Which is Closest?

August 24, 2018 at 6:47 am Leave a comment

Not too long ago, I published a blog post about end-to-end comparisons, those silly feats of computational gymnastics that try to reduce an overwhelming statistic to something more tangible. Something like this:

If each piece of candy corn sold in a year by Brach’s — the top manufacturer of the waxy confection — were laid end to end, they would circle the Earth 4.25 times.

In writing that post, I inadvertently formulated a statistic that rather surprised me:

If all the players on an NFL team were laid end to end, they’d stretch from the back of one end zone to the opposite goal line.

That the players would almost line the entire field struck me as an amazing coincidence. And it got me to thinking — might this be true for other sports?

Basketball Player Laid End to End

Not one to let sleeping dogs — or professional athletes — lie, I decided to investigate. Based on that research, here’s a simple, one-question quiz for you.


Which of the following comparisons is the most accurate?

  1. If all of the players on an NHL (hockey) roster were laid end to end, they would reach from one end of the rink to the other.
  2. If all of the players on an NBA (basketball) roster were laid end to end, they would reach from one end of the court to the other.
  3. If all of the players on an NFL (football) roster were laid end to end, they would reach from one end line to the other.
  4. If all of the players on an MLB (baseball) roster were laid end to end, they would reach from home plate to second base.
  5. If all of the players on an MLS (soccer) roster were laid end to end, they would reach from one end to the other.

As you begin to think about that question, some notes:

  • Every professional baseball stadium has different measurements. Fenway Park (Boston) is a mere 310′ from home plate to the right field wall, whereas Comerica Park (Chicago) extends 420′ from home plate to straightaway center. Consequently, the distance from second to home is used in the fourth answer choice, because it’s the same for every field.
  • To my surprise, MLS stadiums are not uniform in length and width. Who knew? The length of the field must be at least 100 meters, at most 110 meters, and anywhere in between is fine. Assume an average length of 105 meters for the fifth answer choice.

Before you read much further, let me say how much fun I’ve had discussing this question around the dinner table and at the local pub. In spite of hard facts, there is resolute disagreement about player height, roster size, and field dimensions. And the shocking (or should I say predictable?) results raise an eyebrow every time. I only mention that to persuade you to think about the question, alone or with some friends, before continuing.

Okay, you’ve cogitated? Then let’s roll.

In researching the answer to the question, I was struck by how close the total length of all players on the roster is to the length of the field, court, or rink. Coincidence? Of course, a larger field requires more players, so perhaps this is the evolution of roster size that one would expect.

To answer the question, you need to know the height of an average player, the number of players on a roster, and the dimensions of professional venues. All of that data can be found in a matter of minutes with an online search, but I’ll save you the trouble.

League Average Height (in.) Players on a Roster Combined Height, Laid End to End (ft.) Dimensions
NHL 73 23 140 200 feet (from end to end)
NFL 74 53 327 120 yards (360 feet, from end to end)
NBA 79 14 92 94 feet (from end to end)
MLB 73 23 140 127 feet (from home to second)
MLS 71 28 166 105 meters (345 feet, from end to end)

As it turns out, the MLS comparison is the least accurate. The combined heights of soccer players is only 48% of the length of their field. The NHL comparison is a little better, with players’ heights extending 70% of the length of the field. But the NFL and MLB are both very close, with the players’ heights equalling 91% of the field length and 110% of the distance from home to second, respectively. Astoundingly, if the players on an NBA team were laid end to end, they’d come just 22 inches short of covering the entire court, accounting for a miraculous 98% of the length!

So there you have it. D, final answer.

One last thought about this. I play ultimate frisbee, a sport with a field that measures 120 yards (360 feet). For tournaments, our rosters are capped at 29 players, and I suspect my amateur teammates are, on average, shorter than most professional athletes. If we assume a height of 5’10” for a typical frisbee player, then the combined height is 172 feet. That puts us in the realm of soccer, with our combined length covering just 48% of the field.

If, like me, you play a sport that isn’t one of the Big 5 in the U.S., I’d love to hear about your sport’s field and roster size, and how it ranks with the comparisons above.

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About MJ4MF

The Math Jokes 4 Mathy Folks blog is an online extension to the book Math Jokes 4 Mathy Folks. The blog contains jokes submitted by readers, new jokes discovered by the author, details about speaking appearances and workshops, and other random bits of information that might be interesting to the strange folks who like math jokes.

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Math Jokes 4 Mathy Folks is available from Amazon, Borders, Barnes & Noble, NCTM, Robert D. Reed Publishers, and other purveyors of exceptional literature.

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