The Nonexistent Complexity of Sports

Like most people in the country, it took me a little while to calm down after watching the Super Bowl.

I wasn’t irate over the outcome of the game, as I did not have a strong rooting interest for either team.  New England took the Eagles Super Bowl, (no, I’m not blaming them of anything, they just happened to be the team that won the Super Bowl when the Eagles were in the game, so I have a grudge against them), but Seattle is annoying to such a strong degree.

Seattle feels the need to consistently rub it in your face that Richard Sherman is cocky, Marshawn Lynch doesn’t like to talk to the media, and Russell Wilson is a good guy who was underestimated come draft day.  By the way, I am not so sure the whole Marshawn Lynch not talking thing isn’t a blessing in disguise people.  Did anyone see him on Conan?  I’m telling you, not having to listen to him is a little miracle.

However, the real reason as to why I needed an additional day to get past this Super Bowl is for the perfect example of perceived complexity that is intentionally added to all sports.

Yes, I am referring to the infamous play call of a slant on the 1 yard line called by Seattle’s head coach Pete Carroll.  Now, do I know for sure Pete Carroll called this play himself? No, but as the head coach, he is responsible for everything that happens on the field, especially regarding Super Bowl winning plays.  Therefore, I am going to be blaming him.

The explanation provided by Pete Carroll for this play call was,

“We went to three receivers; they sent in their goal-line people,” Carroll said after the game. “We had plenty of downs and we had a timeout and really we just didn’t want to run against their goal-line group.”

This is the ineptitude, or maybe it is more arrogance, that plagues common day sports.  The idea that the people running the show are smarter than everyone else.  Please note, I did not say more intelligent regarding their respective sport, nor did I say better trained.  No, I said smarter.

The NFL, MLB, NBA, and NHL are all overrun with coaches who consider themselves the smartest people in a room. They treat media members and fans are ignorant, moronic, and petty.  They view their craft as more important and more substantial than anything you could ever do.

Now, add in the fact that there are statistics tracking everything these days.  Honestly, if you asked me to support the concept that throwing the ball on the one yard line in the Super Bowl is the better play, I am sure there is a stat out there to support it.  Hell, there are stats out there tracking baseball players’ batting averages at home, when it is raining, at night, in August.

What does this have to do with cocky head coaches in the NFL?

Well combine people who think the world of themselves with an abundance of statistical data and you have the recipe for coaches over-thinking every aspect of the game.  Enter, Pete Carroll.

Yes, statistically, Marshawn Lynch has not had the greatest season rushing the ball on the goal line.  Also, Pete Carroll was correct in stating that the Patriots were in their goal line defense.  They stacked the line and were prepared for the Seahawks to run the ball.

The problem is, sports are not complicated.

Anyone watching the Super Bowl understood the concept that the Seahawks were running the ball well, they were riding momentum, and Marshawn Lynch was downright unstoppable all night long. In fact, the first down play was a Marshawn Lynch run for 5 yards in which he dragged half of the Patriots’ defense along for the ride. He was scoring on one of those three plays.

Which brings us to the concept of time management, a favorite topic in Philadelphia.

Pete Carroll has also brought up the idea that he had to throw the ball on second down due to there only being a half minute left and the Seahawks only having one timeout left.

This is an even greater example of a head coach adding complexity to a simple sport.  Let’s assume the Hawks ran the ball on second down and get stuffed.  A run going nowhere would last for, maybe, 6 seconds.  Carroll calls a timeout, and has somewhere around 20 seconds left.  They could then run the ball again, and if they got stopped again, would have over 10 seconds to run a hurry up play and snap the ball prior to the game being over.

There was no reason, on Earth, for the Seahawks to trot out their 5’10 quarterback, make him stand 5 yards deep in the pocket behind all of those huge offensive and defensive linemen, and throw a quick slant to an average wide receiver. The whole idea of a pass play down that close to the goal line is to allow for only two outcomes, a touchdown or an incompletion. The pass play called by Carroll was designed to be thrown right to the center of the field, directly in the middle of the Patriots’ defense.

I will say it again, sports are not complicated.

That is part of the reason why we find such joy in sports.  They are simple, elegant, and highly competitive games which combine the simplicity that we grew up learning to love with the highly specialized and coordinated individuals who have refined their bodies and techniques to master the craft.

At its heart though, football, just like every sport, is a simple game.  Pete Carroll is guilty of trying to corrupt this pristine past time with complexity.  I hope that this public humiliation will be enough to convince other minds in sports against the idea of straying from simplicity.

I won’t hold my breath.

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