## What Does Math Have To Do With The Superbowl?

When you think of football, you may think of physical strength, endurance and brute force. But do you ever think about the careful planning, analysis and strategy involved? You should!

## Luck or Strategy?

Every so often, you’ll see a coach seemingly “roll the dice” and go for a play on fourth down. Is that play pure chance? Or is that a calculated risk?  Who can forget last year’s Super Bowl where the New Orleans Saints caught everyone (especially the Colts) by surprise with an onside kick to start the second half?

Surely in such a game with tackles, sacks, and other feats of strength, there can’t be any room for statistics or probability on that playing field or the only numbers you’ll see are for keeping track of touchdowns or yards gained.  There’s nothing more to it than that, is there?

Wrong! There’s a lot of statistical analysis behind each play.  Here are several examples.

### It’s Fourth and goal.  Do you kick the Field Goal or try to get the Touchdown?

Here’s an easy example.  Suppose the Jets on fourth downs are 20% to get a touchdown and 90% to make a field goal with 20 yards or less.  It’s fourth down and it would be an 18 yard field goal attempt.  Should they go for it?  Let’s see.

Expected value if they go for touch down – 0.2 x 7 points = 1.4 points.

Expected value if they kick a field goal – 0.9 x 3 points = 2.7 points.

Normally the team will go for the field goal on fourth down, and here Statistics shows that they do better in the long run by kicking the field goal than trying to get the 7 points and possibly getting nothing.

Of course, if the game is in the last minutes of the fourth quarter that may change things, but you can see now see why teams don’t just “go for it” on fourth down.

### Run or pass?

The defense is always trying to guess whether the opposing offense will run or pass.  Similarly, the offense will try to guess which play the defense is expecting.  The goal of the offense is to maximize yards gained.  How do both sides make their guesses?  Again, Statistics comes into play.  Both sides have to consider these variables which go into the likelihood of success or failure of a run or pass –

• Number of successful passes versus blocked passes against the team this season.
• Number of successful runs versus unsuccessful runs against the team this season.
• Individual statistics of the defense – sacks, tackles, blocked passes.
• Individual statistics of the offense – completions by QB versus attempts, sacks, being hurried, catches versus thrown to, interceptions.
• Defense and offensive success on third down, fourth down.  For instance, a team may convert on third down 40% of the time and 60% of the time on fourth down.

These are all numerical values, and from these numbers we could calculate the probability of success of both a pass and a run attempt.  The defense would be able to make the same calculations.  You may ask, ‘’But if the offense runs the ball well, then why doesn’t the defense just line up for a running play each time?’’  This would start to take us deep into game theorem and min-max strategy, but you can see that both offensive and defensive coaches are using Statistics and Mathematics to plan their plays.  What about when a coach “goes with his gut?”  Nope, that’s still a decision based on probabilistic outcomes.

## Statistics Are Important to Sports

Even in a game that appears to be a purely physical battle, Statistics comes into play as a driving force behind the major decisions made.  Each call made, even those last minute changes Peyton Manning calls on the line, have a Statistical foundation supporting the decision.  As the Steelers and Packers are preparing for this year’s Super Bowl, there is little doubt each team is studying the other’s statistical tendencies to have a plan for each potential situation.  Commentators and experts are using those same statistics to make predictions of which team will win and by how much.

So who will win this year’s Super Bowl?  Start researching the statistics and see if you can figure it out!

This post was contributed by Tutor.com Senior Mentor and Football Fan Josh R. Thanks Josh!

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## National Chemistry Week: The Chemistry of Sports

Think chemistry and the World Series have nothing in common? Think again. If the ball the pitcher’s throwing is too cold, you can forget about watching a homerun—a cold ball won’t spring off the bat as fast as a warm one.

Chemistry is about more than memorizing the Periodic Table (or wondering if your date to the prom will work out.) National Chemistry Week is October 19-25, and this year’s theme is the chemistry of sports.

Chemistry makes sports happen. Remember those snazzy, full body suits the swimmers wore at the Beijing Olympics this summer? They were designed by NASA scientists to increase speed and required chemistry to weave the special fibers for the suits. Those crazy-colored sports drinks everyone chugs at practice? Keep on chugging them because they are designed to restore the water and salts your body loses when you exercise heavily. Gatorade, for example, is packed with potassium, calcium, sodium and magnesium, which are all electrolytes your body loses when you work out.

Chemistry extends beyond sports into other “everyday things” and chemists work in a variety of ways. They develop wine and beer, work in forensics, pharmaceuticals, agriculture and environmental research. Who would have thought that a chemist could improve the taste of buttermilk, instant coffee and mayonnaise. And George Washington Carver, an agricultural chemist, discovered hundreds of uses for peanuts, soybeans and sweet potatoes that gave small farmers new tools to be sustainable. His peanut discoveries helped farmers make dyes, paints, plastics, gasoline, nitroglycerin and cosmetics.

