, Mercia always says “Poor goalkeeper!” I always say the pressure is not on the goalkeeper, but on the player(s) taking the penalty(ies). Today’s events have confirmed that for me yet again and I believe that there is absolutely nothing that can persuade me otherwise [source].

An otherwise liberal political blog, Balloon Juice has been hosting brief World Cup tidbits from their guest blogger, Randinho that I prefer to read every day. Admittedly, I’m a FIFA World Cup aficionado more than a football fan since I don’t follow club football much (if Suddenlink offers Fox Soccer Channel, I might be inclined to although ESPN3 is looking good now). This piece of opinion by Randinho perfectly captures my sentiments on the Suarez handball that sent Ghana crashing out of the World Cup.

Sure, Suarez was punished to the extent of the law but the context of his blatant foul meant that apart from missing the next match, his team and country hardly faces any consequences. It is like a cricket umpire giving an LBW and asking the bowler to try again and hit the stumps while the batsman stands aside. Suarez effectively converted a 100% likelihood of a goal into say, 70% likelihood. Given those odds (as long as they are below 100%, they are good), any player would have every reason to swat away sure goals especially for a knockout match in absence of a stricter punishment. I don’t even think you need technology to spot such kind of egregious fouls although I wouldn’t mind an instant replay review.

Without Suarez, Uruguay might lose its next match against Netherlands but in my opinion, they have lost all respect among all football fans. When you see their coach offer excuses like, “The hand of Suarez is the hand of God and the Virgin Mary — that’s how Uruguayans see it”, you know they are clutching at straws and trying desperately to regain lost honor. I was ambivalent about Ghana and Uruguay right up to that moment but now I wish Netherlands, the team I root for, crushes Uruguay just like Germany has been crushing its opponents. However, if Uruguay goes on to win the World Cup, I say FIFA fold away that Fair Play yellow flag that they trot out before every match because it is clearly not working.

Sports and Government Bureaucracy

Why I relate these stories, though, is to give a sense of how hard it was to make it in any Indian sport apart from cricket. Most of those sports are run by the government, and I don’t need to elaborate on the inevitable inefficiencies that result, and the hardships and bureaucracy that young sportspeople have to battle. You always feel that you’re fighting against the system, and whatever you achieve is in spite of it. I cannot stress this enough: To just survive the damn system, to keep playing the sport you love through years of this crap, you have to be made of stern stuff.

[Source: The Man with the Maruti 800]. Amit Varma in his weekly column for Yahoo India narrates his personal experiences on dealing with horrific conditions in order to compete at the state and national level. While I never competed at that level, my brother Aditya had similar experiences when he traveled to the Maharashtra hinterland (Kolhapur or Sangli I forget) for football. Fithly living conditions, inadequate food (brinjal was the staple food), and even more horrible sanitary conditions so much so that we had to unearth some remote acquantance in that town so he could use a decent toilet. Predictably, he never went back for the national selection.

Amit is right in pointing to government-run bureaucracies in sports. You only have to look at the state of hockey and compare it to cricket. However, Amit also points to East European countries in his column for their excellence in chess during the 80s. As we know, those countries weren’t exactly free-market utopias with privately-run sports bodies. Heck, China even today is a completely state-run machinery and manages to give the U.S. a run for its medals in the Olympics. While I don’t condone that model of nurturing sports either, why this disconnect? Why did India have the worst of both worlds?

Rio for 2016

Rio 2016Rio de Janeiro was selected as the host city for Summer Olympics 2016. Of course, in the United States, the news made more splash not because Rio won but because Chicago lost. What’s so special about yet another American city losing the Olympics bid after the fiasco at Atlanta, you ask? Well, this time President Barack Obama made a last-minute flight to Copenhagen to make a pitch for Chicago. So when Chicago got kicked out in the first round, it was naturally Obama’s fault because after all, Obama is considered a messiah not by his ardent fans but rather by his fiercest critics who expect him to churn out miracles because he speaks of hope. In fact, one IOC member from Kenya even voted for Nairobi after Obama spoke.

After all, why wouldn’t the IOC members vote for Chicago after being hypnotized by the magic of the black president regardless of the fact that the bid process started more than two years before Obama even started running for office. After all, George W. Bush was vilified by everyone after New York City with all its 9/11 memories lost the bid to London in 2005. Katrina wasn’t Bush’s watershed moment, no pun intended, but it was the rejection of the NYC bid. After all, how can a country recover when your Olympic bid is rejected? That’s why India takes part; the pain is simply unbearable and governments are toppled over the decision of 95-odd randomly selected sports officials of the IOC.

