Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Vent Day, Part II: On Giffin and CIS stats

“Once blood is shed in a national quarrel, reason and right are swept aside by the rage of angry men."

- David Lloyd George

"It's true, I'm a Rageaholic.....I just can't live without Rageahol!"
- Homer Simpson

[Satirical letter: please don't think this is real!]

Dear Mike Giffin,

I'm sorry to inform you that the single-game rushing record [myself, "The GBU: Queen's football versus Toronto", Sporting Madness] you set Saturday [myself, "Football: U of T - Queen's live blog", Sporting Madness] has been retroactively removed by the CIS bean-counting machine.

In our infinite wisdom, we've decided that the initial game stats were wrong, and you actually only earned 212 net yards rushing, instead of 215.
Now, we could have informed you earlier, maybe even during the game so that head coach Pat Sheahan could have left you in for another play or two to clinch the record. After all, he did say [myself, "Campus Corner: Preview of Queen's - U of T football game", Sporting Madness] that the reason he pulled Rob Bagg last year before he could break the record was because he didn't know how many yards Bagg had.

We also could have informed the media of the accurate stats right after the game, but we decided it would be more fun to let such outlets as The Canadian Press [via The Globe and Mail], the Kingston Whig-Standard and Out of Left Field let you think that you'd actually broken the record and keep the issue muddy until Monday night, over 48 hours after the game and long after everyone's deadlines.

Better luck next time,

[signed] The Evil CIS Stats Machine [/signed]

[/satirical letter]

Yes, it's three yards, and the above may be overstating the case a little: this is a vent, after all. The problem is that those three yards make the difference between a record-breaking effort and a good game. I don't claim to know better than the official statisticians, and the total of 212 is probably right. I have no problem writing articles with the 212 total either, as I don't have any vested interest in Giffin breaking a record on not.

The issue is the delay until the stats were clarified. In the NFL or the NCAA, the current stats are available instantly, so coaches, reporters and everyone else knows exactly how far someone has to go for a record. Not so much at the CIS level, which is understandable given the resources available. That's fine, and I get that: I'm not expecting professional quality.

The problem is when there are conflicting sources giving different statistical information, which happens far too often at the CIS level in a variety of sports. Those of us who cover the games are usually working on tight deadlines: I filed my Out of Left Field report the instant the game ended, even though I didn't have the full statistics yet. The CP story was filed later that day, the Whig game report Monday and my story came out Tuesday (but the paper was already at the presses when I found out the stat line had changed, so I couldn't alter it). That's three reliable sources that all had the wrong information due to a delay in clarification, and there are now massive omelettes all over all of our faces.

The other problem is that this wasn't avoidable. Each of our media outlets had to go with the best information we had at the time. I made the call that the 215 yards was better supported based on the sources I had it from, and I don't regret that: as shown above, I was in decent company. At the time we went to press, the CIS box score was the sole site giving 212: all the press releases, news articles and game recaps I saw had 215, and I figured it was safer to go with that than what could have been just a missed keystroke in the box score (and what my sources told me until last night was just an error on the CIS end). Also, I'd rather accidentally give a record than take one away, so 215 made more sense from that point of view as well.

Writing the article without Giffin's stats was unthinkable. Writing "Giffin had a good game" without supporting data is not only incredibly vague and useless, but also blatant editorializing. He was the key offensive player of that game, and he certainly deserved to be mentioned. It's awfully fraking* difficult to write about a running back in any meaningful way without including his stats.

*For those of you who don't watch Battlestar Galactica, check out this great AP article by Chris Talbott [via Yahoo! News] on the genesis and the genius of the word "frak" and its related forms.

In my mind, immediately available and accurate stats are the biggest barrier to expanded CIS media coverage. Sportswriting (and broadcasting) has to include a quantitative element as well as a qualitative one these days, and football stats in particular are incredibly important: look at how the popularity of fantasy football has stimulated interest in the NFL.

I've written about the problems with the league's stats before, as have plenty of others with more credibility, including Greg Layson of the Guelph Mercury, Rob Pettapiece of The CIS Blog and James Mirtle of The Globe and Mail.

CIS sports have a lot going for them, as I wrote about here in a news story and here in a column. The problem is that they're underexposed. In order to gain exposure, they need to be more professional with stats, interviews, highlight packages and the rest. I doubt you'd see stats screwups like the ones mentioned above in the NCAA, and I think that's part of the reason it gets more coverage: there's a professional feel, and you know that your stats are going to be reliable.

I'm not trying to bash the SIDs or the athletic departments here: most of them are underpaid and overworked, and many of them have managed to improve the professionalism around CIS sports considerably. The Toronto host crew last week did a terrific job, and I don't blame them for possibly forgetting to include a three-yard loss in Giffin's stats, if that's how it happened.

What should have happened, though, was an instant clarification to all involved SIDs as soon as the stats were changed. The SIDs could have then passed that on to the reporters, and at worst, we maybe get one or two articles that have to be corrected, instead of every article about the game. Instead, we wound up with a muddled situation where no one knew what was really going on until late Monday night, over 48 hours after the game. That needs to improve. I'm fine with making a change in the interests of accuracy, but CIS needs to make sure that everyone involved knows of the change, everyone knows it was intentional and knows the reasoning for it and everyone gets the information as soon as possible. I don't think that happened in this case.

(Note: Vent Day, Part III is postponed until tomorrow later today... the first two took longer than I thought to write. Feel free to vent about my poor scheduling in the comments!)

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