Archive for the ‘Sports’ Category

Tour Challenge …

November 11, 2018

So, I just finished watching the women’s final of the Tour Challenge in curling about a half-hour ago, and so figured with my week still being pretty busy it would be a good idea to write down my thoughts on it today. And there are a number of things to talk about.

First, let me talk about Kerri Einarson’s team, a team made up entirely of former skips. This team is a bit of a danger to curling as we know it, because if it came together and dominated then it would shatter a lot of notions about curling. First, it would challenge the idea that the different positions required different skills, and so the idea that having talented leads and seconds, at least, who were experienced at that position mattered. If these skips could come in and make the traditional lead and second shots and, more importantly, handle the sweeping demanded by that position, then it wouldn’t seem to be that important to have skilled leads and seconds as opposed to having really skilled players in those roles. Second, Canada, at least, has put a big priority on sending the best teams rather than putting together a team of the best players to go to events like the Olympics. If throwing these great players together paid off really quickly, then that would challenge that idea, and suggest that maybe we should just assemble a team of the best players to get our best chance of winning.

Now, these are all very skilled players, so they were going to have at least some success early. The fear would be if they were dominant and just winning everything in sight. But they aren’t. They’re doing well — I think they’ve made the semi-finals in their first two Grand Slam tournaments — but haven’t made let alone won a final. So the experiment is still on-going. One thing that has made this work better than it might otherwise is that all four players talked about it beforehand and decided to do it, and have accepted what their roles on the team are and dedicated themselves to that role. Throwing together teams at the last minute might not accomplish that. Still, it’ll be interesting to see what happens as the season goes on and especially what happens at the Scotties.

Another things that’s interesting is that a lot of the time big ends are still being scored because of big and uncharacteristic misses by one team, especially on draws. In the games I watched, hits tended to be missed because the margin of error was incredibly low and they were trying to make a very fine shot at it. But draws were often missed badly, with the rocks going through the rings or stopping short (in one game, the skip missed one deep and then missed the next very short, which is at least understandable). What seems to be happening is that the ice is changing over the course of a game. If a lot of draws are being made on one side of the sheet and the sweepers are sweeping them like crazy, it polishes the ice a bit and makes the next rocks slide more, creating slide paths. On the other side, then, it at best stays like it was in the beginning of the game but also can build up some frost and get even slower. This means that draws are more guesswork than normal, which makes relying on draws dangerous even for teams that can really draw. But while hits are more flashy, draws and freezes set up more interesting ends. I hope this trend doesn’t continue.

As for the event itself, Anna Hasselborg decided to not attend this event — she’s preparing for the European Championships — and so gave someone else a chance to win. Rachel Homan — who made the finals in the last event — made it to the finals again to face Tracy Fleury, who was skipping Kerri Einarson’s old team (and beat Einarson’s team in the semis). Homan was pretty dominant, taking two threes to end up winning 8 – 4. But this highlighted that while adding in the five-rock rule was supposed to allow for more comebacks, the big impediment to comebacks is the fact that at the Grand Slams they only play 8 ends. Fleury was down 7 – 2 after 5, took 2 in the sixth to trail 7 – 4 … and then immediately had to go all out to steal because even giving Homan a single point — which is what happened — would leave an insurmountable lead. Homan in fact was even willing to give up a steal of one in the end because being up by 2 with only one end to play was a pretty good situation. If there were three more ends to play, she couldn’t have done that, and Fleury could have been content to force Homan and try to get two in the eighth to be down by two with two to play. She probably still couldn’t have made the comeback, but it would have been a lot easier than it was. Fewer ends means that big scores on any one end are more momentous because there’s less time to overcome them.

Well, that was the Tour Challenge. The next event is the Boost National in mid-December.



October 29, 2018

So, you’re going to get a rarity: two posts on the same day! This is because I really want to talk about those horror movies that I’ve been watching this week because it aligns nicely with Hallowe’en, but there was curling on over the weekend and I can’t miss an update on that. So, two posts.

This event was the Masters, which is a return to more normal curling play. However, this year they say that they’re going to the five rock rule which is different from what had been played before. Essentially, rocks out front of the house — commonly called guards — can’t be removed until five rocks have been thrown, whereas before that could happen after four rocks have been thrown. What it really means is that the team that holds hammer — throws the last rock in an end — now can set up two guards that can’t be removed immediately, and so can force the team without hammer to do something other than simply peeling guards away on their third shot. This should result in more rocks in play, or more risky tick shots — moving the guard out of the way without removing it — that can fail and so leave more options for the team with hammer. It’s basically a limitation on defensive play and was touted as being a way to allow for more comebacks, which got be grumbling because on the Grand Slam Tour the biggest thing preventing comebacks is that they play two less ends, and so if you get down at about the fourth or fifth end it’s almost impossible to come back because you have to go for drastic measures to score rather than being able to nibble away at the lead like you see in the international game, which goes to ten ends.

And, of course, soon after Nina Roth made a comeback from being down 7 – 3 to Jennifer Jones to win that game.

The move did seem to increase scoring. Or, at least, there was a lot of scoring happening. But a lot of the time the big scores happened because one of the teams made an egregious error. In general, they weren’t forced into trying a risky shot and missed by inches leaving them in a bad spot, but instead made completely unforced errors on shots that we would expect curlers at that level to make almost all of the time. Even in the finals, the key shot was Rachel Homan clanking a guard that she should have been able to get by, leaving an easy hit for Anna Hasselborg to score three points. And Hasselborg herself had her team miss two shots because they picked up some debris or frost, lost the handle, and just died (although those misses weren’t as dramatic). Far too often, the key shots were egregious misses which resulted in big ends. But it’s not fun to watch egregious misses cost games. It’s fun to watch curlers have to make incredibly precise shots, and if they miss those shots have the other team take advantage. Forcing a team to make an almost impossible shot is fun even if they miss it (Hasselborg, I think, was forced into one of these in the final and missed it giving Homan multiple points). Having a team fumble away multiple points is more frustrating than entertaining.

And that leads me to comment on something that I’m noticing in curling mostly but also in other sports: the push for more scoring. More scoring isn’t always better and doesn’t always make for a better game. First, if more scoring happens because you take away tactical concerns — ie the planning and set-up that is normally required in curling — then curling loses one of the things that makes it uniquely interesting, in my opinion. Second, if more scoring becomes expected — in curling, threes become common — then it becomes commonplace, and no longer special. We no longer ooh and aah over a shot for three because we’ve already seen two of those in the game and it seems like it happens in every game we watch. What curling should really want is for it to be the case that big ends are possible, but not frequent, so that the team still really has to make great shots to do so. So far, I’ve seen it be a bit too easy to score big ends, especially considering the big misses that also seem commonplace on tour.

The semi-finals were interesting for me, since they featured Homan vs Chelsea Carey and Hasselborg vs Casey Scheidegger. I mused about whether I’d like to see a match where I liked both teams or where I only really liked one of them. Since I don’t care much about Hasselborg at all — I don’t dislike the team but she tends to beat teams I like better — or Carey — now that she no longer has Cathy Overton-Clapham on her team — it ended up with the latter which made it easy for me to decide who to cheer for, but I think I prefer watching two teams that I want to watch than having it be easier to figure out who to cheer for.