But of course, Obama didn’t know the perils of this rejection and was the only head of state who was in Copenhagen for support. King Juan Carlos and Prime Minister Hatoyama will not comment and insist they were hiking the Appalachian trail when asked where they were on that day. President Lula Da Silva only teleported to Copenhagen after the decision was announced. He wouldn’t want to stake his political future on such an important decision.

Back in the U.S., Obama’s critics were disappointed that he could not do what Hitler successfully did in 1936. If only the Olympics were held in black-dominated Chicago, a white man could sweep the track races and adorn the walls of uninspired white surburban kids in dorm rooms of Harvard and Princeton. The news channels suddenly discovered the high crime rate of Chicago before told that perhaps Rio has a higher crime rate and of course, seeing Cidade de Deus (City of God) on the weekend helped. But as the obviously obese Bill Bennet on CNN said it best, it is better to see girls in bikinis at Rio than fat men eating in Chicago. He followed it up by stuffing his face in a deep-dish pizza and commenting on healthy eating as the only healthcare reform we should adopt.

In order to silence the cheering in the Weekly Standard offices post-announcement of Chicago’s elimination and to respond to the general glee from conservatives, Barack Obama should immediately resign from the Presidency as atonement for his sins. Forget the economy, healthcare, immigration, wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the disappointment of not seeing synchronized dances at the opening ceremony in 2016 with people shouting USA! USA!! is crime enough.

Perfect Prediction

Mike Blowers of the Seattle Mariners makes the perfect prediction [YouTube]. I loved Rachel’s commentary, “accurate to the last detail, he is like Nate Silver”. Nerd!

Rules of Gully Cricket

Love this rule of gully cricket: “Overs are not necessarily six deliveries. Typically, only when a batsmen raises the question of remaining deliveries do overs come to an end” [source: to be revealed later]. More to follow. Name your favorite rules in the comments.

Cricket under attack in Pakistan

The Sri Lankan cricket team was attacked in Lahore injuring 7 players and killing five policemen. Is this the end of international cricket in Pakistan as we know it? Hosting the next World Cup is definitely out; and if it isn’t India should not go to Pakistan even if it is the goddamn final. It definitely puts a big question mark on those who had claimed that we should keep cricket and politics separate. Imagine the furore in India if any Indian players were attacked in Pakistan in the days following the Mumbai terror attack.

Imran Khan who had claimed that cricketers will never be harmed no matter how bad the situation got in Pakistan is eating his words now. The paranoid Australians come off quite wise now. It is time to quit trying all the people-to-people contact with Pakistan because it is clearly not working and Pakistanis have to get their shit together first because right now, it isn’t clear who exactly is running the country. In my opinion, like communism, Pakistan is a failed idea although I don’t know how to fix it.

Really, Kelloggs

Seth Myers on Kelloggs and the Phelps Bong controversy.

Priceless quote – “If your kids argue why can’t they smoke pot and Phelps can’t? The appropriate response is, you can AFTER you win 12 gold medals for your country.”

By the way, some Indian readers might be confused by why smokin a Bengali is such a bad thing. Isn’t Bipasha Basu just that and her sponsors aren’t dumping her?

Tough Guy Challenge 2009 Photos

Amazing photos from what they call the “the safest most dangerous taste of physical and mental endurance pain in the world” called the Tough Guy Challenge. Why ‘Tough Guy’ when I can see at least one woman in the pictures or is it generic as in ‘hey guys’? I love the guy in the Borat costume; you wouldn’t want to wear that when running through fire.

The Real Final Medal Tally

The 2008 Beijing Olympics finally concluded with yet another show of pomp and grandeur. So how did these Olympics fare compared to the others? As the BBC Olympics blog put it best, “there are really 204 different Olympic Games every four years – one from the perspective of every country taking part.” So for China, U.K., and India, they were awesome simply in terms of gold medals won (medal in case of India). For the rest? It depends.

If you’ve been watching the Olympics in the United States on NBC, you might get the impression that the U.S. ‘won the Olympics’. After all, almost any medal tally in the media showed U.S. at the top with 110 medals with China second at 100 medals in spite of the fact that the International Olympic committee ranks the countries by gold medals won. Jenna Wolfe, the afternoon NBC commentator loved to say that athletes go to the Olympics to win medals so that’s what she is going to consider. Well, if that were true then I’m sure Phelps would have been just as celebrated if he had won eight bronzes. It is one thing for a country like Togo or Mauritius to be satisfied with a bronze but it is strange when an Olympics superpower like the United States considers all medals equal. And yup, the U.S. ranked the countries by gold medals in the last four Olympics.

