THE TWO CULTURES. Like Bryan Curtis, I've been puzzling recently over the apparent upsurge in intellectuals' interest in soccer. I don't think I really understood it, though, until I read this Frank Foer post noting that "[s]occer is largely immune from sabermatrics and other instantiations of mathematical nerdiness."

There, I think, is the rub.

The rise of analytic approaches to sports has been, in my opinion, an excellent development. But for a certain segment of literary types in America it's produced a crisis. Baseball turns out to be the most quantifiable of all major sports which has seriously threatened its status as a pretext for long-winded airy writerly musings. Football and basketball aren't far behind in coming to be dominated by pundits arguing that most of the Dallas Mavericks' "defensive improvement is an illusion" that vanishes once you adjust for pace factor and look at efficiency rather than raw points, and counter-arguing that the sample size was too small. Only in soccer does the purely qualitative style of analysis still flourish, creating a strong incentive for the mathematically disinclined to try and foist it on the American public.

--Matthew Yglesias

You may also like