Saturday, 4 August 2012

Quantifying the Frequency of Inadequately Entertaining Gridiron Activities Across Professional Football Franchises: An Empirical Application of the Fun Index on the 2011 NFL Regular Season

This post begins by positing that the current colossal popularity enjoyed by the NFL is in part a result of the fact that many people would describe following the sport as "enjoyable," "fun," and possibly (to non-Jaguars fans anyway) "exciting." On the whole, it would certainly appear that professional football games are often entertaining affairs, filled as they are with momentum-shifting turnovers, kickoffs and punts returned for touchdowns, trickery like fake field goals, and other stimulating fare. 

While The Wall Street Journal has previously documented that NFL games feature roughly eleven minutes of action spread across the sixty minutes of regulation game time, we are in the dark as to whether these eleven minutes are equally interesting for the the 32 teams in the league. It is clear that football games do not exhibit constant levels of excitement, and certain teams may engage in more interesting gridiron activities than others. This post calculates the Net Enjoyment Tabulation (N.E.T.) for each NFL team in an effort to determine the most and least entertaining franchises for the 2011 season. I am indebted to Advanced NFL Stats for providing the play-by-play data for all 2011 NFL regular season games used in my analysis.
Formulating Net Enjoyment Tabulation
N.E.T. is a metric that attempts to give a rough overview of the entertainment value of a given football play. It is the sum of Funness Points and Lame Points and can be expressed in utils. The higher a team's N.E.T., the more exciting plays they engaged in over the season and the more engaging their on-field actions are assumed to be.

Funness Points are awarded to plays that feature scoring, turnovers, or trickery. Scoring is handled in a pretty straightforward fashion. Touchdowns are weighted more heavily than field goals, while field goals and safeties are weighted equally due to the latter's rarity. Most fans find scoring plays to be exciting and they clearly exhibit the potential to materially affect game outcomes. The NFL front office certainly appreciates the entertainment value of scoring, as the the competition committee has promoted wide open, quarterback-friendly rule changes which have helped contribute to the astronomical passing statistics currently put up by many quarterbacks.

As Cam Newton fantasy owners can attest, touchdowns earned in losing efforts earn just as many fantasy points as game-winning passes. As a result, touchdowns, safeties, and field goals will be awarded constant marginal Fun Points regardless of game context. This is mainly a concession to fantasy-ification of football viewership for many fans, where scores of all shapes and sizes are welcomed by fantasy owners and are rewarded equally. For his fantasy coaches, Aaron Rodgers' 20th touchdown pass against the Lions in a given game should be just as enjoyable as his 19th. 

Turnovers are awarded Fun Points. Large numbers of turnovers could signal that a team is taking risks in the passing game or that they have Adrian Peterson at running back (who is one of the most exciting players when healthy). Turnovers also display the capacity to cause game-changing momentum shifts and can alter the course of a game. To fans of the team committing such turnovers, interceptions and fumbles are probably not enjoyable experiences, but they are usually seen as interesting to viewers with weaker rooting interests.

Trick plays, such as flea flickers and fake punts are awarded Fun Points because while they may not always work (and yes I realize the Dolphins most certainly did not draw it up like that), they aren't all that common and most fans sensibly enjoy them.

Fun Points are not enough to calculate the entertainment value of a NFL team. They must also be penalized for particular boredom-inducing sins in order to get a fuller understanding of their excitement levels. Hence, we need to add Lame Points in our calculations of N.E.T. Pro football games are generally entertaining, but they do feature some less-savory aspects which can be objectively assessed by an unbiased third party as "lame." These features are embodied in the Lame Point formula.

Lame Points are awarded/penalized for plays that feature "lame penalties," punts, and challenged plays that remain upheld.

Lame penalties are defined as infractions such as false starts, offsides, holding, and illegal formation. They are limited to penalties of 5 to 10 yards, as more significant penalties such as pass interference and roughing the passer can have large impacts on game outcomes and momentum. These smaller transgressions delay games and fans generally do not enjoy penalty-filled affairs.

Punts are considered lame because they represent offensive ineptitude and are usually less enjoyable than conventional offensive plays. Punts fielded by Patrick Peterson and other elite returners can sometimes be entertaining, but the plays aren't consistently interesting enough to escape lame status. Kickoffs are probably less entertaining than punts on the whole, but they basically only follow scoring plays.

While I support football's challenge system in general, challenges that get upheld are basically the game's equivalent of an unsuccessful sequence of pickoff moves. They simultaneously preserve the status quo while wasting the viewer's time. Watching closeups of Tom Coughlin pacing back and forth while grimacing for several minutes while losing another challenge is not really my idea of a good time.

Lame Points are designed as a small complement to Fun Points more than anything else. I would expect boring teams to earn their distinctions more as a result of low Fun Point values than anything else. Lame events are weighted much weaker than Fun events (reflecting the fact that football games are usually fun affairs) and while some teams may punt and jump offsides with alarming regularity, there shouldn't be that many/any teams with negative N.E.T.s. 
 After determining N.E.T. scores for all 32 teams, I broke down the top ten teams in terms of Lameness (having the lowest N.E.T. score) and Funness (highest N.E.T. score). Figure 1, which lists the least entertaining NFL teams by N.E.T. score for the 2011 season, is pictured below.
Figure 1: 10 Lamest Teams by N.E.T.
 According to N.E.T., the St. Louis Rams were unquestionably the lamest NFL team last season, and they actually managed the Herculean (or perhaps JaMarcus-ian is more fitting given the context) accomplishment of being the only team to post a negative N.E.T. score in 2011. In a hypothetical world where teams could play themselves, a rational utility-maximizing fan would actually experience a net decrease in utility if they were subjected to a contest between two versions of the 2011 Rams and be better off avoiding the game at all costs. Being a utility maximizing fan myself, I can't say that I went out of my way to watch the Rams all that much last season, but my experiences seem to corroborate their anemic N.E.T. performance. Every Sunday during the season my friends would have one television that would constantly show NFL Red Zone, a channel designed to show plays of consequence across the NFL. And I can honestly say I don't remember ever seeing any Rams plays. Sam Bradford's ankle injury certainly didn't help matters and Steven Jackson was the only Rams player who was relevant from a fantasy football perspective, but the fact remains that the team really wasn't all that interesting last year. The Chiefs finished second, thanks in part to injuries to key players such as Eric Berry and Jamaal Charles as well as committing a sizable amount of lame penalties.