So NBC, let us give credit where it is due and acknowledge that China kicked our asses this time. You may choose to harp on favoritism for the host country, age of the gymnasts, and untold resources for athletes but then other countries who’ve have lagged might say the same about you.

Even though we were told ‘taking part’ is everything in the Olympics, everyone likes to look at the rankings. While countries might be ranked by gold medals won, let us not forget that silvers and bronzes are treasured as well. So by assigning value of 3 for every gold, 2 for silver, and 1 for bronze, we can calculate the ‘real total’ of the medals tally. Although I was going to run the analysis after the Games concluded thanks to the data available at Swivel, Ozan Onay had already done an excellent job and I’m reproducing his table(s) here:
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Rules of Celebration post-Olympic Victory

Olympic athletes train for a long time before it comes down to mere seconds in their respective races. Usain Bolt has been a phenomenon at the Post-Phelps 2008 Beijing Olympics and thanks to his cool Jamaican attitude, is also a crowd favorite. You may remember couple of Chinese fans sneaking into the group hug with Bolt’s family after his amazing 100m victory. Usain Bolt will be remembered not only for winning the 100m and 200m double after 24 years but more importantly for being the first man to do it in world record times. And what world records at that! He almost sauntered in to the finish line during the 100m celebrating and thumping his chest after the 80m mark while his equally celebrated competitors were still struggling hard. In spite of doing that premature celebration, he still smashed the world record with plenty to spare leading commentators to speculate how much more he could have broken it by had he continued his pace. The crowds loved it except for one man – International Olympic Committee (IOC) Chief, Jacques Rogge.

Usain Bolt CelebrationIn Rogge’s words, “I think he should show more respect for his competitors and shake hands, give a tap on the shoulder to the other ones immediately after the finish and not make gestures like the one he made in the 100 metres.” He went to say, “You don’t do that. But he’ll learn. He’s still a young man.” Excuse me, what does a sports bureaucrat know about celebrating post-victory? Being an Olympic athlete himself (sailing 1968 – 1976), he should’ve known better. Has he never watched competitive sports and not seen anyone else do it? A sportsman is anything but humble; the world generally excuses arrogance on the sports field and as Mohammad Ali said, it ain’t braggin if it is true. The morally bankrupt Olympic Committee criticized for accepting bribes to host the Olympics and looking away from China’s continued human rights violations is hardly the authority on good behavior let alone moral superiority [image source].

Wild exuberant chest-thumping celebrations are hardly new to sports. Even if we ignore those crazy and wild end zone celebrations in NFL, there are plenty of examples in Olympics itself. Phelps and his teammates screaming and stretching their arms after that fantastic 4×100 relay or Kitajima’s screams after each of his Olympic gold-winning victories, or even that famous Australian swimming team playing the air guitar after their unexpected victory following Gary Hall’s claim that Americans would smash the Aussies like guitars. Bolt’s celebration given his astounding achievements were hardly any different. Heck, Shawn Crawford the person who came in second defended Bolt, “To me, I don’t feel like he’s being disrespectful. If this guy has worked his tail off, every day, on his knees throwing up like I was in practice, he deserves to dance.” So if Bolt’s competitors have no problem, Rogges had little reason. I’ve seen my share of track and field events this Olympics and in no race has the winner gone over to shake hands with others; in fact others have congratulated the winner.

Is it because Bolt hails from a small country that has successfully swept the sprint medals? Or is it because the celebration does not follow Rogges idea of muted ‘sophisticated’ form of behavior? I guess it is somewhat like the reaction some Americans have toward the loud boisterous attitudes of African-Americans (think Punjabis in India) and it makes them look down on such behavior when in fact it is simply a different form of behavior that departs from their preconceived notion of the norm. Asafa Powell minced no words in saying just that after yet another gold for Bolt in the 4x100m, “the US did it all the time and nothing happened.”

We often get caught in the hype they try to sell us that Olympics is “we are the world” kinda mushy stuff but at the end of the day, it is an intensely competitive sports event. Victors are not only excused but in fact entitled to their choice of celebration.

“Michael Phelps is the new Chuck Norris. And Chuck Norris is fine with that.”

Michael Phelps at Conception

Michael Phelps at conception

Before Usain Bolt smashed those world records in 100m and 200m with astonishing ease, Michael Phelps and his record eight Olympic golds were the talk of the town. Of course, there were a couple of close shaves but Phelps literally demolished his opposition and now promises to return albeit with a less punishing schedule in London 2012. The fawning of NBC commentators notwithstanding, Michael Phelps is a genuinely talented and hard-working athlete who totally deserves his success. His comeback in the the 100m Fly against Cavic was breathtaking although some naysayers have their doubts. However, this video evidence is hard to argue with :) His 12,000 calorie diet and 96 km weekly swims for training is making waves not to mention his freakishly physique. A post on Gawker on his ‘freakish physique’ has tons of Chuck Norris-type homage messages for Phelps:

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Will they deport Henry Cejudo’s mom?

