Dave's Sports Views

Analysis, humor and opinion on the sports world

Location: Dallas, Texas, United States

Thursday, January 26, 2006

How BIG a game is it?

Tell me you haven’t faced this scenario. Your significant other sees you sitting on the couch and she asks, “What’s on TV tonight?”

You say, “The big game.”

She says, “I thought the big game was on last night.”

You reply, “No, this is the REALLY big game.”

(I realize I’m stereotyping gender roles here, so forgive me.)

Until now, sports fans didn’t have a measure to quantify the importance of a game for viewing purposes. Obviously, you’re going to watch a game involving your favorite team or player whenever you can. But any decent sports fan knows there are some events that must be watched without exception.

Introducing the Must-View Index™ or MVI, an attempt to measure just how big a game is, so you can plan your evening or weekend around it.

The MVI has five components, which are the five key criteria one uses to determine whether to watch a game – independent of rooting interest.

Star Power – Does the game feature high-profile teams or star players, in terms of talent or viewing appeal? All-Star games are a natural for this. Seeing the top teams in each league would yield a high Star Power score. Any game featuring Kobe Bryant would score high in this category right now. And the 1999 U.S. women’s soccer team’s games would, too.

Historical Significance – Do you have a chance to see something extremely rare, such as an individual milestone or a team continuing its dominance? Obviously, some records can be broken on a moment’s notice, with no warning. But career and season plateaus can be predicted with some warning. Fans will want to watch the home run countdown of Barry Bonds this year, and they were intrigued by the Patriots’ chance to three-peat. And some games get sneaky high scores in this category. For example, Houston and San Francisco played on the final day of the season for the right to select Reggie Bush.

Rivalry – Does the game feature two teams with a history against each other? There are obvious rivalries: Yankees-Red Sox, Redskins-Cowboys. There are more recent rivalries: Patriots-Colts, Pistons-Pacers. And there are individual rivalries: players matching up against their former teams (any Lakers vs. Heat game qualifies), two top pitchers facing one another, etc. A rivalry usually means an intense, hard-fought game.

Competitiveness – Does the game have a chance to be competitive AND well-played? Only in those rare circumstances, usually those involving one’s favorite team, does a sports fan hope for a one-sided game. Those who watched the Rose Bowl or the Steelers-Colts Divisional Playoff realized they saw something incredible. Competitiveness also has the ability to rear its head when one least expects it, but again, there are ways to determine ahead of time if a game has a chance to be close. At the same time, just because a game is likely to be close doesn’t mean it’s worth your time. Two bad teams can play an evenly matched game, but one that’s aesthetically unwatchable.

Impact on Season – Does the game have high stakes for the participants? Baseball fans are going to tune in for the World Series because it’s the crescendo of the season. Ditto the Super Bowl, Stanley Cup, NBA Playoffs, March Madness and the college bowls. Well, most of the bowls. Some regular-season games take on more meaning, if a team’s playoff life is at stake, or if two of the top teams meet in the regular season for a possible tiebreaker or seeding advantage.

So, to calculate the MVI, give each game a score of 0 to 10 on each of the five measures. Average the scores, then multiply that result by 10 so there’s a 0-to-100 scale. Or you can just add up the numbers and double the result – you get the same score. (Hey, I’m looking for any ammunition I can get, and a 94 sounds a hell of a lot better than a 9.4 or a 47.)

Let’s give some examples from various extremes, starting with recent games.

The 2006 Rose Bowl would be an example of a must-watch game.

Star Power: 10 (You had the top three players in college football, including two Heisman winners in a row, and the top two teams. It can’t get any better.)
Historical Significance: 9 (USC was going for a third national championship and had won 34 in a row, putting them within hailing distance of Oklahoma’s record. Texas hadn’t won a national championship in 35 years. The BCS rarely worked before.)
Rivalry: 6 (The teams weren’t historical rivals, but they were two of the most storied programs in college football history.)
Competitiveness: 10 (Though USC was favored by most experts, the game was expected to be competitive.)
Impact on Season: 10 (It was for the national championship, with no arguments.)

Total: 90 (Average score is 9.0). You needed to watch this game. (And wasn’t it worth it?)

On the opposite end of the spectrum, how about the Dec. 24 regular season game between the Lions and Saints?

Star Power: 0 (A few decent players, but no really big names, and both teams were mostly dogging it by that point.)
Historical Significance: 1 (Maybe the last regular season home game the Saints would play outside Louisiana. Time will tell.)
Rivalry: 1 (Both teams play in domes, and Tom Dempsey of the Saints kicked the NFL’s longest field goal to beat the Lions back in 1970. That’s the extent of the rivalry.)
Competitiveness: 1 (Could have been close, but not likely to be well played.)
Impact on Season: 0 (Neither team had anything at stake. The only impact was that both teams were one game closer to being put out of their misery.)

Total: 6 (Average score is 0.6). You should have finished up your shopping instead, or cleaned your garage if your shopping was already done.

Scores are always subjective. You might find more star power in a game than I do, or think a game has a better chance to be more competitive. But that’s the point of the MVI – people have personal reasons for wanting to watch sporting events, above and beyond just following the teams they root for. The MVI just gives us a way to measure it.

But anything above 50 you should keep tabs on. Anything above 75 you should try to watch or TIVO. Anything at 90 or higher should be missed only to attend a wedding or funeral.

I was trying to think of a game that would get a perfect score, and the closest I came up with was the seventh game of the 2004 American League Championship Series. It had the star power of the two premier teams in the American League and two of baseball’s top franchises. It had the history of the Red Sox trying to continue a path toward ending their 86-year drought. The rivalry is the best in the sport. The teams were almost equal and the pitching matchup featured two solid, if unspectacular, starters. And obviously the winner was moving on to the World Series and the loser ending its season. That’s pretty much a 10 across the board.

I’ll use the MVI to evaluate some big games along the way, and feel free to use the tool to convince others that you really MUST watch the game tonight. I also welcome your thoughts on how, if at all, you might want to tweak this.

Because I’m all about manipulating numbers.



Blogger mrflip said...

I think the 2003 ALCS game 7 (the Grady Little game) should also be awarded a 100, especially as it actually lived up to its MVI (an insane game capped by a walkoff in extra innings). It didn't have the 'greatest comeback/chokejob ever' angle, or obviously the baggage from the year before, but it did have all the rest of the history/rivalry/impact, plus Clemens and Pedro starting (which surely beats Lowe vs. Brown).

2:37 PM  
Blogger mrflip said...

You might also like this analysis of what makes a baseball game exciting (i.e. providing excitement, not promising excitement)

2:56 PM  

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