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Sports Manitou Messenger, Volume 133, Number 9

Photo: Third year straight at starting guard, Capt. Peterson shoots his familiar jump shot during home game, pictured in Viking Yearbook: 1958.

For the love of the game

Logan Graham, Staff Writer

A St. Olaf student's successful career in sports betting.

When you imagine sports betting, it might be easy to picture bookies and attendees throwing money around at a horse race, a frenetic financial chaos similar to stock exchanges and pre-computerized securities trading. But like in a stock exchange, this chaos has vanished in favor of the digital world. The rise of sports betting with its path towards legalization in many states has also triggered a rise in the use of algorithms to predict which teams and players to bet on.

Largely, the process of creating algorithms to determine the success of individual players or teams is enabled by a recent change in sports as a whole, where teams and stakeholders have started using data and statistical modeling to not only decide what players to play when, but how the game is played. This revolution was brought to the forefront by the bestselling book “Moneyball,” which inspired the movie of the same name.

One St. Olaf student is using this statistical approach to sports to improve his own game, and also to make money in sports betting. Let’s call him Jay, as he must remain anonymous to maintain NCAA eligibility. Jay bets using a website called DraftKings, a site featuring a wide range of sports betting avenues, but bets almost exclusively on football. In order to maximize his chances of winning, he bets using a system where a lobby of individuals will each set forth a lineup, and based on how successful the players in the lineup are, they earn points. The half of the lobby with an above-average number of points get 180% of their bet back, and the other half lose it all.

This method is ripe for success, as you only have to beat the average competitor, not the Vegas odds. And so, to ensure that he wins a significant majority of the time, Jay uses algorithms to decide which players to pick for his lineup. The results speak for themselves. Every season Jay takes $25, with the hopes to multiply it as much as possible. Last year, he turned his $25 into $1000. This year, Jay is on track to replicate his staggering 3,900% return on investment, a return on investment even the biggest and most successful sports brokers would envy.

The secret to his success is the effort he puts into his algorithms. These algorithms are intensely complex mathematical functions that use over a dozen individual player metrics to spit out which players are likely to score him the most points on DraftKings. These metrics can be as simple as average yards per game to as complex as to which team is projected to be playing from behind, causing a higher likelihood of late game passes. Of course, creating the algorithm is just one part of the process. Jay spends about 24 hours a week collecting and inputting the data needed to fill in his massive excel spreadsheet that houses the algorithms.

In interviewing Jay, I realized there was something deeper than just his intellect and an ability to make money on sports betting. There was a wholehearted love for sports and a love for numbers at play. With the amount of effort he was putting in and the comparatively low amount of money he was betting, I asked him why he did it. He was certainly making below minimum wage, after all. I asked if it was to fulfill a career ambition.

“I would do it for free, just because I really love it,” Jay said. “If this was a lucrative, stable job, I would definitely consider it. It is a very good combination of things I love.”

graham1@stolaf.edu

Graphic: Thomas Hardy/Manitou Messenger

Finding success in an era of struggle

Jacob Maranda, News Editor

There are certain moments that can define a sports franchise. These moments are often hard to understand in the present. It takes a look into the past to realize the significance of a certain decision, a marquee signing or a blockbuster trade. The history of a franchise is littered with these moments, for better or worse.

Steven Garcia/Manitou Messenger

Both the men’s and women’s hockey programs at St. Olaf experienced what I would argue were defining moments over the past year. Both programs faced the departure of experienced and well-respected head coaches, and the hiring of two young, fresh faces to take their respective places. Alongside this head coaching shift, St. Olaf hockey received a new home on the Hill, a drastic change from their previous location off-campus.

These changes forced both programs to reevaluate and enter a period of transition. As with any transitional period, for any franchise, the hockey teams have struggled to find their footing in unfamiliar territory. Neither team has won a game at the St. Olaf Ice Arena since its inauguration in January 2019. Neither team has won a game, home or away, in their 2019-20 seasons so far. While losses were expected, it is not inaccurate to say that no one envisioned this prolific of a struggle.

However, while it is possible to take these defeats at face value and come to the conclusion that hockey at St. Olaf is simply ‘bad,’ I believe there is more to both programs than meets the eye.

Watching the men’s team play against a nationally ranked St. Thomas last Friday night, it was clear that the Oles were not outmatched, holding a tight defensive line and notching a couple good counter-attacking shots before ultimately falling 0-1. While the situation for the women’s team was more lopsided, they too showed glimpses of promise through some sparkling scoring chances on the fast-break, chances which ultimately caught St. Thomas unawares and led to a 19th minute goal for first-year Samantha Martin in the second period.

