menace to big-time sports today is neither the shrinking gate nor TV, either in
the free or paid version. It is a nonsense of numbers, the stupefying emphasis
on meaningless statistics which is draining the color from competition,
stifling the fans' spontaneity and distorting their appreciation of skills.
There are graver
dangers to the security of the Republic, to be sure, but the importance
attached to superficial percentages and phony records is promoting an attitude
that equates defeat with victory. We now find merit in mediocrity and
satisfaction in moral victories, a euphemism for failure. Were our guys racked
up and left for dead by the other side? It could have been worse. We got to the
20-yard line twice and we set a new Cockamamie Tech record for recovered
fumbles (7) in one game.
principle is baldly plugged by the National Collegiate Athletic Bureau, which
packages a complete line of football and basketball figures guaranteed to
contain a consolation prize in every box. The NCAB's policy is stated
explicitly in the introduction to its official manual: "Although the
primary goal of all competition properly is victory, interest in a sport need
not and should not be confined exclusively to the victor. Statistics, without
detracting from the primary goal, do more than anything else to focus attention
on 'how they played the game' in addition to the fundamental 'who won or lost.'
So the role of statistics is not that of 'proving anything.' ...Rather, it is
that of broadening interest to include the noteworthy feats of both
The NCAB seems to
be caught in the switches of its own doubletalk. It assures subscribers they
will get the straight dope on "how they played the game," yet in the
next sentence it admits the whole thing adds up to a blank in "proving
anything." Such candor is commendable, although it does not answer the
obvious question: Why pay attention to the nonsense in the first place?
are meaningless because they do not measure the most important factor in the
business—the resourcefulness that is the hallmark of a champion. The Braves
compiled more hits than the Yankees in the last World Series, for all the good
it did them. Or, for that matter, all the good it did the Yankees in 1957 to
tally not only more hits but more runs too.
In the Orange
Bowl game last year, Duke had a clear edge over Oklahoma in every bookkeeping
entry. The Blue Devils led in first downs 16 to 11; in yards gained 328 to 279;
in completed passes 62% to 50%. They even picked up 150 yards in penalties
while losing only 25 themselves. It was a breeze—for Oklahoma. The Sooners
coasted to a comfortable 48-21 decision by capitalizing on six Duke mistakes
that led to touchdowns.
individual performances, which strongly influence selections for All-America,
All-Conference and All-Honorarium teams, are equally unreliable yardsticks of
ability. For example, the leading college punter generally is from a weak team
that is bottled up deep in its own territory most of the season. As a
consequence, its kicker is constantly booting for sheer distance. Conversely,
the punter on a strong team is beyond midfield a good deal of the time and
tries to angle many kicks out of bounds within the enemy's 10-yard line.
Passing statistics are even more misleading because they are not properly
weighted for short, flat pitches, which are no great trick to complete, and
long heaves, which demand hair-trigger precision.
fallacies however, the statistics fever spreads apace, even unto the coach's
bench. Last season Ken Ford of Hardin-Simmons won the passing title by
connecting on 22 out of 35 pitches in his last game. Ford was not a contender
until Coach Sammy Baugh, the old pro master, permitted him to heave the ball on
practically every other call in the huddle. When a man unloads 35 passes in a
game, his team is not playing football. It is playing basketball with shoulder
According to the
book, the most formidable football player in history was Art Luppino, who
established the alltime record by scoring 166 points for Arizona in 1954. You
never heard of this immortal whose exploits eclipsed Jim Thorpe, Red Grange and
Bronko Nagurski? Shake hands with everyone east of the Mississippi and north of
the Colorado rivers. In his epic season, the only big-league team Luppino
encountered in nine games was Colorado, which hung a 40-18 shanty on Arizona.
The caliber of opposition is another criterion statistics do not evaluate.
the two men who are the superintendents of the biggest figure foundries sharply
criticize the exaggerated attention given to their products by newspapermen and
broadcasters. Ted Smits, sports editor of the Associated Press, and Homer
Cooke, director of the NCAB, deplore the stultifying effect of statistics on
sportswriting, which once was a literate craft featuring trenchant reporting
and bright commentary. But they also defend the interminable flow of obscure
averages and variegated records on the grounds that such material is valuable
background for the fans.