The Seattle Seahawks led the NFL in Lame Points last season (mainly as a result of high concentrations of lame penalties), edging the Rams by 2, but they avoided the ignominy of being crowned the least-interesting team in the NFL by posting over 100 more Fun Points than the Rams.
I am somewhat surprised how well the N.E.T. works in measuring the excitement levels (or lack thereof) of NFL teams. Granted, the Bucanneers were interesting in a car-crash-that-everyone-stops-to-look-at kind of way and Tim Tebow's exploits skews the Broncos data a good bit. But for the result of two minutes of brainstorming and several seconds of Excel tabulations, I am reasonably pleased with the validity of this metric to assess the lameness of NFL teams. 

Figure 2 lists the most entertaining teams by N.E.T. The New Orleans Saints lead the pack in this statistic, having the highest Fun Point total as well as the fewest Lame Points.
Figure 2: Top Ten NFL Teams by Funness
Again, N.E.T. seems to work pretty well. I would certainly consider these ten teams to be entertaining. It is a bit surprising to see the Chargers so high on the list, but this fits with the general trend of how they always perform worse in reality than their statistics would suggest. If anything their third-place finish offers further support for the legitimacy of the model.
Looking Ahead/Policy Implications
Given the hiring of Jeff Fisher in St. Louis and a healthy (or at least healthier) Sam Bradford, the Rams are likely to vacate their spot as the lamest franchise this season. My money would be on the Jaguars to claim the spot in 2012, though the Browns may prove to be tough competition if Pat Shurmur is especially reckless with his challenges.
The Saints' suspensions resulting from their bounty shenanigans suggests that there is likely to be a reordering at the top of the N.E.T. tables as well. The Lions benefit from the fact that 15 yard penalties such as roughing the passer are not factored into Lame Point calculations and they could definitely challenge for the N.E.T. title if any one of their top running backs manages to stay healthy and unsuspended.
Appendix: All NFL Teams Ordered by N.E.T.

Sunday, 15 July 2012

Reminiscing Over "Stress: The Extinction Agenda" by Organized Konfusion

Pharoahe Monch and Prince Poetry of Organized Konfusion make it pretty clear from the outset that their sophomore release Stress: The Extinction Agenda is going to take a darker tone than the group's 1990 debut. Whether you consider the intro from their last album to be the loose free-wheeling instrumental “Fudge Funk” (the first track) or the curiously titled “Intro” (track 14 for those keeping score) where Po and Monch trade bravado-laden verses over a minimal beat, the chaotic opener of Stress foreshadows the pair employing a different approach. Monch lost his father after releasing OK's first album and the group struggled with poor sales despite garnering rightly-deserved glowing critical reception, (including four mics from The Source). Monch and Po also suffered from poor distribution from their label Hollywood Basic (a subsidiary of the Disney Music Business Group) and it is quite likely that they were not quite as “Down with Mickey Mouse” (according to Peanut Butter Wolf the label even issued checks with Mickey Mouse’s face on them) as originally claimed on “Fudge Pudge.” Compounding matters was the ascension of Rudy Giuliani to the Mayorship of New York, who drew the ire of many a rapper during his reign, and we can only attribute so much of that lyrical vitriol to the fact that "Giuliani" is a rather easy word to work into a song. The members of Organized Konfusion were no different, as Monch would mention on the Stress remix with Extra P, “You can fool me but I cannot fuck with Rudy Gulliani.” The group was also deeply affected by racial animosity developing from events such as the Yusef Hawkins affair and other similar instances as well as personal experiences of getting stood up by cabdrivers. These ideas are encapsulated on the album’s cover sleeve, which was designed by the late Matt Doo, who was also responsible for the art for Company Flow’s Funcrusher Plus. Monch and Po are depicted as the Incredible Hulk and Thor, attempting to use their superpowers to overcome the various social and political ills constantly surrounding them. 

While I am not the biggest fan of album intros in general, this track clearly establishes the themes of frustration, disorientation, and anger that permeate throughout the album. It begins with a swirl of voices over a rumbling bassline with a ticking hi-hat adding a high degree of anxiety to the mix. Monch sounds like he is on the verge of a mental breakdown, wailing and shouting before breaking into a frantic verse that outlines his meager current prospects. Prince Po comes off as a little more confident and composed, but he marks the end of his verse by giving The Gas Face to corrupt cops, racist cabbies and storeowners, ticket agents, and other forces participating in The Extinction Agenda. The intro helps frame the rest of the album as a cohesive whole that touches upon the subject matter that will be covered over rest of the release.

"Stress" was the only big single for the group for the album, and one of their most popular tracks in general. The Buckwild-produced track opens with a massive and portentous bass line before quickly transitioning to a loop of the horns from Charles Mingus' "Mingus Fingus 2." I always thought that loops really didn't add much to a song if they sampled a riff that repeated throughout the original track, in which case I would often just rather listen to the original, but this is an example where loops are actually expertly utilized. I don't want to turn this post into an exhaustive discussion on the ethics or artistic merits of looping or sampling-based music, but I will say that recontextualizing and looping the horns into the track sounds amazing on "Stress." Buckwild sampled the opening abrasive yelps from the horn section from the original track, where the instruments build up considerable tension for the listener before the phrase finally resolves itself. The genius of the "Stress" loop results from the fact that Buckwild cuts off the sample one note before the riff has resolved itself, leaving the listener with a sense of tension without any resolution. This chaotic and somewhat uncomfortable listening experience is exacerbated by the fact that the sample is repeated throughout the track. Considering the lyrical content which basically a lyrical manifestation of those chaotic horns, this is a perfect match and an excellent use of the sampling medium.
The album version features a skit where Po shoots a cabdriver who refuses to drive the group to Queens, which I think just disrupts the flow of the track. I do give them credit for putting some effort into making the interlude seem realistic with adding ambient noises (and the group would explore skits even more heavily in their final album The Equinox, where they spent $600 on professional sound effects), but that doesn’t take away from the fact that I don’t think it adds much to the track. Monch’s verse subsequently absolves the group of their questionable choices of song construction, though. I would even be willing to wait through a skit of "Where My Killer Tape?" proportions if I knew that it would ultimately be followed by Monch’s verse. He starts off with a scream and then hulks around the thunderous snare hits, demeaning lesser-skilled emcees and exclaiming his enjoyment of mace. Few rappers can match Monch's energy, and he uses pauses and several flows to deliver one of the most memorable verses on the album. Lyrical quotes don't really do him justice, and I don't feel like correcting the errors that invariably pepper lyrics culled from hip hop lyrics sites. You have to listen to it yourself.

