Posts tagged ‘football’

Which is Closest?

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

Probability, the Playoffs, and the Indianapolis Colts

With one week left in the NFL season, Dan Graziano had this to say about the Indianpolis Colts’ chances of making the playoffs:

Indianapolis can still win a third straight AFC South title. Really, it can. All it needs is to win and then have the Texans, Bengals, Chargers, Jets, Saints, Chiefs, Patriots and Browns all lose. The league will throw in the partridge in a pear tree.

Colts HelmetIf the Colts win and the Houston Texans lose, both would be 8-8, and the first four tiebreakers for deciding which team makes the playoffs – record against one another, record against divisional opponents, record against common opponents, and record within the conference – would not be enough to decide who makes the cut.

It then comes down to strength of victory and strength of schedule. And for things to play out in the Colts’ favor, a lot of things have to go their way.

Fox Sports referred to this as long shot, comparing it to a recent win by a horse who was 200-to-1:

Sure, going 9 for 9 here looks dim, but long shots come in every once in a while.

Are the Colts’ odds as good as that horse’s? Seems not.

Using a simplistic model, assume that each of the nine necessary outcomes are equally likely. That alone would put the Colts’ odds at 511-to-1. (Since 29 = 512.)

But it’s not that simple. The following chart from 538.com gives the probability of each team winning their game this weekend:

NFL Week 17 - Game Probabilitiess

The good news is that the Colts have an 81% chance of winning their game against Tennessee. The bad news is that it seems unlikely that any of the Texans, Bengals, Chiefs, or Patriots will lose, let alone all four of them. So putting all those numbers together, the Colts’ chances of making the playoffs are:

0.81 × 0.20 × 0.22 × 0.84 × 0.54 × 0.69 × 0.15 × 0.18 × 0.77 = 0.0002 = 0.02%

or, more precisely, about 4,311-to-1. That’s more than a long shot; that’s an extended-to-an-unfathomable-distance shot.

The Colts are in the unenviable position of Lloyd Christmas in Dumb and Dumber, “So, you’re telling me there’s a chance…”

December 31, 2015 at 5:05 pm 1 comment

P (NFL ∪ Math) > 0

John UrschelJohn Urschel is an offensive lineman for the Baltimore Ravens and admits, “I love hitting people.” As it turns out, he loves hitting the books, too. He earned a masters degree in mathematics from Penn State, and he recently published a paper with the impressive title A Cascadic Multigrid Algorithm for Computing the Fiedler Vector of Graph Laplacians in the Journal for Computational Mathematics.

Note that Urschel was the lead author, even though his three co-authors were an associate math professor from Tufts and two math professors from Penn State.

I have to wonder if the paper was fairly refereed. I mean, honestly, who in the math community is gonna tell a 6’3″, 308‑pound football player that he made an error?

A la Paul Erdös, Urschel doesn’t need much to be happy. In an essay published March 18, he wrote:

I drive a used hatchback Nissan Versa and live on less than $25k a year. It’s not because I’m frugal or trying to save for some big purchase, it’s because the things I love the most in this world (reading math, doing research, playing chess) are very, very inexpensive.

I was thinking about how Urschel has superior talent in two fields, when I saw this comment on an article on Deadspin:
Comments - Sports or Math

Here’s the thing.

There are 1,596 players in the National Football League at any given time (32 teams with 53 players each). Throw in a few more who serve on practice squads and occasionally get a chance when someone else gets hurt, so maybe that number climbs to 2,000. Still, the chance of making it to the NFL is unbelievably remote. Recruit 757 claims that only 0.008% of all high school athletes get drafted by the NFL.

And if you can believe Wolfram Alpha, there are 2,770 mathematicians in the United States, or approximately 1/47,165 of the U.S. workforce.

Point is, the probability of becoming either a professional football player or a mathematician is ridiculously small. Becoming both is smaller still. Though John Urschel proved it’s greater than 0. The saving grace is that he seems like a down-to-earth guy who realizes how lucky he is.

To read a math article written by John Urschel, check out 1 in 600 Billion.

March 22, 2015 at 6:25 am 1 comment

6 Degrees of Bad Math Jokes

I once read an article that said, “To a greater or lesser degree, everything tastes like chicken.” Well, that’s true, but it’s also true that everything tastes like broccoli, to a greater or lesser degree. Carrots, to a greater degree; mint chocolate chip ice cream, to a lesser degree.

To a greater or lesser degree, some of the following jokes are funny.

What did the thermometer say to the graduated cylinder?

Thermometer and Cylinder

A scientist dropped a thermometer and a candle from the roof of a building. He observed that both objects reached the ground at the same time. Conclusion: A thermometer falls at the speed of light.

A doctor walks into a meeting, and a nurse asks why he has a rectal thermometer behind his ear. “Damn,” says the doctor, “some asshole has my pen!”

The star college football player was taking a math exam. The coach desperately needed him for the big game on Saturday, so the professor agreed to an oral exam.

“All right,” said the professor. “How many degrees are in a circle?”

“That depends,” said the boy. “How big is the circle?”

If you’re cold and there’s a right triangle nearby, stand in the corner opposite the hypotenuse. It’s always 90° over there.

