Population Statistic: Read. React. Repeat.
Sunday, September 27, 2021

pre-frostpre-gridpre-diamondpre-hardcourt
As I’ve been watching the first couple of weeks of the National Football League season, along with the now-completing National Hockey League preseason, I’m wondering: Do the major-pro team sports know what they’re doing when prepping for the regular season?

I won’t pretend to know what goes into player evaluation. Personally, it’s a mystery how scouts and coaches can extrapolate real-game performance from an exhibition contest between third-stringers — what does 75 yards rushing, or a goal and two assists, really mean in that context? And the kicker is when such preseason output gets the player demoted or released anyway — again, how can you tell that those results won’t materialize when the games count?

Still, a couple of developments in early season NFL/late preseason NHL this year stand out, making me question the effectiveness of the current system:

- In football, Brett Favre’s late August signing with the Vikings, and instant installment as their starting QB, invalidates the fundamental purpose of preseason. Team cohesiveness and playbook preparation are supposed to be paramount goals before the regular season commences. How true is that when a team’s most pivotal position is reshuffled barely a week before games start to count? Even accounting for Favre’s experience and unique star power, Minnesota basically threw out their entire gameplan when they brought him in, demonstrating how disposable those weeks of preparation are.

On top of that example, the first two weeks of NFL action produced tons of penalties by both winning and losing teams. That’s a yearly occurrence, and it’s driven me crazy for as long as I can remember. You’d think players would be particularly sharp coming right out of preseason, especially after having survived roster cut-downs and everything else. And yet, in Week 1, you see enough offsides and other boneheaded fouls to make you wonder just how much intensity teams generate in August.

- In hockey, preseason’s seen a late-arriving roster insertion similar to Favre’s, in Brandon Dubinsky’s ended holdout with the New York Rangers. True, he’s returning to the same team he’s been with his whole career, so there was already familiarity. Still, he’s slated to be the team’s No. 1 center, so again, a prominent role is essentially handed over to a guy who’s experienced hardly any training camp and preseason conditioning.

On something of a flip-side, 41-year-old Theoren Fleury’s comeback attempt was snuffed by the Calgary Flames. Even with the odds against him — age and six years out of the NHL — he posted four points in the preseason, and certainly didn’t look out of place. Still, Flames brass deemed him not good enough to crack the team’s top six forwards. What more he’d have to do is undetermined.

Baseball and basketball function on similar levels. The only key differentiation is that baseball and hockey have professional minor league systems where they can hold second-level talent in reserve for future development; football and basketball don’t have that outlet, so personnel decisions are more final.

And maybe that’s the problem. Teams are trying to accomplish two things in preseason: Draw up winning gameplans with corresponding depth charts, and evaluating new talent. You’d think they two would go hand-in-hand, but I’m not sure they do.

How efficient is it to rotate different players, at different skill/experience levels, in and out of drills, scrimmages, and exhibition games? There’s a small window during which to judge how those players perform and that’s it. It’s a good high-pressure stress test, but not a realistic gauge of how he’d do in a more extensive audition. Meanwhile, coaches have to do this while simultaneously fine-tuning player formations, offensive/defensive schemes, batting lineups, etc. Both tasks are deserving of full-time attention, and don’t necessarily dovetail as they unfold.

So, I propose a formal division between these two preseason rituals. Some football or hockey team that’s down-in-the-dumps enough to try a radical new approach should de-couple the player-eval that is training camp from the team-building that is (or should be) preseason, and see if that doesn’t result in a regular-season performance that wins more games than expected.

Maybe I should start a consulting service that pitches this approach to pro teams. There’s gotta be some bright-idea general manager out there that’s looking for outside-the-box ideas.

by Costa Tsiokos, Sun 09/27/2009 05:22:45 PM
Category: Sports
| Permalink | Trackback |

Feedback »
Say something! (with optional tweeting)


Comment moderation might kick in, so please do not hit the "Say It!" button more than once.

Tweet this comment, too!

(Don't worry, your Twitter Name/Password is NOT saved.)