The Extinction Agenda
"The Extinction Agenda" really gives a great demonstration of the rapport between the two emcees, hearkening back to the days of old school crews like the Treacherous Three. Monch and Po kick things off by giving a pass-the-mic spelling lesson of the group's name to prevent any ignorant crumbs from ever entering Organized Confusion into the rap literature canon. They perform several variations these spelling lines across the album (Po actually won several spelling bees in elementary school), but they deliver such routines with so much energy and charisma that the group thankfully never veers towards K-Solo territory. The track is a great illustration of how well the rappers work together. Organized Konfusion definitely was a group rather than two emcees who rapped together, and you can really sense that there is a legitimate connection between Monch and Po.  

Fun Fact: Spelling has existed place since Big Bank Hank "borrowed" some of Grandmaster Caz's on "Rapper's Delight." Jay-Z cited this biting as one of the contributing factors as to why he never writes down his lyrics. According to Don Charnas' The Big Payback, Caz was actually complicit in the biting, as he evidently gave the former pizza restaurant employee one of his rhyme books when he learned that Hank, who had bought gear for the Cold Crush Brothers, was going to New Jersey to record a rap song. Thinking that nothing would come out of the session, the real C-A-S-A-N-O-V-A gave Hank free reign to use whatever he wanted from the rhyme book on the song.

The beat is very hectic and is mainly composed of a sped-up sample from Herbie Hancock's Sextant, one of his more experimental fusion releases. Both rappers sound very comfortable flowing over the track, which might partially be attributed to the fact that they were behind the production boards. Monch's verse is heavy on the chess references and demonstrates his ability to creatively use pauses to keep the listener off balance and add variety into his raps.

And after going on about the connection between the group members, the next song is a Monch solo track, which Po apparently never even heard the beat for (though he does show up briefly at the end). O.C. also apparently traded this Buckwild instrumental to Monch for the beat that eventually was used for “Time’s Up.” Hip hop has always been limited to some degree by its limited subject matter, and while Organized Konfusion touch upon a variety of topics on Stress there still are a good bit of braggadocio-heavy songs which tread upon similar territory as other rappers. When dealing with familiar subjects like that, it is crucial that the rapper deliver his boasts and disses in an original and creative fashion, lest they sound like virtually all of their contemporaries. Monch provides an excellent example of how to expertly work within such constraints, citing the periodic table of elements, paving the way for the hyper-referential likes of Danny Brown and Das Racist with a Street Fighter reference, and ending his second verse "I'll rip your shit like Sinead," (which along with the Joey Buttafuoco reference on "Why?' firmly dates the album in the early nineties) one of my favorite punchlines from him on Stress. As to the title, there is no deep Wu-Tang/Illuminati numerology behind its name, 13 is simply Monch's favorite number.

Black Sunday
"Black Sunday" is a more straightforward song discussing label frustrations and the roots of the group and their attempts to get a deal. Both rappers sound composed and cool-headed and offer a reflective look of their history and how they persevered to get where they are today. I appreciate the personal nature of the song and how both rappers reveal a good degree of insight into their pasts. It strikes a more optimistic tone than some of the other cuts on the album and how rap offered them a way out of their harsh surrounding and sets the table for the album's uplifting conclusion with "Maintain."

I'm not really feeling the beat too much on this song, as it uses the "Jagger the Dagger" sample that had already been used by Pete Rock and must have been looped for about ten minutes during those silly skits and interludes that littered A Tribe Called Quest's first album. Its the only real production misstep on the album, though the only reason it sticks out so much is because the other beats are so strong.

Drop Bombs/Bring it On
The calmness of Black Sunday is quickly transitioned into the interlude “Drop Bombs,” little more than a frantic hook that nicely leads into “Bring It On,” a shining moment for both emcees.

Monch and Po adapt their voices to the track on "Bring it On" in a seamless fashion. Monch’s stuttering and frantic verse oozes charisma and energy and he slices through the beat with impressive lyrical dexterity. Monch claims in How to Rap that he wrote the lyrics to his 1999 monster hit "Simon Says" with the intention of allowing fans to sing along during live performances. I don’t think he was following that template while writing "Bring It On." Oftentimes rappers who want to kick such tongue-twisting flows must compromise their lyrics in some parts to fit their rapid-fire flow. Chip-Fu was a dynamic performer who could be incredibly entertaining to listen to, but its not like his lyrical content was that incredible. On the other side of the spectrum, Talib Kweli usually makes some poignant statements and drops nice lines, but sometimes his verbosity and focus on lyrics make his flow sound a little off. Monch somehow manages to balance these two forces, delivery an verbally acrobatic verse that is also very quotable. Again, I could copy and paste in some particularly impressive bars from Monch's verse and maybe even bold the rhyming syllables to illustrate his rhyme scheme, but he really has to be listened to in order to be fully appreciated. No words, especially mine, could really do him justice.

Monch often mentions John Coltrane as a stylistic influence. His syllabically-dense flow on the track evokes 
Coltrane's rapid note runs described by critics as sheets of sound. And his violent and energetic delivery is reminiscent of the squawks Trane would employ on Impressions and his other more abstract works. Few rappers used phrasing and spacing like Monch did to add a sense of dynamism and excitement to his verses
The beat is sparse during the verses, really just a simple bassline and some pounding drums, which gives Monch and Po plenty of room to inject their braggadocio and personalities. It may seem like a backhanded criticism, but the production manages to do an excellent job of not crowding or getting in the way of either emcee. The group probably wanted it that way, given that they produced "Bring It On" as well as many other tracks on the album.
Monch and Po are let down and hassled by cops, politicians, storeowners and various other actors throughout this album. "Why?" suggests that this inhumanity and anomie extends to romantic relationships. Storeowners and industry suits don't trust the pair and do the rappers wrong, and apparently Monch and Po can't even rely on their unfaithful girlfriends. Again, this isn't the first song to discuss unfaithful female friends, but the rappers approach the topic with their usual lyrical creativity, utilizing intricate internal rhyming schemes, some nice metaphors, and an "Odd Couple" reference.

The saxophone is almost definitely live, and it meshes well with the samples. The group used some live instrumentation which gave their tracks a loose and free-wheeling sound, but here the saxophone isn't used to overshadow or replace the samples and tries very hard to sound like it was sampled. Apparently the group couldn't clear the saxophone sample Buckwild originally wanted to use so they brought in someone to play on the track. The saxophone solo at the end is also a nice touch. That is something you can't really (legally) replicate with samples and I always liked songs like "Life's a Bitch" with long and linear instrumental passages. 

