Mailbag! Of Numbers!

Submitted by Brian on January 27th, 2009 at 4:45 PM

Hey Brian,

I was back visiting Michigan last weekend, and I was able to catch the hockey game on Saturday against Miami (of Ohio). I haven't seen any hockey games this season since I'm at a grad school where hockey doesn't exist. I was wondering about the addition of a second referee on the ice. My friend pointed that out to me at the beginning of the game, and I asked him if he felt more calls were made this season since there is another pair or eyes on the ice. He said that it didn't seem so, and someone around me said that it may actually make the game flow better(!?). Well, that didn't seem to happen as Michigan ended up with like 11 penalties.

So I was wondering if you could drag up the penalty minutes from the last couple of seasons and compare them to this season so far, and see if the extra ref has significantly impacted the number of calls or has changed the game somehow.


Via, per-team penalty minutes per game the last three years:

This Year 16.35
Last Year 14.84
Year Before 17.04
Year Before That 19.01

Survey says… eh, not so much. While teams are taking most of an extra penalty a game this year the numbers are actually down from the two years previous. Of course, the NCAA's overreaction to the Robbie Bina hit, which led to virtually any hit along the boards being an automatic major for a year, and their intermittent obstruction crackdowns play a role in the numbers. The moral of the story appears to be "do not expect remotely consistent enforcement," which isn't surprising to anyone familiar with the travails of college hockey refereeing.


Recently, Sports Illustrated had a series of articles on recruiting and how Florida is a gold mine for D1 recruits. In one of those articles, Jimbo Fisher had this to say about recruiting:


Florida State's Fisher doesn't deny that he offers a chilly warning to southern skill-position players thinking of crossing the Mason-Dixon line. "I don't know if we ever said, 'You'll freeze.' But the landscape of playing, especially if you're a skill guy, is not as conducive as it is in The South," Fisher said. "The weather can prohibit you from using all your skills at times and prevent you from getting the numbers and recognition and things you want. I think it is a significant difference."


I have been a big fan of Rich Rod since the Clemson days and thought he was a top 5 coach in the country at WV. I even picked them to win the National Championship in 2007. Good ole' Wannstache…

During Rich Rod's top years at WV (05-07), I remember a few late season games where the Mountaineers couldn't hold on to the football and it cost them. I had a feeling that this was attributed to his recruits being from the Deep South and not being accustomed to playing in cold weather conditions. And then this year Odoms couldn't hold on to the ball for his life during that nasty NW game. So after Jimbo's quote, I thought that there may be some serious truth to this argument.

So I went back and looked at the stats from WV's 2007 November games (I didn't look up game time temperature but they were all November games in cold weather locations including three night games) and found that WV had put the ball on the ground 13 times in those four games while losing 8. Twice (including the infamous Pitt game that most likely led to our hire of Rich Rod instead of Les Miles) they had 5 fumbles, losing 3.

Would you review the games from 2005-2007 and see if there is any correlation between the late season colder temperatures and putting the ball on the ground. With RR ravaging Florida for recruits and Michigan being a colder place than WV, I am worried that this could be an issue for us in late season games.


First: the Jimbo Fisher stuff is just talk. If you can play, you can play. Even if it's cold. The parade of Michigan receivers in the pros (Toomer, Alexander, Edwards, Avant, Breaston, Streets, uh… Terrell nevermind) in recent years suggests that Fisher's statement is more snake oil than anything. The NFL will find your ass if you can play football.

As far as the fumble theory, it's going to be extremely tough to prove either way. We don't know how cold was for all these games. We're looking at extremely random events in just a few games. Statistical significance laughs at us from afar. But here you go:

No, wait, sorry. I tried, but the NCAA doesn't have the relevant 2005 games' boxscores up. Sorry. I did find that in 2006 WVU had 8 fumbles in 4 (possibly) cold weather games, but four of those game in a game against Cincinnati during which the Bearcats also fumbled four times so I dunno, maybe they didn't kill the ball properly and it was running around squealing all night or something.

Does this help your troubled heart any?

Year TO Margin FLost
2007 1.00 (9th) 15
2006 .54 (25th) 9
2005 1.17 (7th) 10

That's West Virginia's turnover margin in the last three years of the Rodriguez era, when Pat White was the quarterback and WVU was goooooood. Even when WVU coughed up the ball 15 times in 2007 they were still top-10 in TO margin because they ran so much and had so few interceptions.

I think people are attempting to come up for an explanation for last year's epic, defiant-Pharaoh-style plague of fumbles when the most likely explanation is that there just isn't one. It was mostly randomness combined with youth and poor talent level at certain positions like tackle and quarterback. There is no grand pattern of Rodriguez teams coughing up the ball a ton. In fact, the numbers above suggest the opposite*.

*(Although, again, TOs are rare and even the seemingly wow numbers above are by no means definitive.)


West Texas Blue

January 27th, 2009 at 5:02 PM ^

Yes, Anthony Carter was from Florida; man that guy sucked playing in cold weather. Tom Brady, that guy was from Cali, and damn he couldn't hit the broadside of a barn if there was a drop of snow. And wait, Tate Forcier, the so-called "Messiah" by some MGoBloggers, is from Cali also; is all hope lost? Should we have ignored all the kids from warm areas? Oh No, what are we going to do?