"However, while it is possible to take these defeats at face value and come to the conclusion that hockey at St. Olaf is simply ‘bad,’ I believe there is more to both programs than meets the eye."

Although their records may not reflect it, both men’s and women’s hockey programs are showing definite promise. Both rosters feature majority underclass athletes who are continuing to develop their skills to match a difficult Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference. Both new head coaches are young and come from successful programs themselves, and while it may take some time to build trust among players, they will surely transfer their developing sets of skills to programs that share bright futures.

Most importantly for both teams, the support from fans is still there. Student-athletes from across campus turned out on Friday and Saturday nights to cheer on the Oles at home, and parents and community members also offered their support from the seats. It would seem that, as the losses continue to pile up and brief glimpses of greatness continue to shine through, support for the teams continues to grow. It’s the paradox of defeat – people want to be there when the tides change.

And, rest assured, the tides will change for these programs. The desire to win, both among the players and the fans, continues to grow. With time comes experience, for coaches and players alike — experience that will naturally translate into success on the ice. Through all the tough defeats and glimpses of brilliance, the character of the teams and of the fanbase will continue to develop.

As with any great franchise, it is necessary to take the good with the bad. While it is clear that St. Olaf hockey is currently in the bad, I think the good is right around the corner.

marand1@stolaf.edu

Minnesota Twins: 2019 Wrap-Up and 2020 Outlook

Evan Faas, Contributing Writer

In 2018, the Minnesota Twins lost more games than they won, with a record of 78-84. I wrote an article at this time last year suggesting that the Twins had the chance to turn things around and build a playoff team for 2019. However, I never could have guessed that the Twins would stampede their way to the playoffs with a mind-boggling 101 wins.

The 2019 Twins broke new ground thanks in large part to the hiring of an inexperienced 37-year-old manager named Rocco Baldelli. Twins beat reporter Do-Hyoung Park reports that part of Baldelli’s influence involved his focus on “building relationships and creating a fun, comfortable clubhouse environment to empower his players.” Under Baldelli’s guidance, the Minnesota Twins shocked the baseball world by setting a new all-time record for most team home runs in one season and broke the 100-win threshold for the first time in over 50 years. Last week, Baldelli was recognized for his extraordinary efforts with the AL Manager of the Year award.

All of this sets the stage for a very exciting 2020 season. Baldelli has proven his effectiveness as a manager and the Twins once again have plenty of room on their payroll to afford the more expensive players in the free agency. The gaping hole for the team this offseason is in their starting rotation; four of the five Twins starting pitchers have reached the end of their contract. Last week, the Twins resigned Jake Odorizzi, one of those four pitchers, to a one-year, $17.8M deal. This was a necessary move, as a hole this large would be very difficult to fill entirely with free agents.

Regarding the other three vacancies in the starting rotation, the Twins should dream big. There are plenty of well-established pitchers on the market and the Twins have plenty of cash to spend. I hereby advise that the Twins sign two major starting pitchers: Hyun-jin Ryu and Dallas Keuchel. One is a former Cy Young award winner and one is a runner-up. Both are seasoned MLB veterans who aren’t looking for a ridiculously long-term deal. Both are rumored to be searching for a three- or four-year deal for a considerable, but not unreasonable, sum of money.

Other worthy candidates for a deal with the Twins include Wheeler, Hamels, Roark, Anderson or Lyles. These pitchers would come at a slightly lower cost but still offer the Twins a great talent. Perhaps the Twins sign either Ryu or Keuchel and then select from my basket of other options. Or perhaps they don’t read the Manitou Messenger. At the very least, they need to somehow acquire two more above-average starting pitchers in order to construct a 2020 postseason team.

Still, that leaves one starting rotation spot empty. However, the team can (and likely will) fill this spot from within the organization. The best option at this point is Randy Dobnak, who rocketed through the minor leagues last year and impressed in the majors with a 1.59 ERA through 28.1 innings. Suffice to say, Dobnak will be able to fill in the back end of the rotation. If he hits a rough patch, the Twins still have internal options for a fifth starter in Brusdar Graterol or Devin Smeltzer.

All in all, the Twins are poised for another terrific season in 2020. With a bright young manager, one of the best lineups in the game and an opportunity to improve pitching this offseason, there’s no reason they shouldn’t repeat as AL Central Division Champions.

faas1@stolaf.edu

Photo courtesy of Pixabay

Dumpster fires of the NFL

Zeke Warren-Weigmann, Sports Columnist

Alright folks, we’re back for round two. It’s time to once again dive headfirst into the league of legally permissible gladiatorial combat that is the NFL. But have no fear loyal readers (and by loyal readers, I mean my mom. Hi mom!), we have gotten through the hell that is analyzing the good teams. We have choked down our metaphorical vegetables. Now we get to look at the dumpster fires of the league, the teams that are going nowhere fast and should feel bad about it. This week, we get to make fun of the five worst teams in the league and relish every moment of it. Now, without further ado, let us begin.