Let's Organize
The next two tracks on the album are more uptempo and upbeat, and offer a respite from the more violent and dark tracks that sandwich them. Sequencing sometimes seems like it was an afterthought on most rap records, but I really like how the tracks are organized on this album. Given the energy and force that Monch and Po bring on some of their songs, Stress could easily be an overwhelming and tiring listen if songs like "Bring It On," "Stress," and "Stray Bullet" were clustered together. Instead, the album offers a more natural ebb and flow, which I think makes for a more balanced and ultimately more enjoyable listen.

The beat on this boast-heavy song is driven by a funky Patrice Rushen bassline and chugging hi-hats. It also features the only two guest spots on the entire album, with O.C. doing a verse and Q-Tip giving a minimal guest appearance, which he seems to have been doing since "Buddy." 

Despite the presence of guests on the track, Monch and Po also demonstrate why the album didn't suffer from the dearth of guest spots. Hell, Monch's six bars on this track contains more energy and charisma than some rappers had on entire albums. Monch and Po also display so much versatility through Stress that their styles never get tiring as the album progresses. They can easily transition from Onyx-esque shouts to the tongue-twisting styles of Das Efx or Fu-Schnickens and perform both equally well. This diversity keeps the album fresh for listeners and demonstrates why the album doesn't really need any more guest spots than the appearances from O.C. and Q-Tip. Monch and Po would later demonstrate their abilities to carry entire albums on their quality solo albums.

This is another upbeat track that evokes the days of rappers rocking block parties and moving the crowd. The beat leaves a lot of space for the emcees to weave their verbal interplay over. Backed by another funk bassline and a guitar sample, it is one of the few songs on the album that wouldn't immediately clear the dance floor. In terms of beats and lyrical content, "3-2-1" offers another brief rest from some of the rougher and more pessimistic album tracks.

Po's delivery and flow are on point on this track, and this is a great time to point out that one of the group's major strengths is the balance between the rappers. I realize that I have been incredibly laudatory to Monch so far in this post (rightfully so) but Prince Po holds his own throughout the album and is integral to the success of the album. At no point is he really overshadowed by his group-mate. Po's gruff delivery and deep voice offers a nice counterpart to Monch's higher pitched cadences, and Po is a very talented lyricist as well. I never really liked it when rap groups had one member who was far more talented than his counterparts because I would listen to songs waiting for the best member to come on, which would often happen while listening to groups like Leaders of the New School. I never had that problem while listening to any Organized Konfusion albums. Po's complex rhyme schemes and enjambment keep things fresh for the listener on this track as well as the rest of the album.

Keep It Koming
Like some of the other beats on the album, the "Keep It Koming" instrumental is a rather minimal composition with a herky-jerky rhythm that allows the rappers to display their impressive flows. The beat is little more than a disjointed and off-kilter drum loop that is impossible to bob one's head to and would certainly cause mass c(k)onfusion on the dancefloor if a DJ ever played it at a club. Both rappers actually sound excellent flowing over the track and display their chameleon-like abilities to adapt to the beat as well as how they can rhyme well over everything. The whole notion of switching up flows and cadences, which happens many times across the album, keeps everything from getting stale, while musical-left turns like this instrumental also keeps the beats from feeling repetitive. Like the lyrical content of Stress, the beats, provided mainly by the group and Buckwild, work within a basic framework (grimy, dirty drums, low pass filters to emphasize the bass) but display a remarkable amount of variation within that structure, making the ultimate product all the more impressive.

Stray Bullet
This concept song told from the perspective of an errant bullet is rightfully considered one of the album's best songs. In the innovation-starved genre of hip hop, the act of coming up with a clever concept is enough to earn a considerable amount of listener goodwill for a rapper, even if their execution is spotty. It thus may be tempting to use such critical leniency to phone it in on a track like "Stray Bullet," but that isn't an issue with Organized Konfusion.

The track is unconcerned with explaining what (if anything) exactly precipitated the trigger finger to "put the pressure to the mechanism," a topic which has already been exhaustively explored in other rap songs. The random nature of the violence stridently depicts the considerable power and destruction that can be yielded by guns, as no one is safe from such unexplainable violence. The bullet is portrayed as merely an indiscriminate slave to the laws of physics and trigger-happy gun owners. Nas and Tupac would later release tracks with similar concepts, but I don't think either of them were as impactful or resonant as "Stray Bullet." The lurid and vivid details provided by Monch and Po chronicling the bullet's path of destruction pack a strong emotional punch.

While the main sample, Donald Byrd's "Wind Parade" had been used prominently the year before by Black Moon, Organized Konfusion sped up the sample and gave the loop a much more ominous tone that fits well with the lyrics. 

The album's closer gives a fitting summation of the general themes of Stress as well as offering a general feeling of subdued optimism for their listeners. Po starts the song off by outlining the various forces he must struggle against on a daily basis: violence, corrupt cops, and the anemic economic situation of his surroundings just to name a few. In the face of such stressors, Po finds his escape in the studio, where he crafts "masterpieces" for the enjoyment of himself and his friends on the street, not particularly caring "what my funny label releases." 

Monch comes off as a little more vulnerable, crooning about how his depressing situation has gotten his lacrimal glands going. He isn't the best singer and sounds pretty off-key, but I think the singing makes Monch sound earnest and meshes well will the emotional fragility he conveys through his lyrics.

The Rockwilder produced beat is generally dour and pensive, but there are a few times when he adds a building keyboard riff that triggers a sense of optimism and adds a good bit of hope to the musical background.