Olympian UndocumentedAlthough we have had an overindulgence of sappy Olympics background stories, this one is genuine. Henry Cejudo, 21 son of an undocumented migrant or like some like to call them, illegal aliens has just won the gold for the U.S. in the 55-kilogram wrestling event. His immediate reaction – “The United States is the land of opportunity. It’s the best country in the world and I’m just glad to represent it.” His mother worked two jobs to feed a family of six children on her own and Henry himself worked hard as a kid to put food on the family table.

Although his family and friends were in the stands during the final, his mom couldn’t make it understandably considering the country that his son won a gold medal for wouldn’t take her in (although the official reason is she is taking care of her grandchildren). While not condoning illegal immigration, Cejudo’s story reflects the majority of such immigrants who cross the border due to economic hardship and to avail of the opportunities that their native country did not accord them. Nativists would like us to believe that people like Cejudo are criminals and are a threat to the American society. I wonder if Bob Costas will cover this American dream story in tonight’s Olympic telecast.

But the important question here is will Lou Dobbs and his ilk now demand deportation of an Olympic gold medalist’s mom?

Comparing Medals Tally at the Olympics

Winning Olympic medals has been all the rage in recent times as more and more nations have managed to win medals. Of course, thanks to global realignment and de-colonization, it helps to have more nations with almost 205 participating in the Beijing 2008 Olympics. The top nations in the medal count has remained largely constant with United States, Russia (and former USSR), Germany (former East & West), Australia, Italy, and China (since 1984). After blanking out in Barcelona 1992, India has managed to win at least one medal in subsequent Olympics and even won an individual gold in Beijing. But how exactly do other countries fare given the variance in population size, geographic size, and resources available? Considering that the U.S. is a big-sized economy and the richest country in the world, does it give it an ‘unfair’ advantage in winning medals?

Given that more people you have, the more likely you are to win medals how would the tally look if you weight the medals tally by population:

Comparing medals

[source] Only Australia manages to retain its spot in the top ten with Bahamas faring exceedingly well (more than 6 medals per million population). Erstwhile Soviet provinces like Estonia, Slovenia, Belarus, and Latvia wriggle into the top ten as well showing the expansion of opportunities for athletes in those countries or simply indicative of the immense talent pool that the former Soviet Union used so well to win medals by the bucket load. If India won medals at the ability of Belarus, we would have gotten nearly 150 medals at Athens :)

But let us not simply consider number of potential athletes but put it in context of the country’s wealth (GDP):

medals by GDP

[source] Belarus, one of the top ten in the previous table manages to significantly improve its standing (Ethopia is the highest with a podium index of 87.5). The ex-Soviet states and other countries from Eastern Europe figure in the top again indicating the immense talent pool and ability to win medals in spite of relative less wealth in their countries. However, if those athletes train in developed countries like the U.S., then this method of comparison might not be entirely accurate because the athletes simply represent the countries and do not live or train there (e.g. Christy Coventry from Zimbabwe). The podium index for the U.S. is 0.9 and that of China is 3.7. Where does India stand you ask? Well, the podium index for India was 0.0001.

Slice it whichever way, India doesn’t fare well at all. After all, winning just one medal per Olympics is not going to help especially for a country with 1.1 billion people and a GDP of nearly 5 trillion. And these analysis additionally assume that a gold medal is on par with a bronze which we know is not the case. The commentator during the opening ceremony of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games remarked at India’s contingent size and medal tally for previous three Olympics compared to China since we have comparable population. And it didn’t make for easy listening.

How do we win more? Well, that’s something that is rehashed at the start of every Olympics and forgotten at the end of each event although reading Rediff comment boards can give you an insight into why we do not. Tyler Cowen at Marginal Revolutions blames “lack of government subsidies, low social mobility, nutrition problems, the relative lack of TV to inspire the young ‘uns…and bad roads.” Interestingly, he also mentions the high frequency of success for “non-democratic, authoritarian governments that feel a greater need to prove themselves on the international stage and to their people at home.” Rings true of China and Cuba and was very much true of the Soviet Union and East Germany. I say, we rather have a democracy than more Olympic medals if that is indeed a choice.

Update: If you are here for the 2008 medals tally, I’ve written it up here on basis of medals won as well as normalized by population and GDP.

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