And, of course, Hasselborg beat a team I liked again, winning 8 – 7 with that three in the 8th on that missed shot from Homan. Hasselborg has now won the first two Grand Slam titles on the women’s side.

Next up is the Tour Challenge next week.

Elite 10

October 1, 2018

So, last week I had promised to give my final thoughts on “Dynasty” today but had forgotten that I’d have something else to talk about: curling is back, with the Elite 10! This is the first year that they have an explicit women’s division of 10 teams although Rachel Homan played in it once a couple of years ago, which meant that I would actually watch it since I only watch women’s curling.

At any rate, Anna Hasselborg managed to win her first Grand Slam title — after losing her previous three attempts, including one time against Val Sweeting where she essentially choked — over Silvana Tirinzoni. It was a final that had two teams that I don’t really care that much for one way or the other, and the big difference seemed to be that Tirinzoni — who throws third rocks even though she’s the skip — didn’t play very well.

The Elite 10 uses a match play format, and I think that it was really hurt by the fact that on the Grand Slam they only play eight ends instead of ten. I’ve commented on how that has an impact before, but here it’s even worse. When you hit the sixth end and are up by 2 ends, it’s pretty much time to coast. Yes, teams can come back — Casey Scheidegger did it against Rachel Homan — but it’s really hard and a team there is forced to be really aggressive in order to do that, because a push is not going to be helpful. So the games seemed to generally start with a short feeling out period — as in curling ice conditions can change quite a bit from game to game or even from sheet to sheet — and then one team got up some and either kept rolling or just hung on and won. Those two extra ends can really help to make comebacks easier to achieve, and comebacks are one of those things in sports that everyone pretty much wants to see, because they’re so exciting.

But then it seems to me that sports these days are focusing on speed rather than on making things interesting, and are doing so in a way that makes games go faster and/or have less downtime without considering that sometimes the downtime is actually interesting. Here, they were trying out changing the time clock, where instead of having a set amount of time for the entire game the teams are each given four minutes per end to make all of their shots. One of the commentators commented that he liked it because it avoided the people who would bank time early in the game to use it later when things were more complicated or more important. Except that that point of the game is when you’d both have a really complicated situation — where it isn’t clear what the right decision is — and where the end is really important, as the game is likely tight and a wrong decision can be the difference between scoring a lot and getting back into the game and giving up a huge score and being out of it. These are precisely the times when there just is lots to think about, and where the discussions are actually interesting. If the fans know curling well, they’re going to be thinking about the shots in the same way as the players will. If they don’t and are watching on TV, the commentators will be going through that same thought process, or listening in on the players as they go through it, which is interesting. And even live and in-person they might be able to listen in on the players, as curling has gotten pretty good at making the audience in general feel like part of the game by doing so. So this sort of change runs a greater risk that teams will have to rush shots or consideration just because they have no time left and trades that rushing for speeding up the game when the slowing down of the game is the most interesting, tense, and suspenseful. I don’t see that as a good trade.

And on top of that, while banking time is boring because it’s all standard shots and everything stays open, it’s also quick and so doesn’t bore the audience that much. So you trade a fast but dull end earlier for a slower but more suspenseful one later.

There has to be room for slower and more considered sports in the sporting market. One of the things that curling is really good at is combining considered strategy with actual play. It is a bit like chess where every move you make can have an impact later on in the end, and so even trivial moves or misses can be important later. And often it isn’t even clear how that shot will have an impact, because that missed guard that came too close to the rings might be used for a runback or in-off later. So curling can allow you to consider each shot in the context of the entire end and so pondering or listening in on these discussions is one of the interesting parts of the game, and is something that you don’t really get from any other sport. Rushing the teams takes that away for a nebulous goal of “Make it faster!”, which doesn’t seem like much of a benefit to me. It seems to me that curling would be better served trying to fill that niche rather than making themselves just another “action” sport, where they simply can’t compete due to the nature of the game itself.

Anyway, those are my thoughts on the Elite 10. Next up is the Masters, where I hope to finally see the all-skip team … and not just because Val Sweeting is on that team [grin].

Sports Drought …

September 19, 2018

So, one of the main reasons that I’ve been able to watch so many DVD movies lately is because of something that I haven’t been doing: watching a lot of sports. Normally, I watch baseball a lot, or even NFL football, but that’s fallen off a bit and there aren’t very many sports on the horizon to take their places.

For baseball, the Toronto Blue Jays have had a very weird and poor season, with lots of injuries, key players not performing, and an inability to even trade for any exciting prospects because of the aforementioned injuries and poor performances. Most of the players on the roster are players that I haven’t seen before this season, and those are the ones that tend to be doing the best, for certain values of “best”. They have long been out of playoff contention and aren’t really all that fun to watch beyond that, with few players to really cheer for, and the ones that there are ending up struggling at some point. Plus, they’ve run a lot of 4 pm games on Saturdays, which is a pretty inconvenient time for me to watch. And while some other teams are shown at times, I generally don’t care about them until the playoffs. So it’s no wonder that I’ve put watching movies ahead of watching baseball.

The CFL, of course, has been running for at least half a season now, I think, or maybe for most of it. Not only do they play their games at very inconvenient times for me, in the East the Montreal Alouettes are still in the playoff hunt despite having won only 3 of 12 games. Then again, the Redblacks are actually above .500 and are on top of the standings, so that’s something, at least. Still, no afternoon games early in the season meant little reason to watch when they did have some on Labour Day, because I had no investment in any of the teams at all.

The NFL just restarted, but again I don’t really care about those teams so if I have to choose between movies and the NFL movies win.

On the horizon, hockey is about to restart, but my favourite team, the Ottawa Senators, is an absolute mess right now with all sorts of odd situations going on, and my childhood favourite team, the NY Islanders, lost their best player to the Toronto Maple Leafs in the off-season and they weren’t a very good team before that, so when all of that is added to their games generally being on at inconvenient times I’m not feeling motivated to watch hockey right now.

But the future may be brighter. In addition to the baseball playoffs, the curling season is about to start! So that should give me something to watch.

Although, any player on any of my favourite teams might want to be careful for the next little while. Just in case.

Carrier on Pay Equity in Men’s and Women’s Sports

June 29, 2018

So, I talked about part of Carrier’s discussion of women’s sport in a previous post. That one focused on whether men prefer to watch men’s sports and on the quality of play and competitiveness and a bit on how that might impact audience. In this post, I’m going to talk about pay differences in general and reiterate a bit about what I think the solution is.

(Note that Plum has made a couple of response videos at his channel. Since there are two 45 minute videos there and since I don’t really like to watch videos and certainly have issues responding to them as it’s hard to quote them, it is likely to take me quite a while to get back to them).

Anyway, the big problem Carrier has with Plum’s original video is actually a minor point in it: that women’s groups are asking for the exact same pay as men in sports:

Apart from village idiots, amateur activists and internet fools—and not, for example in this case, the actual athletes in question or a professional journalist or analyst—no one has ever said all women in sports should always get paid the same as men regardless of associated revenue. In some cases revenue isn’t even relevant (e.g. national Olympics teams do not exist to earn revenue). But when it is—free market commercial sports—disparities aren’t all explained by revenue. The gender pay gap in sports has actually narrowed a lot in the last ten years (most reports show it went from achieving effective equity in about 20% of all sports to now over 80% of them), but in many cases it remains in defiance of any proportion to revenue. If one team brings in the same revenue as another, those teams should be paid the same. But sometimes that isn’t happening. And that’s what angers people. People who know what they’re talking about.