The message from both rappers appears to be that in the face of stress and The Extinction Agenda, all you can do is maintain and try to muddle through the best you can. "Maintain" and try to keep from going under in the jungle rather than try to pursue some pipe dreams of vast riches. Organized Konfusion aren't peddling the grander notions of rapid upward mobility described by other emcees and they have much more modest goals. All they really want is to be able to buy shoes for their family members and get a cabbie to take them to South Jamaica without incident. The prosaic themes of the album as well as the personal nature of some of the lyrical content allows both rappers to forge a strong personal connection to their listeners, which is why it is unsurprising that Monch and Po would often have fans mention how the album helped them get through tough times.
By now, the term "classic" is used to refer to virtually any rap album released roughly from 1986 through the Clinton administration (with the upper bound creeping higher and higher as the years progress) and it has consequently lost much of its meaning. So I could say that Stress is a classic album, but all that would really do is put it in a pantheon of releases that counts the likes of Skee-Lo's I Wish among its ranks. Instead I will make the slightly more meaningful statement that I consider Stress to be my favorite rap album from 1994, ahead of Illmatic, Ready to Die, and all of the other excellent releases dropped that year. Rap music has historically been a genre dominated by singles, and it never really adapted as well to the album format, but Stress is remarkable in that it works really well not just as a collection of songs but as a coherent whole. Its present-day obscurity was a result of poor distribution and a lack of exposure more than anything else. It also lacked a really radio-friendly single, but I would imagine it would have done much better commercially when it initially dropped if it was just distributed better. Stress is certainly worth a listen if you haven't heard it before and if you are already familiar with the release you should seek out the pretty excellent Remixes EP,

Saturday, 16 June 2012

Maximizing the Returns from Undergraduate Library Fees: A Literature Review of Scholarly Articles on Football

Mired in the doldrums of NFL offseason coverage, football fans looking for insightful analysis or interesting materials on the subject are largely out of luck, and will remain in such a state over the next several weeks. Growing tired of in-depth OTA and minicamp play-by-plays (and the assorted articles arguing how said comprehensive accounts are largely meaningless) and intensive coverage of Twitter kerfuffles, these are tough times for the several football fans possessing reading abilities on or above the grammar school level.  Having already exhausted the few decent football books myself (The Essential Smart Football is definitely worth a read) and slogging through several examples of mediocre literary gridiron fare, I decided to pursue more unorthodox mediums: academic literature.

Every time an NFL coach is faced with a crucial decision on fourth down, the media will inevitably bring up the economist David Romer's article on fourth down conversions and risk averse behavior. I also remember reading about a study that found that the success of the Oregon Ducks football team reduced students' GPAs and tempered their teetotaling tendencies. In light of these scholarly football articles, I decided to search my college's online library archives to see if I could find similar pieces to tide me over until the mindless extrapolation and scrutinization propagated by the football media begins in earnest once players graduate from shorts to knee pads in August and the preseason kicks off. Now I have made such attempts at finding interesting scholarly articles in the past with mixed results, but perhaps the staggering economic and social impacts of King Football on America have stimulated the pens of many an academic. I have presented the best articles I found from my search in the rest of the post. I tried to link to the full-length article if I could, but for the others you will be forced to deal with only an abstract and my sub-par interpretations and summaries. 

Press Pass: Payoffs to Media Exposure Among NFL Wide Receivers by Julianne Treme and Samuel K. Allen (2011). From the Journal of Sports Economics.

Much to the chagrin of long-snappers and coverage gunners everywhere, wide receiver has traditionally been one of the more glamorous positions in the NFL. Plenty of e-ink has been spilled covering the dealings of the recently-released Terrell Owens and the newly-employed Chad Ochocinco and current star receivers such as Larry Fitzgerald and Calvin Johnson enjoy sizable contracts and lucrative endorsement deals. This paper attempted to test the effects of on-field production and off-field popularity on wide receivers' salaries and draft positions. The authors used data from draft prospects at the position from 2001 through 2006. They created regression models that measured a player's draft position and salary while controlling for physical abilities, college production, and other factors.

Media exposure was found to have beneficial effects on a prospect's draft position even after controlling for factors such as touchdowns in college and performance in the Combine. Overall,  every two additional newspaper citations for a player in the year before the draft increased their draft position by two picks, holding all else constant. A 0.10 second reduction in a receiver's 40-yard dash time was found to raise their position by around 11 to 12 picks and their rookie salary by roughly $200,000, conclusions which were probably incredibly skewed by the personnel decisions made by the perpetually confuzzling and speed-loving Al Davis. The authors conclude that the 40-yard dash has a very large effect on draft position and salary while faster times were not associated with better rookie years in terms of receptions, the latter of which isn't all that surprising. Treme and Allen argued that the statistically significant effects of media exposure on draft position and salaries illustrated that coaches are possibly concerned with media coverage and popularity outside. This paper looks especially prescient in light of Chad Ochocinco's recent signing with the Miami Dolphins, though it is likely that exhortations from HBO executives and the frightening prospect of starting Davone Bess and Brian Hartline at wideout certainly had something to do with that as well.

Trying Out for the Team: Do Exhibitions Matter? Evidence from the NFL by Lee A. Craig and Alastair R. Hall (1994). From the Journal of the American Statistical Association

While it may be unfathomable to fans today, preseason games in the NFL used to be a big deal. A 1969 matchup between the New York Jets and Giants attracted 70,874 to the Yale Bowl and then-Giants head coach Allie Sherman was fired before the start of the actual season that year after recording an 0-5 record in exhibition play. During the forty-odd years since, preseason games have largely devolved into uninteresting contests which no fan would willingly travel to Connecticut for. The NFL exhibition schedule had already reached such a state by 1994, the time this article was written, which was influenced by an article by Rick Telander in Sports Illustrated calling for the end of the preseason. This paper tried to defend the exhibition schedule and its usefulness and predictive ability. One interesting hypothesis tested in the paper is the idea that high-performing teams feature more competition among veteran free-agents (though interestingly enough this data is culled from the era before the more restrictive Plan B free agency was struck down by the U.S. federal court) because such "good" franchises are more likely to already have quality veterans under contract and are likely to have fewer spots up for grabs while many free agents will want to play for a winner. These competitive effects will lead to improved preseason performance and cause teams that play well in the preseason to carry their success over to the regular season.

The authors tested this assumption with preseason data spanning from 1971 through 1991. The results indicated that there was a small positive effect with the effect of preseason wins on regular season performance. If a team won 6 preseason games rather than 0 (this uses data from when the preseason was an interminable six weeks) they would be expected to win 2 more games in the regular season. Craig and Hall also discovered that a 1% increase in veterans on a roster increased a team's winning percentage by roughly 2.5%. The veteran competition hypothesis is intriguing but I don't really think it is all that valid in driving preseason performance. There certainly would be competition among marginal free agents to make a good team, but I don't think big-name free agents who would be likely to actually bring in regular season success like Mario Williams really need to sweat their preseason performance all that much. I will agree that the NFL preseason can be a valuable opportunity to coaching staffs to evaluate their personnel, especially backups who may not play much in the regular season, but I remain very skeptical that preseason records have really any association with regular season performance.