5. Miami Dolphins

If a month ago someone told me that this iteration of the Miami Dolphins would only be the fifth worst team in the league, I would’ve laughed them out of the room. Without any doubt, this is a team that is actively trying to lose. The product they had been presenting every sunday could barely have been called football. There were discussions of whether or not this team could beat the college program the Alabama Crimson Tide, and there were legitimate points being made against a Miami victory if that game had ever taken place. But then … to the horror of Dolphins fans worldwide, their team started winning. They rattled off two successive wins, the first against the admittedly horrible Jets, but the week after that they shockingly topped the Indianapolis Colts, a team that many thought were legitimate contenders in the AFC. This was all wrong. This wasn’t part of the plan. This team had literally the past 9 months selling off all of their bet pieces, only for it to backfire. I am so sorry, Dolphins fans. The first overall pick is gone. Unless his most recent injury destroys his draft stock, dreams of getting Alabama QB Tua Tungaviloa are all but dead. The football gods are cruel, heartless bastards.

Photo Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

4. New York Jets

Why anyone ever has any faith in this team to do well is beyond me. For God’s sake, they’re the Jets. I'm pretty sure that there's a clause in every Jets contract that explicitly requires underperforming and disappointing the greater fans across the greater New York area. This team made such flashy moves over the offseason, signing the likes of CJ Mosely and Le'veon Bell. These signings along with a Sam Darnold with a year of experience was supposed to propel them into contention. But then because Jets they fired the GM who handed out those contracts right after he had done their whole draft and everything went to crap. Then because this team is apparently run by a gaggle of squirrels in suits, they tried to pawn off their best players for pennies on the dollar, even going as far as to promise to not trade them and then immediately turn around and shop them as was the case with star safety Jamal Adams. I pity Jets fans, but I have no sympathy left for the organization. They will forever be the butt fumble of the NFL, but hey at least you aren’t the worst team in NYC.

Photo courtesy of Flickr

3. New York Giants

As a lifelong Giants fan, this is extremely painful to write. I want to focus on this team’s upside, how with a few solid free agent signings and a good draft of two, this team could return to its Superbowl form (which seems oh so very far away now). But if I were to do that, I would only be kidding myself. This team is BAD. And sure, you can blame injuries. Some of the few bright spots on the team such as Saquon Barkely and Sterling Sheppard have been on and off the field this year with injuries, but with everything around them being so putrid I doubt it would make much difference in the long run. I hate to say this so soon after the Mara family cleaned house following the 2017 season with the firing of Ben Macadoo and Jerry Reese, but it might just be that time again. Pat Shurmer and Dave Gettlman have shown an inability to build and manage even a borderline competitive team. With so much young, easily-squandered talent on this team in the likes of Daniel Jones, Dexter Lawrence and Evan Engram (to name only a few), I, as a Giants fan, am not confident in this organizations ability not to ruin it.

Photo courtesy of Flickr

2. Washington Redskins

I have taken to calling this team the Deadskins, for that is what this organization is. Dead. This organization has done so much wrong in the Dan Schneider era, it is honestly hard not to despise them. From their refusal to change their name to something that JUST ISN’T A RACIAL SLUR, to the misdiagnosis of Trent Williams’ cancer as “minor,” and something that he doesn’t have to worry about, their sins are numerous. I honestly don’t blame former coach Jay Gruden for having had both feet out the door before they fired him, I would have done the same thing. This organization has no future. Adrian Peterson needs to sign with a different team so that he doesn’t end his Hall of Fame career with this joke of a franchise. Rookie QB Dwayne Haskins will have his potential squandered, and there is no doubt about that in my mind about that. Nothing good will come to this franchise as long as Dan Schneider owns it. Luckily, D.C. has other teams like the Nationals and Capitals to keep them sane, because FedEx Field will be nothing but a desolate wasteland of failure and misery for a long-time coming.

Photo courtesy of Flickr

1.Cincinatti Bengals

Surprisingly enough, the worst team in the league has the brightest future of any of these teams. While they haven’t been selling big pieces to acquire more draft picks (mostly because they had no big pieces in the first place), their ineptitude has at this point secured them the first pick in the draft. They will be able to build around that draft pick (hopefully a QB for the sake of fans in Cincinnati), and even though he has been hurt all year, they still do have one of the best receivers in the league in AJ Green. Don’t get me wrong, this team is god awful, just maybe not for much longer. Then again, they are the Bengals, so I’m sure they’ll find some way to royally screw it all up.

warren1@stolaf.edu

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons