Sports: Can’t Buy Me Luck

For those of us that remember the Beatles, one of their big hits was the song, “Can’t Buy Me Love”.  Well, the same thing can be said about luck, just ask the New York Yankees. In baseball, where there is very little limitations on what teams can spend to sign players, the Yankees have one of the biggest payrolls in baseball, and have built a juggernaut of a team.  Last year, despite having an unbelievable number  of injuries, this team still had enough talent to win more games, than anybody in the American League.  They signed Gerrit Cole to a record contract, and I made the comment, that they may win more games than any team in history.  Of course, that won’t happen, because the season will probably have less games, because of the Corona Virus. But the injury bug continues to haunt them, which would have affected their season, anyway.   That is one type of luck that affects sports, the injury bug.  This blog is going to discuss the  luck, that happens during the game.  Luck has always been a part of sports and life, that is  uncontrollable.  Everyone has heard the saying, I’d rather be lucky than good.  Nobody in the media ever will say that the only reason a team won a championship, was because they were lucky.   How much has luck been a factor in the various sports. and is it given too much  or not enough credit, when evaluating why a game turned out the way it did?  Which sport does luck play the biggest factor?  Let’s take a look at each of the four major team sports.

There is no question in my mind, that the sport where luck plays the biggest factor is football.  The reasons just pile up.  The shape of the ball is an oblong sphere.  Because of this, you have  crazy bounces, and deflections, that can have a major effect on the outcome of a game.   All the championships are decided by one game. If this was the case in other sports, there would be a whole different list of champions.   There is lots of down time in football.  The clock is running during  huddles and players going back to the huddle.  Even though the game is 60 minutes long, there is not near that amount of time, when action is taking place.  I know there are comebacks in football but time can be stalled more in football than any other sport.  The next down the luck line is hockey.  Again the puck is a disc that has a tendency to take crazy jumps and bounces, which will affect the game.  Goals can be deflected into the net, which can add to the luck of the game.  In the playoffs you rarely see the team with the best record making a long run into the finals. In a seven game series luck can be even a bigger factor. No other sport has  as a person on their team that can make or break them like a goal tender. He can single-handedly win or lose a game or a series.     Next is baseball.  Baseball has a round ball, and a long season.  There is an old saying, in the long run, class will tell.   Baseball has no clock, so teams can overcome a bad luck streak in a game, to make a come back.  In order to win a game, a team must perform one task.  They have to get the last out. Some teams have never gotten that last out. No sitting on a lead in baseball.  But in my mind, basketball is the sport where luck plays the least factor.  The big factors are, the ball is round, the game is indoors, you must make an offensive move in 24 seconds, and you are limited on what you can do to stop a team from scoring.  The proof of all this is, unlike hockey, usually the team with the best record during the regular season wins the NBA Championship. In fact it’s happened 12 times since 2000, almost double any other sport.

Even though I think luck is the biggest factor in football, I no way mean to imply that it was only luck that enabled the Steelers to win 4 Super Bowls in the 70’s, teams like the 49er’s and Cowboys to dominate their respective decades, and New England to dominate the 2000’s .  In fact luck, can go both ways.  Maybe it was some bad luck that kept these teams from dominating even more. So how much of a factor is luck when it comes to the various sports?  What makes a championship team?  You need a combination of talent, hard work, and coaching to go along with luck to be able win a title in any sport.  One of the four components, acquiring talent, needs to have some good luck to go along with it, too.  In football I think the break down is this:  Talent 33%, Hard Work 26%, Coaching 25% and Luck 16%.  For the other sports, I think there is a gradual decline in how much luck is a factor in winning a Championship, coming down to 6% for basketball.  The rest of the factors probably have some variability from sport to sport, but luck will always have to be figured into the equation, when giving reasons for teams winning one or multiple championships.   People never want to think that something so unrelated to the business of the game, could contribute as much as it does, to winning it all. Dropped balls, missed or bad calls, wind, bad hops, deflected balls, that do or do not end up in the opponents hands, hitting or not hitting posts and poles, all have played significant roles, in how important games, have turned out. Post game analysis always wants to talk about all the great plays, and how well coached, and talented the winning team is.   When a player drops a ball in the end zone, it has nothing to with the other teams talent, hard work or coaching. The bottom line is this.  Nobody really wants to give luck, whether it is good or bad, it’s just due. If it wasn’t for luck the sports world would look a lot different when it comes to who won, what championships.

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