The NFL Combine: Does It Predict Performance in the National Football League? by Frank E. Kuzmits and Arthur J. Adams (2008). From the  Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 

One slightly more puzzling development in NFL history is the mutation of the annual draft Combine from a no-frills event in Florida to a media event which some people actually willingly attend (in Indianapolis no less). While many fans are quick to mention Combine stars who fizzled in the NFL such as Vernon Gholston, Matt Jones, and Mike Mamula, analysts and coaches still put a lot of stock into how prospects perform during the event. This study attempted to determine whether such scrutiny and attention is warranted and if Combine measurements actually had some predictive value determining NFL success.

Kuzmits and Adams utilized data on quarterbacks, running backs, and wide receivers invited to the Combine from 1999 through 2004. The results indicated that most tests, such as a the 40-yard dash, vertical jump, bench press, and Wonderlic had little forecasting ability for NFL success, at every position. They did find that 10, 20, and 40-yard dash times had a small positive association with running back performance in the NFL, but I should mention the caveat that this paper was published before the miserable 2011 campaign of Chris Johnson and his 4.24 40 time. I can't say that these results are incredibly surprising, given that the 40-yard dash was designed by Paul Brown many moons ago to assess punt coverage ability and the Wonderlic dates back to 1936 and was designed for general usage among workers in many industries rather than just football players, something that I'm sure Morris Claiborne will eagerly point out to you. The study concludes by stating that many of the analyzed tests should be underemphasized in personnel decisions but that the Combine still has practical value in facilitating social interaction between coaching staffs and players trough interviews and position workouts.

Playing Position and Psychological Skill in Football by Richard H. Cox and Ho-Sang Yoo (1995). From the Journal of Sport Behavior.

There are a few generally-accepted stereotypes concerning the mental and emotional composition of various football positions. Offensive linemen, especially centers, are characterized as intelligent field generals who must understand the responsibilities of his teammates, while the football cognoscenti claim that short memories and resiliency are vital to the success of cornerbacks and quarterbacks. Conrad Dobler, a former offensive guard for the Cardinals and widely considered the league's dirtiest player during the pre-Bill Romanowski era claimed that his degree in child psychology was great preparation for dealing with developmentally infantile defensive linemen. (Perhaps it made it easier for him to kick them in the head?) And thanks to the exploits of Mike Vaderjagt, Garo Yepremian, and Bill Gramatica, kickers are often viewed as foreign, quirky, and over-exuberant. Building off of previous research limited to the personality characteristics of individual positions, this study was designed to examine if players at different positions exhibited significantly different psychological makeups. 

The paper uses data on 43 players from a major Division I-A program in the Midwest. Given that Cox has served as a professor for many years at the University of Missouri, we can probably assume that he was dealing with the Mizzou Tigers of his home school. Participants completed  the Psychological Skills Inventory for Sports (PSIS R-5), a 45-item test designed to measure an athlete's psychological skills and abilities. The results indicated that linemen on both sides of the ball demonstrated lower levels of psychological skill compared to members of offensive and defensive backfields. In this case, psychological skill means concentration level, anxiety control, and confidence. Offensive players had slightly lower anxiety scores than their defensive counterparts. Offensive backs displayed significantly higher motivation levels than offensive linemen. The authors hypothesized that these mental discrepancies are largely the result of development resulting football experiences rather than from any inherent characteristics, and they argue that positions such as cornerback require significant mental preparation and discipline due to the negative psychological effects resulting from lapses such as blown coverages.

Catching a Draft: The Process of Selecting Quarterbacks in the NFL Amateur Draft by David J. Berri and Rob Simmons (2009). From Journal of Productivity Analysis.

Manning vs. Leaf. Luck vs. RG3. Russell vs. Quinn (good gravy 2007 was a terrible year for quarterbacks). Every NFL draft features this discourse where draftniks voice their affiliations and take stances on what prospect is the superior quarterback in the draft. The increasing importance of the passing game has elevated such decisions to an even higher magnitude, and getting a franchise quarterback through the draft is incredibly important for NFL teams, a claim that Daniel Snyder would surely have few quibbles with. Berri and Simmons wanted to test whether talent evaluators were any good at actually doing this. The redistributive effectiveness of the NFL draft (something which has been challenged by the academic KG Quinn (to the 2 people who actually click on my (rather thoughtful and informative, if I may say so myself) hyperlinks: Ctrl-F on the page for Quinn) in the past) hinges on the staff of poorly performing teams (who don't mortgage their entire drafts for washed up former Heisman winners) doing just that.The article starts with the interesting tidbit explaining the impetus for the current draft structure. Former NFL commissioner Bert Bell apparently adopted a reverse-order amateur draft in response to a vicious bidding war between the Brooklyn Dodgers and Philadelphia Eagles over the services of the middling fullback Stan Kostkas in 1935, which led to the lucky back earning one of the highest salaries in the league. The redistributive draft order was also quite friendly to Bell, who owned the Eagles, the worst team in the league that year (...and many years to follow as well).

The authors wanted to figure out what factors NFL teams used to choose quarterbacks, how such factors actually predicted NFL production, and if a quarterback's draft status had any impact on their subsequent NFL performance. They tested the relationship between draft selection and NFL production with data on 331 quarterbacks selected in the NFL draft from 1970 through 2007. Berri and Simmons measured NFL performance with a QB score metric, essentially a simplified version of a quarterback rating. They found that quarterbacks picked earlier in the draft had higher aggregate QB scores compared to quarterbacks picked later in the draft, but that quarterbacks drafted in picks 11-50 and 51-90 actually had higher QB Scores on a per-play basis. Essentially, quarterbacks picked earlier weren't necessarily better than their lower-picked peers, they just played more, probably because NFL coaches are loath to admit that they made a mistake with their top draft pick and refuse to acknowledge sunk costs. Right Rex Ryan? The authors tested what factors decided a quarterback's draft position with data on 121 quarterbacks picked between 1999 and 2008. They found that characteristics measured at the Combine such as height, weight, Wonderlic scores and 40-yard dash performance explained about 20% of the variation in a quarterback's selection spot, and adding a performance metric based on college production only increased the explanatory value of the model by 3%, suggesting that teams may weigh measurables over college production to a significant degree. The paper then tested the predictive effects of such factors as they related to NFL performance, and the authors found that Combine results and college production barely had any effects on NFL production, though there was a significant and positive relationship between college and NFL completion percentages.

Honorable Mention: Effect of National Football League Games on Small Animal Emergency Room Caseload  by Rozanski et al. (2009). From the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association.