Now, this is a strong, strong statement, and so you’d think that Carrier, thus, would provide strong evidence that this is actually the argument. But he provides no evidence that this is what people are asking for. Sure, Plum should have provided evidence that this was the at least typical demand, but Carrier should have provided evidence that it isn’t. I can concede that people who actually know the sports aren’t in general demanding that women’s athletes get paid the same as men in leagues and the like where that would be significantly more than the revenue the sport takes in, but I’m not willing to concede that they only want the same percentage of revenue in all or most cases, or that beyond that rather obvious point they take revenue into account at all.

The problem is that Carrier links to a place that talks about pay inequity specifically and yet only quotes this from them:

  • Attend women’s sporting events
  • Support companies that advocate for women’s athletics
  • Encourage television stations and newspapers to cover women’s sports
  • Sign up to coach a girls’ sports team, whether at the recreational or high school level
  • Encourage young women to participate in sports
  • Become an advocate: if you are or know a female athlete that is being discriminated against—advocate for her rights.

He then says this about them:

Notice what’s not on the list: asking for equal pay regardless of revenue draw. They well know the gap is more a product of women being ignored, than of their being paid inequitably (even though there is evidence many still are, hence the points above; although note: progress on that score has also been moving fast).

But note what’s also not on the list: asking for equal pay based on revenue. In fact, there is nothing in that about pay inequity at all, despite that being the title of the article. And this only gets worse if you look at the article and realize that they talk about pay inequities and that that discussion actually supports Plum’s point better than Carrier’s:

Gender Equity in Professional Sports

  • At the end of each World Major Marathon (MMM) series the leading man and woman each win $500,000, making a total prize of one million U.S. dollars. The WMM includes the New York Marathon, the Boston Marathon, the London Marathon, the Tokyo Marathon, the Berlin Marathon, and the Chicago Marathon.
  • In 2007 Wimbledon announced for the first time, it will provide equal prize purses to male and female athletes. All four Grand Slam events now offer equal prize money to the champions.
  • When the Association of Surfing Professionals was acquired in 2012, now known as the World Surf League, the new ownership made it a policy that the men’s and women’s Championship Tour events have equal prize money.

Gender Inequity in Professional Sports

  • Total prize money for the 2014 PGA tour, over $340 million, is more than five times that of the new-high for the 2015 LPGA tour, $61.6 million. Similar discrepancies exist throughout professional sports.
  • For a WNBA player in the 2015 season, the minimum salary was $38,913, the maximum salary was $109,500, and the team salary cap in 2012 was $878,000. For NBA players in the 2015-2016 season, the minimum salary is $525,093, the maximum salary is $16.407 million, and the team salary cap is an all-time high of $70 million.
  • For winning the 2015 Women’s World Cup, the U.S. Women’s National Team won $2 million. Germany’s men’s team took home $35 million for winning the 2014 World Cup. The U.S. men’s team finished in 11th place and collected $9 million, and each men’s team that was eliminated in the first round of the 2014 World Cup got $8 million each, which is four times as much as the 2015 women’s championship team.

Note that none of the examples in professional sports ever reference percentage of revenue at all. While they talk about ratios, there is no evidence that they are in any way referencing the difference in revenues, despite it clearly being the case that in many or most cases there will be significant differences in the revenue that they take in. All of their examples of equities are cases where the men and women are paid exactly the same. So it seems reasonable to conclude that they are more interested in the pay being the same as opposed to it being the same percentage of revenue.

The only case that even indirectly talks about percentage of revenue is the reference to the salary cap in basketball, since salary cap is either directly determined by — as it is in hockey — or determines indirectly the percentage of revenue that player salaries make up. Carrier himself references the salary cap in the NBA and WNBA (though indirectly):

Even the WNBA, which obviously earns vastly less than the NBA (so we certainly shouldn’t expect equal pay by gender there, any more than we’d expect bottom ranking men’s teams to earn as much as top), is still not at parity in pay even in proportion to revenue: NBA payroll is 50% of its revenue; WNBA payroll is 33%. That raises some eyebrows.

Except that as far as I know there is no such thing as a salary cap that isn’t negotiated with the respective players’ association, because it greatly impacts player salaries. The reason the cap in the NHL is set at 50% of revenue is because that’s what the NHLPA agreed to with the last NHL lockout. And it’s interesting to note that it wasn’t the players who wanted the salary cap, but the owners, to avoid rich teams outspending smaller market clubs and driving player salaries up beyond what the league could support. I’m pretty sure that the NBA being at 50% was the same sort of thing, given that Gary Bettman came from basketball originally, and so am also pretty sure that the 33% was negotiated by the union as well. Given that, there’s a reason why the salary cap in the WNBA results in a lower percentage of payroll vs revenue than it does in the NBA. It could be that the players just have less leverage in the WNBA, and so a work stoppage doesn’t have the same impact as it does in other sports. It could be that there are other factors that mean that owners need more of the revenue. For whatever reason, if you want to complain about women in the WNBA getting paid unequally when compared to the NBA the first thing you need to do is ask the WNBAPA why the salary cap is the way it is.

Because even if Carrier was right that percentage of revenue is the main goal here — and he has provided no evidence of that, remember — it isn’t clear that that is a reasonable thing to insist upon. Should players in the CFL get paid the same percentage of revenue as players in the NFL get? Should players in the AHL get paid the same percentage of revenue as players in the NHL get? Should players in AAA baseball get paid the same percentage of revenue as players in MLB get? These are not trick questions where I spring numbers on you showing what they actually get, because I, myself, don’t know that. The point of asking these questions is that, as it stands, I can’t tell you if that’s fair or not. For the development leagues — AAA and AHL — on the one hand you can argue that the players there developing, and so expect to be paid less overall while they try to get to the pro leagues. They also don’t have the leverage that the professional players have, being easier to replace and with less revenue and profit being lost if they walk out. On the other hand, a lot of their contracts are set by the parent teams without taking into account the revenue that the development team actually takes in. Given that, their percentage might actually be higher because they have to absorb contracts that they wouldn’t have negotiated if they were doing it themselves. Then again, there might be fixed costs for things like equipment and travel that while they might be able to economize on them a bit end up being a more significant percentage of revenue than it is for the parent teams, demanding a higher percentage of revenue go to the teams instead of the players.

The CFL is probably more directly comparable, because like the WNBA — and any professional women’s league — it is, essentially, a separate league. The contracts are not negotiated by parent teams, and the game itself is different. While the CFL does sometimes have NFL players who can’t make a team there come to the CFL and while some outstanding CFL players have made it to the NFL, the teams draw from substantially different player bases. They have different appeals and different ways to generate revenue. The CFL draws, of course, a lot less revenue than the NFL does. And given all that I’ve said above, I’d have to conclude that I can’t tell you at first blush if the CFL’s percentage of payroll vs salaries should be the same as the NBA’s, less, or more. You just can’t get to that without diving into the details of the league, its expenses, how it gets revenue, demands of the players, and so on.