When do you use chemistry in your daily life?

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Have you ever sat in the back of your math class and thought, “When will I ever use this?” You use math more often than you think. Whether you realize it or not, math plays an integral role in the sports world. All the statistics, facts and figures you use in your everyday conversations about your favorite players and teams are all derived using math.

One man that has helped us to easily rattle off these statistics, and has parlayed his affinity for math and numbers into a 62 year NBA career is Harvey Pollack.

Harvey Pollack started out as the Manager for the Men’s Basketball Team at Temple University during the 1942-43 season. One of his duties while travelling with the team was to keep the scorebook that kept the home team honest.

“After the first game, I went to the Coach and said, ‘This is too easy’,” said Pollack. “I am just keeping field goals, personal fouls and foul shots. I can keep much more.”

And he did. He was one of the first people to start tracking statistics that are now commonplace in basketball these days – rebounds, blocked shots, steals, etc.

When the NBA was formed in 1946-47, Pollack had his reputation for keeping statistics and was offered a job with the local franchise, the Philadelphia Warriors. This is where Pollack started to make his mark and change the sport.

“Back in the early days there were no media guides,” reminisced Pollack. “They were optional. No one really had records of their own team. So I started doing it for the Warriors (from the very beginning).”

A few years later, the categories that Pollack tracked regularly (minutes played, blocked shots, steals, etc.) were adopted by the league to be tracked by all teams.

Once the NBA started to keep track of those stats, Pollack began to track other numbers. He puts out his own media guide each year that is now over 280 pages.

“The NBA keeps blocked shots. I keep whose shot gets blocked,” said Pollack.

Besides revolutionizing the way that we discuss the game, Pollack has been bestowed such honors as being honored by the Basketball Hall of Fame with the John Bunn Award. He’s also the only person to have all four rings won by Philadelphia basketball teams.

Pollack has always loved math, but wasn’t a complete and total whiz.

“I was always good in numbers, until I got to trigonometry. That baffled me,” quipped Pollack.

So the next time you are sitting in your math class wondering when you are ever going to have to use this, it’s best to pay close attention, because what you are learning may just help you get into the Basketball Hall of Fame.

## Using Math to Calculate Baseball Statistics

Every baseball fan is familiar with the stats of the game. They help us to decide who we are going to draft in our fantasy league, right? But does the average fan know how those stats are calculated? Simple algebraic equations are used when calculating these baseball stats. Check them out:

Batting Average Calculation
Batting average is the most common statistic used to decide how effective a batter is, and it’s a simple calculation.

Number of hits / Number of at bats

If it was in your textbook, the formula for batting average formula would be:
X/Y = batting average
X = hits
Y = number of at bats

Yes, it’s that’s simple.

While that is a good gauge as to the efficiency of how well a player is doing offensively, it only takes hits and at bats into consideration. What about walks or sacrifices? That brings us to our next calculation…

On Base Percentage (OBP) Calculation
On base percentage is a better judge of how efficient a batter really is because it measures the percentage of times that they get on base, not only hits.

It is calculated like this:
(Hits + Walks + Number of times hit by pitch) / (At bats + Walks + Number of times hit by pitch + Sac flys)

If that was in your textbook, the formula for on base percentage would be:
(X + Y + Z) / (A + Y + Z + B)
A = at bats
B = sac flys
X = hits
Y = walks
Z = number of times hit by pitch

Enough of the offensive statistics. Time to get into pitching stats.

Earned Run Average (ERA) Calculation
While batting average is the most common gauge for hitters, earned run average is the most common gauge for pitchers. It tells how many earned runs they give up per nine innings.

Here’s how to calculate a pitcher’s ERA:
(Number of earned runs allowed x 9) / Innings pitched

In your textbook the formula for earned run average would look like this:
(X x 9) / Y = Earned run average
X = number of earned runs allowed
Y = number of innings pitched

WHIP Calculation
WHIP (Walks and hits per inning pitched) is a stat that is not used nearly as much as ERA. It lets you know the average number of hitters that a pitcher allows to get on base per inning.

To calculate a pitchers WHIP
(Walks + Hits) / Innings pitched

In your textbook the formula for calculating WHIP would be this:
(X + Y) / Z
X = Walks
Y = Hits
Z = Innings pitched

Now onto a team statistic that people love to countdown…

Magic Number Calculation
As the season reaches about the three-quarter mark, talk about the “magic number” starts to creep into conversations (or at least sports columns). The magic number tells how many games a team needs to win or its closest competition has to lose in order to clinch first place.

To calculate the magic number:
(Total games remaining + 1) – Total number of games ahead in loss column from closest opponent.

In your text book the formula for calculating a magic number would look like this
(X + 1) – Y
X = Total games remaining
Y = Total number of games ahead in loss column from closest opponent

Now the next time you and your buddies are talking baseball statistics, you’ll be able to step up your arguments by showing how a few more hits or innings pitched can alter the stats.