Unfortunately, my university could only give me an abstract and citation for this article. The summary hinted that the basis of the study was to determine whether the games of "popular professional football teams" (I suppose they excluded the Allen Wranglers and Jacksonville Jaguars from their analysis) have any impact on the hospitalizations, euthanizations, and deaths of cats and dogs at emergency veterinary clinics in the teams' local markets. Thankfully the good people at the Cat Expert blog provide a rather comprehensive overview of the piece. The authors compiled data on pet hospitalizations for a Boston-area clinic during the Patriots' 2007 season during game days. They ultimately found that a total of 33.8 pets were hospitalized on non-game day Sundays while 33.3 pets were admitted into the clinic on Sundays when the Patriots played, and a game's significance did not affect hospitalization rates. They conclude that while they cannot definitively make a statement on the impact of NFL games on pet hospitalizations, "staffing alterations may be warranted" in light of these findings.

Thursday, 3 May 2012

The Application of Undergraduate Majors in Determining Professional Gridiron Success: An Empirical Examination and Evaluation of the Profitability Hypothesis

Having recently graduated from a highly-esteemed western Pennsylvania institution of higher learning, I have spent much of the past week reflecting upon my four years of undergraduate education. Was it financially worth it? Did I pick the correct majors? Why on Earth did I take that class on European Monetary Policy and purchase so many Tesco meal deals while abroad? And perhaps most importantly, have my studies adequately prepared for a successful career as a professional football player?

As you may have been aware, the NFL recently held the 77th instance of its collegiate draft. 250 players were selected in total, and all of them had ostensibly been previously enrolled at a four-year American or Canadian university (Fun Fact: Eric Swann was actually selected sixth overall in 1991 by the Cardinals while playing for a semi-pro team in Massachusetts after one season at Wake Technical Community College). As is usually the case, pundits, fans, and NFL personnel evaluators are keenly interested in determining which picks will succeed at the professional level. Traditionally, these individuals have relied on game film, the silly circus that is the NFL Combine with its misapplied 40-yard dash and other similarly useless events, and interviews and other various psychological exercises to evaluate college prospects. Even with these tools, many teams still haven't got the whole "drafting well" thing down pat, considering that Blaine Gabbert went in the top ten last year and a large number of first-rounders fade into obscurity and/or staggering mediocrity after a few seasons. 

Perhaps teams would benefit from looking at one of the more overlooked characteristics when evaluating NFL talent: a prospect's college major. While not practicing, lifting weights, or amassing cars and other ill-gotten benefits from boosters, college players are required to complete a certain number of credit hours of classes per NCAA regulations. This activity generally involves declaring a major at some point. I am conducting this study in order to determine whether a player’s undergraduate major has any effects on their performance at the professional level.

I think there are three plausible theories regarding NFL success with respect to a player’s major.

1. The Swahili Hypothesis: This idea basically states that majors don't have any independent effects on a prospect's NFL success because all college football players take the same classes at a particular school. Certain colleges offer non-rigorous majors where they sequester a significant amount of their athletes, such as Community and Family Studies at the University of Texas and the General Studies program at the University of Michigan. If this holds, comparing draft picks by major is essentially the same as comparing players by the school they attended. 

2. The Easiness Hypothesis: Alternatively, players with easier majors could perform better in the pros than those athletes whose academic tracks require them to put in long hours balancing chemical equations and understanding abstruse arcana such as the writings of Wittgenstein and the Mundell-Fleming model (obviously the latter reference is made in jest). Since most schools don't offer courses in stalk blocking or covering the flat, coursework may possibly serve as a distraction that prevents prospects from developing their skills to perform in the NFL, and thus those athletes with less-demanding majors that don't ask for large time investments are likely to be more successful in the pros.

3. The Profitability Hypothesis: The general gist here is that players with less practical and bankable majors will perform better in the NFL because they have weaker alternative career options. To better illustrate this point, we can characterize college majors on a matrix like this: 
As this chart demonstrates, there is a pretty considerable range of profitability on the college major spectrum. If the profitability hypothesis holds, college majors in the lower two quadrants of bankability will be more successful in the NFL. The general notion behind this is that prospects with more lucrative majors have a steady fallback option if their pro careers don't work out, which may have a negative effect on their performance and effort levels. Meanwhile, players with majors in less useful fields have an added incentive to play well and last long in the NFL because their academic backgrounds don't really qualify them for any useful jobs. If the easiness hypothesis holds, meanwhile, we would see that NFL success is greater among players with easier majors regardless of their economic returns.


I will use data from the 2004 through 2012 drafts. The study will focus on first round draft picks selected over the period. Thanks to the New England Patriots’ espionage shenanigans and associated penalties, a total of 287 college players were selected in the first round in the years studied. To the great relief of my more statistically-inclined reader(s), I am leaving Stata on the backburner for this post. I created the dataset in Excel and computed everything by calculator. I collected the data primarily from school web sites, many of which host player profiles for quite a long time, and some archival research from scholarly journals.

Despite what Dominique Foxworth may claim, I think the Pro Bowl is rather uninteresting and a large waste of time and strongly advocate for the reestablishment Bert Bell Benefit Bowl in its stead. Its flaws notwithstanding, the Pro Bowl does provide lazy pseudo-academic bloggers a somewhat decent metric for evaluating player performance. Thus, I will define a "success" in the NFL as a prospect that was invited to the Pro Bowl at some point in their professional career.  Yes, this is binary and does not give bonuses for players with multiple appearances, but like I said at the beginning of the post, I just received an undergraduate degree in economics from a public college, not a PhD in statistics from MIT or something.

I will also withhold draft picks from 2011 and 2012 when calculating each major's success rate.
Analysts seem to have gradually accepted the notion that players sometimes take a few years to develop, and they now constantly boast that they are too enlightened to even deign to evaluate drafts at their immediate conclusion and thus refuse to give draft grades. Unfortunately, this does not prevent the same pundits and idiot bloggers from completely writing off players after weak rookie seasons (a la Blaine Gabbert) or jumping to ridiculous conclusions after the first week of regular season play. Von Miller and other Pro Bowler rookies from 2011 are included in the success calculations, however.

I completely realize that many college athletes don't come all that close to finishing their degree, but given the NFL's eligibility requirements most have at least three years of college enrollment and it wouldn't be that hard for them to finish their degree at a later date, especially since they probably wont have to spend as much time practicing and procuring ill-gotten gains from boosters once their playing days are over.