The same thing, then, has to be applied to women’s sports. The league is not the same. Just having significantly less revenue causes issues that might dictate a difference in that percentage. Having smaller payrolls also causes issues as it may be harder to attract people into the sport at all — and thus to the league — if they can’t earn enough to live on. A number of CFL players have taken winter jobs to help fund them playing all summer, and curling in general has had issues with its players — male and female — having to balance curling and attending bonspiels with the jobs they need to support themselves and their families. Carrier’s claim here seems to be that for women’s sport you can just compare it to the highest men’s sport, look at the percentage of revenue that the payroll makes up, and determine if that is fair or not, but since the leagues aren’t comparable that doesn’t work. The most he could get here is that if you look at that percentage and it isn’t the same that’s a spur to look closer to see if it is unfair, but that doesn’t justify the strong position he takes and the strong words he uses to talk about it.

Carrier also makes a strong statement that the only time that the pay should be definitively equal is for national teams:

3. Except in revenueless sports: e.g. The Olympics, where as a matter of national pride we should fund both equally;

Except that this also isn’t necessarily reasonable. For national pride, what you want to do is fund the various sports to the level required for them to maximize their success. That doesn’t mean that you should pay the players the same or the same bonuses if you don’t need to in order to recruit and motivate players so that you maximize your chances of that team winning. So, is it the case that you need to pay the men more than women to do that? One commenter tried to give a reason why that might be:

As for mens soccer team vs womens soccer team. The men get paid higher at their pro teams than women so it makes sense for the usa team to pay the men a salary that is competitive with their pro team salary.

women soccer players make less at their pro teams so their salary doesn’t have to be as high as mens team.

Carrier replied with his customary tact and consideration:

And there is no logic in saying women are paid less in soccer because women are paid less in soccer. Payroll should be the same percentage of revenue. There is the same competition for positions, proportional to the revenue base. It’s illogical to say that because male teams bring in less money–e.g. last year they made no profit and lost a million dollars, while women’s soccer turned a five million profit–therefore teams should pay more for male players. That’s ass backwards. Clearly they are paying too much for the men, because quality is declining. So should pay.

So, from Carrier’s own sources, the women’s soccer team made five million dollars and the men’s team lost a million dollars one year, whereas commonly the men’s team earned more revenue and more profit than the women’s team. Carrier is going to use that one-time event — that was surely impacted on both sides by the women’s team winning the Women’s World Cup — to determine that the men’s team should have their payroll cut because of that? Because quality is clearly declining, he says, and so there is no reason at all to think that, perhaps, the reason is that the compensation isn’t sufficient and that they aren’t getting the players they need? Or that they were simply a victim of the relatively small market for soccer in the U.S. and the women’s team’s smashing success drew dollars away from them that they will recover the next year? Remind me never to let Carrier run any company I’m ever involved in, since his immediate reaction to even a temporary downturn will be to slash salaries and thus cause more people to just leave and make things worse, given this.

Of course, Carrier doesn’t even get the point, although the commenter doesn’t say it that well. The issue is that given their pro leagues, the players that the national team is trying to recruit get paid a lot more money per game than the women do. If money per game is going to seen as any kind of incentive for them to come and play, that’s going to be a consideration. At a minimum, offering them an amount of money that is significantly less than what they get per game from their club team is going to seem less like an incentive and more like an insult. And since many if not most of the best ones are going to be playing in Europe, so they’ll need to at least be compensated enough to travel to where the tournament is being played and to make that travel worthwhile, while most of the women’s team will simply travel with the team to the respective tournaments. In fact, from Carrier’s own sources one of the differences is that the women want a steady income, and to be on the team and get paid throughout the year, while the men only get paid when they play games and like it that way, for the most part. The women certainly would like to commit and have the national team commit to them for the entire year and to get an income from that, while the men don’t want anything like that since their main income comes from their club teams. Thus the men want to play for their club teams and only do anything for the national team when required, while the women certainly wouldn’t mind the national team being the only team they played for if it paid enough. So that, then, seems to suggest different approaches, which then aren’t directly comparable.

The question to ask, though, is if the monetary rewards actually provide any incentive at all. It’s certainly not the case that the Canadian men’s hockey team, when it was recruiting NHL players for the Olympics, had any issue recruiting players. They pretty much all jumped at the chance. However, we can see that for things like the World Hockey Championships or for the national basketball teams a number of high profile players turned down invitations. The reasons varied, but for the most part it was over clashes between their pro leagues and the demands of the national team. The next season was an important one — either due to the contract they could earn if they played will during it or because the team had a real chance at a championship — and so they wanted to keep their focus on preparing for that season. They were tired and a bit injured after a long season. They didn’t want to risk injury. For all of these reasons and more they were hesitant to play for the national team. A larger monetary incentive might encourage them to take the risk (although, again, it’s hard to imagine that the national team can offer enough to make it a real incentive for most of them).

Despite it not being clear that the larger monetary incentives matter all that much to recruitment, if we for a second imagine that it does then the insistence that the women and men be paid the same for their participation hurts the national teams. Again, they want to pay enough to have a team that can win. If they really do need to increase the monetary compensation for the men to do that but wouldn’t need to do so for the women, then any increase in funding to the men’s team will cost them twice as much as it should. For smaller countries that still want to promote equality — like, say, Canada — that might make the cost of doing so too much for them to swallow, and so end up with them having a less competitive men’s team than they could have as a result of striving for false equality. So, as we saw above, the same answer comes up here: you have to look at the details of the sport to determine if the men and women are being paid fairly, and Carrier, at least, doesn’t do that.

Now, although I’m sure that if Carrier is reading and responding to this post that he’s already gone off on how all of the above entirely misses the point of the quotes above, let me point out here that his point with that quote from the group talking about pay inequity is to show that they aren’t simply demanding to be paid the same, but recognize that the problem is that women’s sports don’t get the attention and so don’t get the audience that men’s sports do, and so in order to fix the issue they have to increase the profile of women’s sports. I’d suggest that they recognize that only because the low-hanging fruit of direct charges and comparisons have already been done — see their list of equities, for example — but at this point that seems reasonable. The problem is that because sport — both playing and watching — has been seen as the domain for men for so long women’s sports are now trying to enter into a marketplace that has a men’s sport at pretty much any niche that they might want to enter. The pro sports dominate the top echelons, the premier or elite leagues where people who want to see the highest possible quality of the sport congregate. Junior, development, college, and high school teams dominate the niches for people who want to see the future, or want to pay less to watch it, or have no other choice. When it comes to quality of play, women’s teams often aren’t as good as any of these alternatives, and they can’t really be that much cheaper or provide any better competitive spirit or really provide anything that these already established alternatives can and are providing. So, then, if they want men — or sports viewers in general — to watch the women’s sports or to even give them a try, they need to be able to tell them why they should take money that they’ve been happily spending on what they currently like and spend it instead on the women’s sport. What is in it for the men to make that switch?