The number you have dialed is imaginary. Please rotate your phone 90°, and try again.

December 27, 2013 at 10:00 pm 1 comment

The MJ4MF Bowl

It’s college bowl season, and there is an impressive line-up of games, from the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl, to the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl, to the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, to the GoDaddy.com Bowl, to the…

Oh, for Pete’s sake.

There are no fewer than eight college football bowls that have completely abandoned any pretense of respecting tradition. The name of the bowl is isomorphic with the name of the sponsoring company. Sure, some bowls give a nod to tradition by appending the name of the sponsor to the historical name, such as the Allstate Sugar Bowl or the Discover Orange Bowl. But even in those cases, the sponsor is listed before the bowl itself.

What can you do? My daddy always told me, “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em!”

Following his sage advice, I’d like to announce the 2013 Math Jokes 4 Mathy Folks Bowl, which already has a spiffy logo…

MJ4MF Bowl Logo

But the MJ4MF Bowl will be different than the others. There have to be rules. My rules.

First, the game must be played on January 3, 2013, which can be written as 1/3/13. (Nice, huh?)

Second, both teams would have to be willing to modify their nicknames — only temporarily, of course — to make them more mathy. For example,

  • Arizona State Sum Devils
  • East Carolina πrates
  • Navy Midpoint Men
  • North Texas Median Green
  • Penn State Nittany Lines
  • Standford Cardinality
  • Tulane Sine Wave
  • UCLA de Bruijn Sequences
  • Western Kentucky Hilltopologists

Third, and most importantly, the yard lines on the field would need to be renumbered. Currently, they are numbered as follows:

|0    1|0    2|0    3|0    4|0    5|0    4|0    3|0    2|0    1|0    0|

That’s just dumb. For the MJ4MF Bowl, the yard lines will be numbered like this:

-5|0    -4|0    -3|0    -2|0    -1|0    0    1|0    2|0    3|0    4|0    5|0 

Honestly, doesn’t that make more sense? The middle of the field would be the 0-yard line, which seems appropriate; and, now when you hear, “The Lions have the ball on the 10-yard line,” you won’t have to wonder, “Which 10-yard line?”

Finally, teams will not have to meet the onerous NCAA bowl eligibility requirements to participate in the MJ4MF Bowl. Why does a team need six wins to be bowl eligible, anyway? That just means they’ll demand a big pay-out, and unless a rich, eccentric math geek buys a million copies of Math Jokes 4 Mathy Folks in the next week, well, that’s just not gonna happen.

Two exciting teams are currently sought to play in the inaugural MJ4MF Bowl. Notre Dame and Alabama are required to play for the national championship, and the likes of Georgia, Kansas State, and Nebraska have already agreed to other bowl games… but surely the Golden Eagles of Southern Miss (0-12) and the Akron Zips (1-11) are available, no?

December 31, 2012 at 11:32 am 2 comments

Math on Monday Night Football

Tonight’s Eagles-Panthers game had several mathematical incidents.

A Counting Problem

During pre-game warm-ups, a voice-over quoted one of the player’s thusly:

You want me to describe playing on Monday night in one word? Prime time.

Computer scientists start counting at 0. Apparently pro football players start counting at 2.

Speaking of counting… did you notice that the sentence above had three hyphenated words? That’s just crazy.

Flippin’ Out

Football Coin TossDuring the opening kick-off, Mike Tirico mentioned that the Carolina Panthers lost the coin toss. That alone is not exceptional, but it was the eleventh straight game that they had lost the flip. The odds of a team being that unlucky? How about 2,047 to 1?

Perhaps they can blame bad luck for their eight losses this season, too.

Numerically Interesting Milestone

Wide receiver Steve Smith of the Panthers caught a pass in the first half that took him to 745 career receptions for a total of 11,011 yards. What a cool number! First, it’s a palindrome. Second, 110112 = 2710, and he currently ranks 27th among wide receivers in career receiving yards. That’s a pretty fun coincidence.

November 26, 2012 at 10:33 pm Leave a comment

Football Math for Super Bowl Week

Super Bowl week seems an appropriate time to share some jokes that involve football and math.

[Super Bowl Squares Online Contest]

What is this?

B
BA
BACK

Here’s another one involving fractions. (And that lead-in should be a hint if you had trouble with the question above.)

What do you call a Patriots fan with half a brain?
Gifted!

And just to be an equal opportunity offender…

What did the average Giants player get on his Wonderlic test?
Drool.

There are several one-liners involving football and math (sort of).

Pro football players are so huge, it takes only four of them to make a dozen.

Their nickel defense is only worth 3¢.

His uniform number was 29, which was also his house number. He wore it to make sure he remembered where to go after the game.

That last one reminded me of a mathy football joke involving dumb people…

By the time Bubba arrived to the football game, the first quarter was almost over. “Why are you so late?” his friend asked.

“I tossed a coin to decide between going to church or coming to the game.”

“I don’t understand. How long could that have taken?”

“Well,” Bubba said, “I had to toss it 14 times.”

For a similar, non-football coin-tossing joke, read the one about the student at the final exam.

February 3, 2012 at 9:22 am 1 comment

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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.

MJ4MF (offline version)

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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