Before I start the analysis, here is a list of first round draft picks by major from 2004 through 2012:

Number of Draft Picks
General Studies
Sports Management
Social Science
Liberal Arts
Political Science

Nothing surprising here. I think we all knew coming into this study that college football players weren’t really all that likely to flock to biochemistry or computer science. There is a significant concentration of players studying STEM fields, which for the purposes of this study refers to Studies of Trivial (and Environmental) Matters, with the E intended to placate the environmentally-friendly members of my audience and make the acronym more phonetically pleasant. These majors include Community and Family Studies, Housing Studies, Urban Studies, and other fields which don't really lend themselves to any careers paying over $12 an hour. Most of the majors would have low profitability scores on the academic matrix figure from before. Majors like General Studies, Liberal Arts, and Social Science are really general and also seem ridiculously easy to complete. Now we can calculate the success rates of the most popular majors:

Success Percentage
Liberal Arts
General Studies
Social Science
Sports Management
Political Science

This is pretty interesting by itself, but it doesn't completely test the profitability hypothesis. In order to do that, we provide a more thorough breakdown of these results and group together majors by their profitability. The above figure does support the idea that easier majors appear to have higher success rates than harder ones, however.

We should now analyze the less bankable majors and look at their success rates. This ranges from the difficult majors to the easier yet still profitable academic tracks such as economics and finance. The graph is sorted by academic rigor.

Bankable Majors Subset

Success Percentage
Biology/Biochemistry (4)
Engineering (4)
Psychology (5)
Economics (2)
Business- Finance (6)

To defend my fellow Econ majors now playing in the NFL, I will say that former CoSIDA Academic All-American of the Year Alex Smith wasn't that bad last season. These findings lend some credibility to the idea that players with majors that yield higher-paying jobs may be less successful in the NFL. This holds for difficult majors such as Engineering as well as the less difficult fields of Economics and Finance. 

Now we should determine whether players with less bankable majors demonstrate higher levels of NFL success as the profitability hypothesis suggests. This graph consists of more difficult and less useful majors and is sorted by academic rigor.

Less Useful Majors Subset

Success Percentage
Philosophy (2)
Classics (1)
Anthropology (1)
History (3)
Political Science (7)
Public Administration (4)
Social Work (4)
African-American Studies (5)
STEM* (13)
Undecided (7)
* Note: STEM consists of American Studies, Environmental Studies, Youth and Community Studies, Housing Studies, Science Technology and Culture, and Sports and Leisure Studies

Not the biggest vote of confidence for the profitability hypothesis. I included STEM in the graph to determine whether the easier useless majors led to more NFL success, which appears to be the case.

Before concluding this paper, we should examine whether the caliber of a prospect's school has any impact on their NFL performance. The chart below measures the success percentages of first rounders from colleges listed in U.S. News and World Report's 75 best colleges as of 2012. Total eligible picks are listed in parentheses and schools are listed in order of their ranking. The dataset offers some support to the Swahili hypothesis. Some schools definitely exhibited patterns consistent with the theory, such as the glut of Criminology majors at Miami, Sociology students at USC, and Sociology majors everywhere. Looking at draft pick success allows us to test an alternative form of the profitability hypothesis. Will players from schools with better academic reputations that might translate into higher salaries have poorer performance than less-respected schools, ceteris paribus? Let's see what the chart has to say:

 Top 50 Institutions

Success Percentage
Northwestern (1)
Vanderbilt (2)
Notre Dame (1)
UC Berkeley (5)
USC (12)
University of Virginia (5)
University of Michigan (6)
North Carolina (2)
Boston College (4)
Georgia Tech (2)
University of Miami- Florida (12)
University of Washington (1)
University of Wisconsin (3)
Penn State (4)
University of Illinois (2)
University of Texas (10)
Total (72)

Now we must compare these results to a sample of less-respected colleges with weaker academic reputations. I collected these schools by working backwards from the U.S. News ratings to cover all the schools rated from 125th to unranked in their ratings. The schools are listed in backwards order of ranking. 

Less Competitive Schools

Success Percentage
Memphis (1)
Tennessee State (1)
                    Central Michigan (1)
Northern Illinois (1)
East Carolina (1)
Western Michigan (1)
South Florida (2)
West Virginia (1)
Louisville (2)
University of Idaho (1)
Texas Tech (1)
University of Mississippi (5)
Alabama (3)
Kansas State (1)
Oregon State (1)
Arkansas (6)
Oklahoma State (4)
Louisiana State (10)
Total (43)

The overall success percentage isn't very different from those prospects that went to more competitive schools. 35% of first rounders in the less competitive sample make the Pro Bowl compared to 31% of those attending top 50 institutions. Thus, it appears that the academic reputation associated with a prospect's school does not have a significant effect on their NFL performance, though the direction of the results is consistent with the profitability hypothesis. It is also worth noting that when the vast majority of players at top-tier institutions such as the University of Michigan are majoring in fields such as General Studies the mind-numbing simplicity of their coursework is probably counteracting any positive benefits deriving from the fact they went to a respected school.  

The Redskins were foolish to pick Robert Griffin III and Kirk Cousins, not because it creates unwelcome competition or prevented the team from addressing other pressing needs but because the NFL track records of Political Science (RG3) and Kinesiology (Cousins) majors are particularly poor, with none offering a Pro Bowler from the first round. Political Science has been the worst performing major since 2004 and includes the likes of Brady Quinn within its ranks. It appears that Criminology is the best major for college football players, as it has the highest success rate for majors with over five first rounders and boasts Pro Bowlers such as Patrick Willis and Jason Babin. The only colossal bust who majored in the field was Erasmus James, who was a Sociology major as well.

These results suggest that the easiness hypothesis has defeated its profitability cousin. Most successes in the NFL are highly concentrated within a few majors which stretch across the profitability spectrum. These are mostly linked by the fact that they are all relatively easy compared to other potential academic tracks. There is some support for the Swahili hypothesis, as several schools exhibited considerable levels of scholarly homogeneity. 

Chad Faulcon, recent signing of the Atlanta Falcons (congratulations and best of luck) will make the team's final roster and knock Oakland's Darren McFadden out for the season when he inadvertently sneezes in the general direction of the rather fragile running back during warmups before their week 6 meeting. 

I was going to make a joke tangentially relating these conclusions to the current state of international capital markets but the Money and Investing section of today’s Journal looks extraordinarily unappetizing. If any former LSE classmates desperate for dry and jargon-ridden financial prose have made it this far, I am referring to the May 3rd New York edition. The article analyzing France’s potential policy impacts on the European Central Bank looks especially unappetizing.

The dataset I created for this post can be found here.