They can argue, as Carrier does, that it’s important for the equality of women for this to happen. Unfortunately, this leaves it vulnerable to how Plum’s argument is generally used, and to thus argue that if you are going to argue that men should support women’s sports just because it is good for women for them to be supported that it would seem that women should do that first. Women can’t even use the “We don’t really like sports” argument against that because they are, essentially, asking men to watch something that, given quality of play issues, they like at least slightly less than what they are watching now in order to support women, so surely women can get into women’s sports enough to do the same. So unless they can give a reason for men to switch from their at least currently preferred teams the argument from women’s equality strikes more at women than at men; women should be willing to put their money where their mouth is and at least give the women’s sport a try before demanding that men do so.

So we’re still left with a need for a reason for men to give the women’s sport a try and experience that wonderful “aesthetic” that Carrier talks about. And one reason would simply be sex appeal. You can argue that men should watch women’s sports because they’ll get to see attractive women in attractive uniforms playing the sport. This would probably work — beach volleyball is probably an example of that — but it’s obviously not an option that feminists will want to take, because to do so would require them playing up the sex appeal in advertisements and perhaps even tailoring the wardrobe and uniforms to maximize sex appeal. And on top of that it can only add appeal to men who could at least tolerate the game anyway; if they don’t like the quality of play given how easily accessible various types of porn is they aren’t going to pass up play or sports they like better just to see that. I’ll admit that the attractive women of beach volleyball gave me reason to choose to watch those games during the last Summer Olympics, but I wouldn’t watch that instead of a sport that I actually liked. So it’s not the message they’d want to send and isn’t going to be the draw they need anyway.

To me, the reason that they need to give is the one implied by Carrier’s “wine” analogy but that his “You won’t notice the difference” argument belies: give the women’s sport a try because it’s significantly different than the equivalent men’s sport. Women’s gymnastics is, again, the example of this. If I wanted to get someone to try women’s gymnastics who was a fan of men’s gymnastics — I’m, uh, sure there’s someone like that out there somewhere [grin] — I’d point out that the men’s sport is all about strength and power, while the women’s sport is more about flexibility and balance, which makes them different sports but in a good way. Women’s gymnastics, I’d argue, is not an inferior men’s gymnastics but is instead its own sport with its own style. Given that, it’s possible that someone might appreciate the different aesthetic as much or more than they appreciate the aesthetic in the men’s sport. This is, of course, entirely the reason I prefer women’s curling to men’s curling. So my advice to women’s sports is: be different than then men’s sports, even if you have to change the rules to do it. That’s the only way that the encouragement to give women’s sports a chance is ever going to work out for you, beyond national and local teams that are doing far better competitively — meaning, winning championships — than their equivalent men’s teams.

I responded to this post both because this is a topic that I’ve talked about before and because it really demonstrates how Carrier lives in a glass house wrt his main point about charity when it comes to interpreting arguments. His replies here are very harsh, often ignore what the other person actually said, rarely ask for clarification and often lack evidence. Yet all of these things are what he calls out both sides in the Atheism Plus debate over. It seems that he should take the log out of his own eye before he seeks to remove the splinter from the eye of others.

And it would help if he was, you know, actually right, too [grin].

Carrier Discusses Women’s Sports and Ends Up in a Glass House

June 22, 2018

So, Richard Carrier decided to talk about how the Right and the Left have killed Atheism Plus by making a link between Noel Plum’s youtube videos — or, at least, some of them — and, overall, a way of arguing that is invalid and incorrect. He puts the problem thusly:

Plenty of folk who voice bizarre or implausible or outdated beliefs, when they do “cite” evidence in support of their arguments, it’s typically cherry picked, or made-up, or massaged, or there is some fallacious disconnect between what they claim as evidence and the conclusion they want to reach. These are fraudulent reasoners. And fraudulent reasoners are immune to evidence. I believe each side of any political or values debate in atheism—both conservative and liberal—mistakenly assumes everyone on the other side is a fraudulent reasoner. Because they encounter so many who are, and too often when they encounter those who aren’t, those who aren’t still fail to correctly attend to evidence, the one thing that would correct them if they were a good reasoner, because everyone is fallible, and unconsciously subject to prejudice and bias…while fraudulent reasoners will never be corrected in this, because they have no intention of actually formulating sound arguments; they will simply invent endless excuses to ignore the evidence. Which looks very similar. So uncharitably, everyone assumes they are the same. This makes it difficult for either side to listen to and learn from the other. And that creates tribalism and division.

He then moves on to point out a specific video of Plum’s on Women in Sport and criticize it:

A good example in Plum’s case is his video Want Sports Gender Equality? Stop Whining and Do Something. Eyerollingly ridiculous, and in result, inadvertently sexist. Notably, he never cites any examples of anyone ever saying the thing he is criticizing. So what happens? Immediately he goes off the rails of reality. He instead attacks some sort of fictional feminist he invented in his head. Had he actually done research on this, and committed to the first rule of good reasoning—never criticize fictional people; always give a real example of the real person whose arguments or claims you are challenging—he would have produced a much more useful and correct piece of criticism.

But even that would only be half good. It would have been really good, if he committed to the second rule of good reasoning—don’t just pick the idiot in the room; make sure you steel man the opposition, by finding its best representative, not its worst. It can be fun, and useful, to pick on the idiot. Quality entertainment. And educational. But if you don’t mention the better opposition (at least to acknowledge it, if you aren’t going to voice any criticism of it), you will come across as someone who thinks the idiot is the best opponent you could have taken on. Which doesn’t make you look great. People will read your having done that as disingenuous. They will categorize you as a fraudulent reasoner. When really, you just screwed up. You let your biases run that episode. Rather than applying your own avowed principles to every show you do.

So we can presume that Carrier will be very careful to cite examples, steel man the opposition, and attend to and present all the appropriate evidence, right?

Now, this specific issue is one that I pay more attention to because I’ve already gone into it in detail, so I’m going to be sensitive to errors or misrepresentations that Carrier makes here. Also, since it’s about the only thing that I care about in the post I’m going to ignore the rest of it. That being said, Carrier receives and replies to some comments later that I’m going to refer to at the time to show both that he isn’t entirely consistent and to highlight that his purported good standards of argumentation fly out the window in the comments much of the time. As usual, Carrier says a lot and it can be hard to organize a reply so as not to be confusing, since a lot of the time his arguments contradict each other and leave me with too many wrong things to address in an organized manner.

With that, let me start by summarizing Plum’s video. I originally didn’t want to watch it because I thought it was a long video from Carrier’s presentation, but it turns out that it’s incredibly short. Essentially the argument he makes is that the main reason that women athletes don’t make as much as men’s athlete’s is that men would rather watch men’s sports and women would rather watch women’s sports, and so if women want female athletes to make more money they need to spend as much money on women’s sports as men spend on men’s sports. He actually gives absolutely no evidence that this is actually the case, and he cuts himself off from making the argument that men prefer the higher standard of play in men’s leagues, so all he has is this assertion that men for some reason just want to watch men’s sports more than women’s sports, and not for reasons of quality or expectations about how the game would be played. Men just want to watch men play sports more than they want to watch women play sports. As someone who, in fact, would rather watch women curl than men and, in general, would rather watch women do, well, almost anything than watch men do the same things, I really, really think he needs to provide evidence of that assertion [grin].

