Podcast: Ed Miller on the Logic of Sports Betting

On this episode of The Football Analytics Show, Ed Miller, a writer and data scientist with a background from MIT, joins me. We discuss his new book The Logic of Sports Betting that he co-wrote with Matthew Davidow.

Among other topics, we get into:

  • The seismic event that convinced Ed not to become a teacher (3:13)
  • How market making sports books set the spread or total for a game (11:14)
  • Why parlays aren’t necessarily bad bets (13:36)
  • The crucial concept of a no hold market (21:40)

Ed also had a make over on the television show Queer Eye back in 2006, and I had fun asking him about that experience (29:55).

His book The Logic of Sports Betting is fantastic, and we couldn’t cover everything in this interview. I highly recommending getting a copy from Amazon.

To listen here, click on the right pointing triangle.

To listen on Apple Podcasts, click here.

Podcast: David Purdum on legalizing sports betting

On this episode of The Football Analytics Show, I welcome David Purdum, writer for ESPN Chalk. We discuss the recent Supreme Court decision that opens the door for states to allow sports betting.

Among other topics, we discuss:

  • The benefits of a federal versus state by state framework
  • The reason why offshore sports book are still illegal
  • How the new legal framework puts the NCAA in a difficult situation
  • The role that tech giants like Amazon and Google might play

As much as I enjoyed talking to David about sports, I had an even better time talking about Hunter S. Thompson and Jack White later in the show.

To listen on iTunes, click here.

To listen here, click on the right pointing triangle.

Podcast: Ryan Rodenberg on the legalization of sports betting in the United States

On this episode of The Football Analytics Show, I talk with Professor Ryan Rodenberg of Florida State on the legal status of betting on games in the United States. He has both a J.D. and a Ph.D. and performs research in sports law analytics.

Ryan explains the legal status of betting on games, which culminates in the Supreme Court’s recent decision to hear a case from New Jersey to legalize betting.

I was particularly intrigued by the role of the NBA in this case. Ryan explains why the NBA seeks to prevent New Jersey from legalizing betting but also publicly favors betting on games.

Throughout the interview, Ryan keeps the conversation jargon free and accessible for those without a law degree.

To listen to this show on the legalization of sports betting on iTunes, click here.

To listen here on the site, click on the right pointing triangle.

You can find more legal content from Ryan and others on the Sports Law Blog.

Death star versus young Jedi, an Alabama and Clemson preview

deathstarCan Clemson upset Alabama in the championship game of the College Football Playoff?

It seems unlikely. Alabama is the most consistent, elite team in college football. Through both recruiting and weekly preparation, Nick Saban puts his team in national title contention year after year.

Some years, the Crimson Tide get derailed. It takes a miracle play like the Kick Six against Auburn, or an elite performance from Ohio State’s offense in last year’s playoff semi-final.

But Alabama is college football’s empire, a finely oiled machine with infinite resources to destroy the opponent. Their defense is a Death Star aimed at Clemson and another national title.

Not many expected a national title for Clemson this season. They were ranked 12th in the preseason AP poll, as they lost most of their starters on an elite defense and had worries about the health of Watson.

However, Clemson has played exceptional this season, and QB Deshaun Watson has taken a starring role. He’s a young Jedi beginning to use his full powers, just like Luke Skywalker in the New Hope.

Can he blow up the Death Star and win the national title? Let’s look at the match ups and possible value in markets.

Alabama’s offense against Clemson’s defense

Clemson’s run defense had an outstanding game against Oklahoma by allowing 3.9 yards per carry. However, don’t expect the same against Alabama.

For the season, Clemson has allowed 4.6 yards per carry (numbers do not include sacks like usual college football statistics), 42nd in the nation. The rush defense is good but not elite, and they played one of their better games against Oklahoma.

Don’t expect the same type of performance from Clemson in the title game against Alabama. They face Heisman trophy winner Derrick Henry in an offense that mostly runs the ball.

