May 11, 2012
May 17, 2012
May 14, 2012
The period from the start of the NCAA men's basketball tournament, through baseball's Opening Day, and concluding with the Masters, is not only one of the golden times of the year for sports fans, it is also the peak of "prediction" season, where countless analysts give their take on brackets, a long season ahead and the ever compelling crystal ball gazing into the fortunes of one Tiger Woods.
But just as in the tiresome use of "greatest of all time" debates, predictions don't really offer much insight into sport. In fact, they're only useful as parlor games for fans and gamblers. Otherwise, for writers and observers of sport who are supposed to offer unique insight, the continued obsession with predictions is a lazy device. It's an excuse to not discussing more unique, pressing or difficult subjects in sports.
Consider the upcoming Masters. If there's any sport that's nearly impossible to predict, it's golf. Aside from giving a list of the usual candidates who have proven their mettle in the four majors - Woods, Phil Mickelson, Padraig Harrington, etc. - it's folly to attempt to ascertain who will suddenly emerge on a hot streak during the tournament and take the prestigious title. It's literally nothing more than guesswork, maybe slightly - very slightly - educated guesses.
Usually it's a big name that ends up winning, like Woods or Mickelson, or a player that hardly anyone had spoken about before the start of the event, such as Trevor Immelman three years ago or Zach Johnson the year prior. Sure, one can have a lucky guess by picking a relative unknown but, going on logic, there's little precedence to pick a winner.
Take the Arnold Palmer Bay Hill Invitational this past weekend. Martin Laird, the 28-year-old from Scotland won the title. Should this be an indication that he'll perform well in Augusta? Not if past years are any sign. The tournament, first called the Florida Citrus Open Invitational in its early years, has been played annually every March since 1966. One would think that it would be a good predictor of Masters winners.
There have been only two players who have won the Bay Hill tourney and then followed up with a Masters victory weeks later - Woods in 2001 and 2002, and Fred Couples in 1992. Couples' 1992 Masters win was his first and only major, yet he was considered one of the top 10 golfers in the world for the better part of a decade. And Woods, well, he was in the midst of the greatest golf the planet has seen when he won both Bay Hill and the Masters. So these players winning in Florida before the Masters was likely not a major factor in their triumph.
But no minor names who won at Bay Hill - Rod Pampling, Chad Campbell, Tim Herron, etc - managed to parlay their victory into a green jacket follow-up. But if one is picking an upset winner at Augusta, wouldn't it make sense that it would be a player who had won a fairly significant tournament weeks earlier?
So with golf, if an expert says that Woods (and let's face it, even though he's been an irrelevant presence on tour for the past 18 months, it'd hardly surprise anyone if he won the next three majors this year) or Mickelson would win the Masters, it doesn't sound that impressive. Yet, if a golf scribe tells you that he believes Spencer Levin is going to break out and win the Masters then he or she is likely just hoping for that one-in-a-thousand chance of appearing like a genius with little evidence to go on.
And this prognosticating dilemma is hardly golf's issue. With the Final Four now set, there's likely no person in this country, expert or fan, who picked these four teams. And if it had been, let's say, four teams comprised of top seeds then what kind of prediction would that have been?
This begs an obvious, if unfair question - why should one pay any attention to the exhausting prediction monologues of ubiquitous analysts if they can't see things any clearer than the average person in an office pool? Answer - one shouldn't.
This obsession with predictions has also invaded the political realm to a sophomoric and alarming degree. Every global and domestic crisis - from our economy to Japan's tragic catastrophe to the Middle East - is now viewed immediately in the context of the 2012 election. And, leaving no stone unturned, pundits rush to mention that one tiny bit of information that will validate their fortune-telling if it were to come true, just so they can say "I told you so."
All this snake oil salesman talk, wrapped in a sucker's package of false prophecy is dumbing down sports discussion. But it's only getting worse. It's the ultimate expression of collective insecurity - fearing introspection, take the easy way out and cloak meaningless predictions in the guise of perspicacity.