Now, Plum and Carrier had a Twitter conversation later to hash some things out, but I don’t like following Twitter conversations and, really, Carrier has to get this stuff right the first time to be consistent with his own demands earlier in the post, so you’d expect that Carrier’s main point would be about men not really preferring to watch women’s sports or that being for a specific reason. Except, it actually isn’t. Instead, he challenges Plum’s notion that the debate is about actual pay rather than a percentage of revenue — which I’ll get into a little later — and then says this:

Plum’s argument is thus just as illogical. Women are accomplishing quite a lot. They are exceptional athletes, putting on amazing performances, and filling seats. So they aren’t filling fewer seats because they suck. They are filling fewer seats, because we suck. We aren’t paying them the kudos and fandom they are due. We should get over our biases, and realize it’s as much fun watching women play, as men. So then women can finally have as many opportunities to excel at sport as men do. But you can’t legislate that. It’s just a matter of asking people to think about it; until enough generations absorb the message.

Except Plum explicitly stated that it wasn’t because of the difference in quality of play that women got paid less, and from that we have to draw the conclusion that the lack of viewership isn’t because of quality of play. So, no, he never asserted that it was because women suck. And, in fact, pretty much everyone who uses the quality of play argument isn’t using it to claim that women just suck (yes, there are some that do, but seeking out the worst examples to refute is, again, what Carrier explicitly says one ought not do above). They tend to use in the way I used it in my post:

Which is reasonable right up until the point you recall that the level of competition is, at best, the same between men’s and women’s sports. It’s not the case that the level of competition, or stories or how hard the players are playing is greater in women’s sports than in men’s sports. But the quality of play is greater in men’s sports than in women’s sports. And all things being equal, if I can get the same level of competition but if one of two options has a higher quality of play, then I’m going to choose the one with the higher quality of play. This applies to junior leagues, academic leagues … and women’s leagues.

I’ll come back to that, but let me first point out that Carrier finally tries to address the main point of Plum’s video in a comment summarizing their Twitter exchange:

4. Gender-limited enthusiasm (men only watching men; women only watching women) has no plausible biological or evolutionary explanation, as evidenced by the rapid change in it over the last century (decade by decade, more men watching women play; more women playing), and by sports where gender-limited enthusiasm now doesn’t even exist or is shrinking (it’s also rendered implausible by sports enthusiasm not having existed when we evolved);

Which is a rather complicated way to say “Where’s your evidence for that assertion?” … which is what he should have done in the first post. Plum should not have had to remind him of his main point.

He adds in another comment reply to someone else:

On just that one issue—the gendering of aesthetics in our social programming, limiting people’s opportunities (both players and enjoyers)—it works like this:

We’ve all been damaged by sexist social programming. Some of us can escape that (owing to sneak circuits left in); many of us can’t (owing to the programming being too wired in to change; and one can’t be morally judged for not doing the impossible).

The only way to get to those of us out who can escape, is to trigger the escape cascade by injecting the meme into them. We have to put the meme in everyone (thus, communicate the idea as widely as possible), because we can’t know in advance who it will help and who it won’t.

Progress generation over generation requires continuing to do this, generation after generation.

Which actually then suggests that he thinks Plum’s point is actually right, despite his actually providing no evidence for it. In his summary of the Twitter debate, he goes on from there to suggest that since it can’t be biological it must be cultural … but he still has provided no evidence that it actually happens. And I find that highly implausible, given that every two years we see women’s sports performed on the largest stage with few men saying that they refuse to watch the women’s sporting events because they only want to watch men’s sports. In fact, the popularity of women’s soccer in Canada vis a vis men’s soccer in Canada comes from the fact that the women go to the Olympics and win medals and generally do well, and the men’s team, well, doesn’t. The men haven’t been in the Olympics since 1984 in Los Angeles and the only other time they played was 1976 when Canada hosted the Summer Olympics. To put it in perspective, the women have won medals as often as the men have participated. And while Olympic hockey with NHL players was more anticipated than the women, since in general in women’s hockey at the Olympics either Canada or the U.S. win gold they did get a lot of attention, and I don’t know of anyone who said that they weren’t going to watch it just because it was women playing. Sure, there are probably some people who did, but most people who tune out for women’s sports do it because they don’t care for the quality of play. So, Carrier himself needs to provide evidence for this phenomena that men prefer to watch men’s sports just because men are playing the sport and won’t watch women playing sports because women aren’t men.

(I’m not even going to get into the fact that just because we didn’t have a specific condition when we evolved it doesn’t mean that something couldn’t be biological or evolved, since it could be a side effect of an evolved tendency that is trigger in a condition that it wasn’t designed to trigger in).

So, on that, Carrier actually talks about women’s hockey, and women’s sport in general:

It makes no logical sense, for example, to say women aren’t as strong as men, ergo they should be paid less, because that actually isn’t how sports enthusiasm is measured. When women are competing with women, the only game on is strength-equal. And trust me, women’s hockey is just as exciting as men’s. You wouldn’t even notice a difference, if no one told you which you were watching.

Except that for hockey, and for sports in general, that’s actually completely false. Anyone who follows hockey beyond a simply shallow “turn it on and watch for a bit” will be able to tell the difference because the men’s and women’s games have different rules. Specifically, there’s no body checking in women’s hockey, at any level (it was tried at one tournament in 1990 and hasn’t been back). Since body checking is prevalent in the men’s game, if you know anything about the men’s game and watch a women’s game you are going to notice the difference. You’ll notice that the women don’t go for a body check in places where they should and get penalized for things that wouldn’t be a penalty in the men’s game. In fact, when I first watched women’s hockey at the Nagano Olympics, I was impressed by it, because the inability to bump players off the puck allowed for and forced more skilled play, along with the fact that the main power play strategy — get it back to the point and unleash a heavy slapshot — didn’t work in the women’s game because the women didn’t have very effective slapshots. In Salt Lake, when I watched it again, I was disappointed by it because while body checking was still illegal the rules about incidental contact seemed to be loosened up and so players were getting bumped off the puck most of the time, and the women developed better slapshots and so devolved to the normal, rather boring strategy of getting it back to the point and unleashing one. It was this disappointment that pretty much killed any interest I had in women’s hockey.

And so the point about it being “strength-equal” is also false. As another example, the whole reason I watch women’s curling and not men’s curling is because they aren’t “strength-equal”. Women aren’t as strong as men, and so don’t have the weight — insert your own joke here — of the men, and so can’t “blast” like men can, where they unlock and remove a number of stones just by throwing really hard at them. In fact, that was exactly the point when I lost interest in the men’s game: I saw too much blasting and started to find the game boring. Now, full disclosure, the men’s game seems to be blasting less than it used to, moving to the skins/mixed doubles model of loading up the rings with stones and hoping to get a good shot to score a bundle at the end of it, but since this is very risky and often ends up resulting in giving up a lot of points it’ll be interesting to see how long that lasts.

But this is going to be true of any sport where the women’s game is the same as the men’s game: while some things will be relative to the opposing players, there will be some absolutes, and so some things the women can’t do as well as or at all that the men can do. Carrier seems to acknowledge this in a reply to JohnReese’s comment outlining the differences in tennis, but Carrier’s reply is a terse:

That’s all true but not relevant to anything I actually said.

Which leaves JohnReese to have to figure it out for himself, which he tries to do:

Indeed, having read again, I clearly realize your point was that one couldn’t tell the difference between a men’s game and a women’s game in hockey, and you didn’t generalize this to other sports.

I acknowledge my mistake and apologize.

Except that Carrier’s point doesn’t make any sense if it doesn’t apply to men’s and women’s sports in general. Even if it was true that you couldn’t tell the difference in hockey, that doesn’t mean that it isn’t true in most sports and so doesn’t explain the discrepancy in pay. And Carrier, in an earlier comment does extend it:

That’s not true though.

Like I said, if I didn’t tell you and could prevent any indications tipping you off, you would never notice the difference between a men’s game and a woman’s.

Which is why indeed so many people watch high school and college basketball! And minor league sports. And so on.

You can try to weasel out of it by saying that Carrier didn’t make the direct comparison in basketball, but that would be ignoring the implication here and the fact that the original statement started from the general — “strength-equal” — and moved to a specific example, and that Carrier later commented that it isn’t about quality of play and that the sports were equally exciting. So, yeah, Carrier at least by implication generalized it and sticks to that in other comments, so JohnReese has nothing to apologize for and Carrier’s reply is vague and overly hostile, which goes against the whole point of the post.

Look, the point that Carrier is grasping for here is the same argument that I addressed in my take on the issue: we watch sports for other reasons than strict quality of play, and there’s no reason to think that the sport is less competitive in the sense that the athletes aren’t all putting in their maximum effort to try to win the game, series or tournament. It’s true that that is indeed one of the main things that draws people to competitive sport. There are other reasons as well, like loyalty to your city if they might win a championship or patriotism at the Olympics. But as I pointed out, barring a specific reason to watch the women’s game and all things being equal, the men’s game is always going to be at least as competitive as the women’s game and will always have the higher quality of play. It is not likely, then, that if I just want to watch hockey and have to choose between the NHL and the CWHL that the women’s game will be as “good”. The quality of play difference will be dramatic.

Carrier will, of course, reiterate that high school and college sports get great attendance even though the quality of play is lower, even dramatically so. Sure, but they’ve never tried to get people into the seats advertising the same quality of play or experience. They’ve always appealed to things like being able to see the future stars before they became stars, or lower prices, or even that they are the only game in town (a number of high schools can recruit on the fact that there are no professional sports to watch in that town). I don’t know of any case where you have high school, college or junior leagues that get the same attendance as a professional league in their city for the same price, where both teams are equally competitive in their respective leagues, at least not on a regular basis. Even college basketball, as far as I can tell, gets less play and less TV revenue than the NBA except during March Madness, which is a special event with a special format that allows them to draw in viewers. Unless there is something to differentiate these sports from the professional versions, they don’t draw as much as the professional versions.

Yes, the competition does exist and can be entertaining and, if you are shallowly paying attention, can be the same or similar to the men’s game in women’s sports. But the women’s sports that do the best, it seems to me, are those that are different enough from the men’s sports to draw on their own merits and quality of play without having to rely on “competition”. Women’s gymnastics is the ur-example of this. Men’s and women’s gymnastics are completely different. Suggesting that a woman could participate in men’s gymnastics or a man could dominate women’s gymnastics is an utterly ludicrous suggestion, despite the fact that it makes sense for almost any other sport you can name. And yet it is the women’s gymnasts that are the cultural icons, not the men. It gets more attention than men’s gymnastics. All because it is its own sport that can garner its own quality of play without having to compete with the men.

So, to me, having them be the same and relying on competitiveness to get people to watch women’s sports is the wrong approach. Carrier seems to contradict himself on that note in a comment:

An analogy is drinking wine or scotch: plenty of people think those things are gross; until they work to develop an appreciation for them, then they love them. Not everyone though. Just a lot of folks; far more than would be the case, if no one experimented with or bothered to cultivate the appreciation. (If, for example, people put up moral or superstitious barriers and rejected any such efforts in themselves; then no one, or hardly any one, would appreciate a fine scotch, and the industry would probably evaporate.)

But if they are the same and just as exciting as each other, what kind of appreciation needs to be developed? It’s only if they bring different things to the table that you need to develop an appreciation for their unique strengths. But that’s what Carrier spent most of his posts and comments trying to deny.

The only thing I can come up with here is that he’s referring to the cultural conditioning to not watch women’s sports, that we have to overcome by, presumably, watching them. But as noted above, this seems false, as women’s sports are shown at the highest level every two years and people seem to have few issues watching them. So this doesn’t seem accurate.

Given that, will his approach even work? He gives no example of any sort of conversion that occurred because of this, even his own. Meanwhile, I can not only provide examples of how my approach — have women’s sports be different from men’s sports and highlight that — has worked for me wrt curling, hockey (before it changed) and tennis (where watching men try to ace each other out of the game actually got me to say that I’d watch women’s tennis if nothing else was one but wouldn’t touch men’s tennis), but I can also point to the fact that the more different the men’s and women’s games seem to be the more popular the women’s sport is relative to the men’s sport, with gymnastics being the ur-example of that. So, when it comes to actual evidence — one of Carrier’s main points in his post — it seems like I have the clear advantage. So Carrier — and possibly Plum — have to provide evidence that there is any kind of strong preference — cultural or otherwise — for men to watch men’s sports and not watch women’s sports, and that simple “appreciation” will change anything.

This post is getting a bit long, and so far we’ve seen that Carrier attacks Plum for something he explicitly said wasn’t the issue and barely touched the main point of Plum’s post … and was wrong about both of those anyway. Did he at least manage to get his point about salaries and revenue right? Well, no, and I’ll show why next time.

Stanley Cup Playoffs: Summary

June 8, 2018

So, the Washington Capitals won the Stanley Cup last night, in a close 4 – 3 game to take the series in a not-so-close 4 games to 1. Since I picked Washington, this leaves me for this season at a sterling 14 – 1 for the year, with my only blemish being that I didn’t pick Vegas to beat L.A. in the first round. Since Vegas had home ice advantage in the finals, home ice advantage finishes at 10 – 5, getting the last three series wrong and only being a game over its 9 – 6 record last year.

My stellar result this year is entirely in line with the idea that the less I follow hockey during the season the better I do at predicting playoff series. As I now find it more and more difficult to actually watch the games, I pay less attention to hockey overall, and that has built from season to season. And I’ve gone from 8 – 7, to 10 – 5, to 14 – 1. It will be interesting to see what happens next year, because I cannot imagine that I’ll pay more attention to hockey next season than I did this season.

I’d also like to talk a bit about the win itself. I wanted Washington to win this series, mostly so that Alex Ovechkin would finally win a Cup. For a long time, his teams didn’t do all that well in the playoffs despite having great regular seasons, and there was a lot of talk that Ovechkin just couldn’t win the big games. This is despite the fact that, in general, as far as I can recall he didn’t actually do that badly in the playoffs, playing reasonably well, at least offensively. Some of the times they lost to Pittsburgh it really did come down to a duel of who scored more between himself and Sidney Crosby. So while it wasn’t really fair to blame him for their struggles, for the most part we were wondering what it would take for Ovechkin to win one and if his leadership was to blame for the Caps’ struggles in the playoffs. That Crosby managed to win multiple Cups only added fuel to that fire.

And that’s the comparison that both Ovechkin and Crosby have had to live with their entire careers. They came into the league at the same time and were both seen as generational players, and both have lived up to their billing. In terms of regular season success and regular season awards, Ovechkin has more than held his own against Crosby, but has faltered badly when it comes to playoff success and Cups, which is arguably the only success that really matters. To be honest, despite being Canadian and so supposedly having to prefer Crosby to Ovechkin, I’ve always preferred Ovechkin, mostly because he’s always seemed so very into hockey. He was the first to turn the shootout competition into more of a show than a simple demonstration of skill, and always seemed so happy and excited just to be playing the game. He often celebrated goals by his teammates more than they did, and it didn’t seem to be attention-grabbing, but instead real zeal for the game. And while you could blame Crosby’s more low-key reactions as Canadian modesty, it was still nice to watch someone who just really, really loved the game and loved to play it.

So, while Ovechkin didn’t play badly in the playoffs, what does seem to be different this year is that he really, really bought into the idea that it was all-hands-on-deck and everyone had to come up big at both ends of the ice for them to win it all. He was blocking shots, playing defense, and not just focusing on outscoring his opponents. And I think this even helped his teammates, because while he was focusing on doing everything it shattered the idea that his job was to score the goals and their job was to get out of the way and try to prevent them. If Ovechkin was going to try that hard to prevent goals, they really were going to have to try equally hard to score them. Sure, Ovechkin still scored the most goals — but didn’t have the most points — on his team, but even in last night’s game they got big goals from Devante Smith-Pelly — who scored as many goals in the playoffs as he did during the season — and Lars Eller, which was the Cup-winning goal. The Caps didn’t rely on Ovechkin to score the big goals for them, and that’s one of the reasons they won the Cup this year.

Another reason is the reason I picked them to win: resilience. For a lot of their previous runs, it always seemed that the breaks went against them and when that happened they folded. Not this run. They went down 2 – 0 to Columbus — losing both games at home — and rallied to win that series. They toppled their nemesis Pittsburgh. They won the first two games of the series in Tampa, lost the next three, and shut out Tampa in the last two games to win that series. They lost the first game against Vegas, and then won the next four games. Even last night, they hit at least two posts, were up 2 – 1 only to have Vegas storm back to take a 3 – 2 lead, and just kept coming. After that first series, they really believed that they could overcome everything, and as it turns out that’s exactly what they did.

Congratulations to the Washington Capitals, and hockey will return in October.

NHL Playoff Predictions: Stanley Cup Finals

May 25, 2018

It looked bad and then mediocre for a while, but with Vegas and Washington winning their series I went a sterling 2 – 0 in the semis, leaving me at a very strong 13 – 1 for the playoffs so far. Home ice advantage, however, went 0 – 2 leaving it at 10 – 4. So one thing is for certain: home ice advantage will not go 9 – 6 like it did the previous two years.

So, let’s look at the finals:

Washington vs Vegas: Vegas has had extra rest, and has been a team that has overcome all the naysayers who kept saying that midnight was going to strike for them. So, it’s dangerous to pick against them in the final. However, Washington has one huge advantage here: they’ve had to face adversity and rise above it. They went down 2 – 0 to Columbus and won the series, had to beat Pittsburgh, the team that they just couldn’t beat for the past few seasons, and despite going up 2 – 0 against Tampa Bay ended up down 3 – 2 and shut them out in the final two games to take that series. They can’t be intimidated. There’s no series or possibly even game lead that they won’t believe they can overcome. The worst Vegas has had to suffer was losing Game 1 against Winnipeg, in Winnipeg, which isn’t something that teams worry about. So we don’t really know how they’ll react if the breaks start going against them, while we know that Washington will likely pick themselves off the floor and come out swinging. That being said, if Fleury steals the series and/or Holtby struggles, Vegas will indeed win the series.

Prediction: Washington. Correct

NHL Playoff Predictions: Round 3

May 11, 2018

So, I had a pretty good second round, going 4 – 0. Home ice advantage didn’t do quite as well, going 3 – 1. Interestingly, it all came down to Game 7 between Winnipeg and Nashville, since Winnipeg was the away team that I had picked to win in the second round, and Nashville was the last team that home ice advantage needed to sweep the round. The Jets took it, and so I went 4 – 0 and home ice advantage didn’t.

So, let me actually talk a bit about the final teams. The teams that I’d really like to see win the Cup are Winnipeg and Washington. Winnipeg because of the Canadian connection and because the city and team really deserves it after all that happened with the team and their lack of success in their first incarnation, and Washington because it would be nice to see Ovechkin finally get a shot at a Cup final. Vegas comes in just behind them because it would at least be a good story. That being said, to paraphrase Nawara Ven, I hold preferences, but I don’t predict them. So who am I going to choose to win the Conference finals?

Eastern Conference:

Tampa Bay vs Washington: Tampa Bay has a very solid team and good goaltending, and are full marks for being the favourites this year. But Washington has faced more adversity and so are never going to quit, and have to feel like this is their year because they finally managed to get past Pittsburgh. It’s certainly reasonable to think that they could ride that past Tampa into the finals.

Prediction: Washington. Correct

Western Conference:

Winnipeg vs Vegas: Here’s the thing: even with Winnipeg having home ice advantage and both teams being generally better at home than on the road, and even with Nashville being a better team in terms of points than Vegas, in the second round Winnipeg relied an awful lot on Rinne being weak. When he was on, Winnipeg lost, and when he was struggling, they won. I don’t think the Fleury will have those weaknesses. Yes, Winnipeg is still a strong enough team to win, but it’s going to be close and Hellebuyck has given up bad goals at times, too. So I’m going to go with Vegas on this one.

Prediction: Vegas. Correct.

Overall Record: 13 – 1
Home Ice Advantage Team Record: 10 – 4

Champions Cup

April 30, 2018

So, the final event of the 2017-2018 curling season happened over the weekend, the Champion’s Cup. Since this was the end of the four year Olympic Cycle — as teams are assembled to take a run at the Olympics and break up afterwards for various reasons — there were a number of fairly emotional goodbyes, as Jill Officer on Jennifer Jones’ is stepping away, and Val Sweeting is leaving to join an all-skip superteam under Kerri Einarson, and there are a number of shake-ups across the board.

Interestingly, Rachel Homan’s team is sticking together, and this led to an interesting final, between Homan’s team that’s sticking together, and Einarson’s team that is either going to be completely blown up or change names to team Tracey Fleury, depending on how you count the teams. And despite Rachel Homan not winning a game in the Player’s Championship and struggling out of the gate here — going 0 – 2 to start — they came through a must-win final round robin game, a tie breaker, and the playoffs to win 7 – 6. This pretty much demonstrates how Homan’s team played this season. Whereas in previous seasons the team was incredibly consistent — they had made something like 18 straight playoff rounds on the Grand Slam before missing them once early this season — this season they were very streaky, going through phases where they were dominant only to have that be followed by stretches where they were struggling, and back to being dominant again. It might have been the focus on getting to the Olympics that caused that, but they do need to figure out what caused that, because they are still one of the most dominant and most successful teams on the tour, and are likely to continue to be so for as long as they stay together.

Homan also repeated as Champion’s Cup champion this year, but the final game was a good one, with great shotmaking from both teams.

So that ends the 2017-2018 season. With all the changes, it will be interesting to see how the new teams do next season, especially the all-skip team of Kerri Einarson. The season starts up again in September.