Overall, the numbers see a very even contest between these units. This usually implies Alabama will score about 28 points, the college football average. The Power Rank’s member numbers predict 26.6 points, a slight adjustment for the slow pace at which Alabama’s offense plays.

This number most likely requires a subjective adjustment for Clemson defensive end Shaq Lawson. The pass rush beast racked up 10.5 sacks and 23.5 tackles for loss this season but hurt his knee against Oklahoma. Lawson most likely plays on Monday night but probably not at 100%.

Alabama’s defense and possible value in the under

Clemson ran for 320 yards on 5.7 yards per carry against Oklahoma in their semi-final win. QB Deshaun Watson contributed to this efficient total, as he broke off a 46 yard run in the second quarter.

There are two reasons Clemson won’t get anywhere near these numbers against Alabama.

First, Clemson hasn’t been efficient with their ground game. For the season, they have rushed for 5.2 yards per carry, 51st best in the nation.

Second, Alabama’s front seven is dominant. They have allowed 3.5 yards per carry (numbers do not include sacks like usual college football statistics), second best in the nation. LSU’s Leonard Fournette had 31 yards on 19 carries against this unit.

The numbers like Alabama’s Death Star defense to contain Clemson’s offense, as my member model predicts 20.2 points for Clemson. A predicted total of 46.8 suggests that under 50.5 (as of Thursday morning) has value.

However, the under doesn’t feel right in this game. Deshaun Waton is the best college football player in the nation not named Christian McCaffrey (no Stanford bias whatsoever). His blossoming talent gives Clemson a chance of blowing up the Death Star.

A few other factors go against the under. I mentioned the injury to Clemson defensive end Shaq Lawson in the previous section. Also, Alabama’s Tony Brown is suspended for this game. The cornerback has a limited role in the secondary but has been making special teams plays all season.

Can Clemson pull off the upset?

It’s unlikely. The Death Star usually wins; they only make movies about the statistically improbable. (Cue Han Solo voice about never telling him the odds.)

A Clemson win wouldn’t be a fluke. My numbers make them a 6.4 point dog, which corresponds to a 32% win probability. However, Alabama will most likely wins their 4th national title in 7 years.

Computers vs human judgment in picking college football games

Since the beginning of the 2014 season, The Power Rank’s college football prediction service is 56.4% in picking spreads and totals (137-106-6). Mike Craig and I use a computer model based on my algorithm that makes accurate adjustments for strength of schedule.

However, we never only rely on computers and numbers to make predictions. We always consider subjective factors like injuries and situations.

This reliance on both computers and human judgment is reminiscent of the world of chess and a New Yorker article on Magnus Carlsen, the 23 year old World Champion from Norway.

Computers and Chess

For most of the 20th century, the Soviets dominated chess. They relied on “focus, logic, and, above all, preparation” to produce world champion after world champion.

However, they met a new foe in the late 1990’s: the computer. These inanimate objects are all about focus and logic. When computing power hit a certain level, computer programs could use brute force search to pick the best move. This led to the Deep Blue computer’s famous win over World Champion Gary Kasparov in 1997.

Nowadays, computers always beat the top human players. When asked what strategy he would bring against a computer, a grandmaster said “I would bring a hammer.” Computers are also a training tool for chess players.

But Magnus Carlsen is different. As he told The New Yorker, the Norwegian champion never trains with a computer. He admits to preparing less for tournaments and relying more on his judgment.


Predicting football games

Predicting football games is more complicated than winning a chess match. Players don’t occupy a square on a board. Football also adds the element of randomness, as events like fumbles defy any quantitative attempts to predict them.

This makes human judgment even more important in predicting college football games than chess. For the college football prediction service, we always consider subjective factors like injuries and situations. For instance, we needed to make an adjustment for Baylor as they will start third string QB Chris Johnson against North Carolina.

Both computers and human judgment play a role in giving you the best possible predictions.

Last night to take advantage of bowl season discount

The prediction service, which has gone 55.9% (66-52-2) in 2015, is available for bowl season. The price goes up at midnight, Eastern time on Tuesday, December 22nd, 2015.

To take advantage of this early bird price, click here.