The Population Myth

Aesculus.'s picture
January 30, 2013 at 4:27a

Most people seem to think that more people equals more talent.  That is to say that talent is random.  They say if there are more people in the south than in the north then there will be more talented players to choose from in the south.  This logic dictates that not only will more people produce more overall talent, they will win more football games.

I'd like to take this time to disagree... Here's why.

Let's take hockey for example.  Most hockey players are Canadian (70%).  A bit strange eh when you consider most hockey teams are in the US.  This seemingly goes against our traditional thought that more people equals more overall talent.  But you could also argue that Canadians like hockey much more than Americans, which is........ very true.  I found that 80% of Canadians watch hockey once a week.  Wait, what? Are you kidding me?  They must all be eating pucks for breakfast.  Impressive.  If only we had that much fervor for college football.

On the flip side Americans have a much lower attention span as pro football is considered our favorite sport at only 36%.  This is followed by baseball, college football, auto racing and somewhere down the line is hockey at 5%.  Ok, so it's not our first or fifth choice but we watch the hell out of it because 23 of the 30 NHL teams are in the US. 

But how many people are actually playing hockey?  If we look at the actual pool of people playing the game (Under 18, youth leagues, ect..) we get a much clearer picture of what's going on.  USA Hockey the governing body in the US states that in 2009-10, 474,592 people were registered as players.  Compare this to Hockey Canada (governing body) 2009-10 stats of 577,077 people registered playing hockey.  These statistics show Canada actually only has 18% or roughly 100,000 more people playing hockey.  So how the hell can Canada have 70% of NHL players and the US only 14%!?! 

If the population theory was true than there would be a much similar number of Canadians to Americans in the NHL.  So what is going on here?  For one possible hypothesis lets take a look at the book Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell.  He writes "the biggest misconception about success is that we do it solely on our smarts, ambition, hustle and hard work."  Gladwell looks at many talented people such as Bill Gates, The Beatles, and our Canadian hockey players. But more importantly how they got to be so talented.

His conclusions assert that success depends on the selection process used to identify talent just as much as it does on the athletes' natural abilities.  In the case of the Canadian hockey players psychologist Roger Barnsley noticed that there were a disproportionate amount of star players with birthdays in January, February, and March. The reason is, kids born on January 1st play in the same league as those born on December 31st.  Because kids born earlier in the year are larger, older, and more mature than the younger competitors they are often singled out as better athletes. This leads to more coaching and a higher likelihood of being chosen for all-star games and starting positions. This phenomenon dubbed "accumulative advantage" by Gladwell.  BTW Wayne Gretzky's birthday....Jan.26th.

Accumulative advantage is interesting because it actually explains why some kids rise to the top and others don't.  Gladwell also talks about the Czech Republic having a similar system with the same results. (Jaromir Jagr Feb. 15th) In fact a vast majority of Canadian and Czeck NHL players have birthdays in the first three months of the year.  This anomaly also occurs in American baseball and in European soccer with very similar results.

Another chink in the population theory comes from the top.  Coaching.  I have a B1G problem with the B1G.  For a conference on the whole who is more financially solid than most fortune 500 companies, they act more like dime store bargain shoppers tripping over dollars to get to pennies.  A coach with the right talent can make all the difference in the victory column.  Just ask first year coach Luke Fickell who lost 6 games by a touchdown or less in 2011.  A year later UFM wins 6 games by, that's right, a touchdown or less.  Now, lets take a look at what our B1G conference pays its top men in relation to the rest of the country.

4. Urban Meyer, Ohio State: $4.3 million
6. Kirk Ferentz, Iowa: $3.835 million
12. Brady Hoke, Michigan: $3.046 million
17. Bo Pelini, Nebraska: $2.875 million
18. Bret Bielema, Wisconsin: $2.64 million
38. Bill O'Brien, Penn State: $2.3 million
47. Mark Dantonio, Michigan State: $1.934 million
54. Tim Beckman, Illinois: $1.6 million
72. Pat Fitzgerald, Northwestern: $1.3 million
72. Kevin Wilson, Indiana: $1.3 million
72. Jerry Kill, Minnesota: $1.3 million
65. Danny Hope, Purdue: $970,000

22.Gary Anderson  Wisconsin  $2.7 million

67. Darrell Hazell Purdue $1.5 million

And now the SEC coaches.

1.Saban - $5.5M
5.Miles - $4M
Chizik - $3.6M
8.Spurrier - $3.6M
15.Richt - $3M
19.Pinkel - $2.8M
21.Franklin - $2.7M
24.Mullen - $2.6M
28.Mushamp - $2.5M
28.Sumlin - $2.5M
Dooley - $2M
Phillips - $1.9M
62.Freeze - $1.6M
Smith - $0.9M

Bret Bielema $3.2M

The NCAA average head coach's salary is 1.64M.  The SEC has ZERO coaches below that pay grade.  Now if I was a top coach where would I want to go? doesn't take long to figure out that top down dollars equal championships.  And the B1G?  I don't know how Kirk Ferentz wins the Iowa lottery each year but aside from that, Delany must need a new off shore bank account because we pay our coaches like a the MAC.

Bret Bielema now gets paid more than the head coach of Michigan! (whoever that is?) Yes, Michigan the winningest program in the history of college football.  In fact with bonuses, 6 SEC coaches earned more than Michigan's head coach this year.  Oh and what do you know?  An SEC team beat Michigan this year to help them finish a mediocre 8-5.

As for the population myth, don't believe the hype.  Maybe the south gets to practice more hours because of better weather, maybe the advantage of getting more games in better weather has an impact, maybe they are just getting lucky?  But if we want to see the B1G as a whole return to national contention we must start with getting the best coaches, and that means paying them.  Until then.

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