January 27th, 2009 at 5:14 PM ^

Those guys from the south are right. It's bitter cold in MI. It might not matter so much for the games played in the afternoon in September, October, and the first part of November. In fact, during those months it's probably more pleasant to play in the north than in the sweltering Florida heat. But for all those crucial night games in January and February, let's face it: a kid's a lot better off playing in the South or in Cali. It's just too cold in the Big House this time of year.

Keen observation, Jimbo.

Durham Blue

January 27th, 2009 at 8:38 PM ^

I attended every home game in my four years at UM from 1990 to 1994. Out of those 24 or so games, maybe, just MAYBE about three of those games were played under uncomfortably cold and generally crappy conditions. And yes, I am from Michigan...but I'm also a wuss! So, with regard to football and weather, I don't buy the argument that southern kids can't reach full potential playing up north. Now, on the other hand, living through a January/February arctic cold snap would be pretty tough if you grew up in Tampa.

J. Lichty

January 27th, 2009 at 5:19 PM ^

a plus - many NFL teams - in which league the regular season goes into late december and if teams are lucky into Feb, play in the cold.

Experience in those conditions will help at the next level.

Enjoy Life

January 27th, 2009 at 5:21 PM ^

Brian is absolutely correct "If you can play, you can play. Even if it's cold."

But, "Not so fast my friend". I thought the gist of the question was whether warm weather schools have an advantage in recruiting.

I think they do. Not only does a kid have to consider playing a few games in the cold, he must also consider living (surviving) the winters up north. If you've spent your entire life in a warm climate, this is not a trivial consideration.


January 27th, 2009 at 6:51 PM ^

Though kids may not want to leave the south because of warm weather, the proximity to home probably plays a bigger factor. I don't see a lot of kids leaving the north to play at non-elite programs in the south. Yeah, the big time schools will get big time players but not many 3* from Indiana go to a southern school for the weather and I would bet that the same holds true for a 3* out of Florida not leaving his home state.

PA Blue

January 27th, 2009 at 5:22 PM ^

Don't we have like 9 guys in this class from FL? More than any other state? And one early commit from arguably the state's best player for 2010? I think RR has found an antidote to the Jimbo logic.


January 27th, 2009 at 5:23 PM ^

I think the 2008 season FUMMMMBLE! plague was Karmic balancing for the Mike "I will not give you this ball ever ever ever you nincompoop unless it is against Florida and I'm inside the 2 yard line" Hart.

Rush N Attack

January 27th, 2009 at 5:23 PM ^

""The weather can prohibit you from using all your skills at times and prevent you from getting the numbers and recognition and things you want."

and had one thought: MORON.

Yinka Double Dare

January 27th, 2009 at 7:59 PM ^

That's primarily due to the ability to play more and practice more through months where no one plays in the north. It's even more pronounced in baseball, and of course the complete opposite direction for hockey. And why basketball prospects come from all over the place - no one cares what the weather is when you play your HS ball and club ball indoors, and the HS season covers basically the entire time where you can't play outdoors.

Once you hit college it doesn't matter. If you can play, the NFL could give a rip where you played at or if your numbers were as high as they could be somewhere else.


January 27th, 2009 at 9:18 PM ^

Columbus is south of Ann Arbor, but I don't think it's that much warmer on a late November day. Didn't Santonio Holmes have some decent games at the 'shoe? He's from Belle Glade (FL).

Swayze Howell Sheen

January 27th, 2009 at 9:52 PM ^

this sounds like a question for Freakonomics genius,
Steven Levitt. He has actually done a bunch of analysis
on whether more refs help:
"Testing the Economic Model of Crime: The National Hockey League's Two Referee Experiment." Contributions to Economic Analysis and Policy, 2002, 1(1)
and of course he wrote Freakonomics.
Click… for the paper. Here is the abstract:
During the 1998-99 season, the National Hockey League randomly varied the number of referees used across games, seemingly providing a rare opportunity to test directly the deterrence model. Combining experimental parameter estimates with an economic model, there is little evidence that the rate of offending changed substantially with the addition of a second referee. The reason, however, appears to be that the second referee had little impact on the probability of punishment. As a consequence, the experiment ultimately turns out to be of limited use for testing deterrence.

Yes, dude gets paid to study stuff like that.

Other Andrew

January 28th, 2009 at 6:24 AM ^

One way to increase the sample size is to include more "spread" teams. It's not like RR coaches a certain way for fumbling in cold weather and others don't. So that can get you there. But I'm not sure it's worth the effort.

My hypothesis on all the fumbling last year was that because the system being employed was new, the players were spending so much time "thinking" when on the field that they were distracted. I didn't say that right, but hopefully you get my meaning. I'm not sure that this explains the problems on special teams, however.


January 28th, 2009 at 11:35 AM ^

"[C]an prohibit you from using all your skills at times and prevent you from getting the numbers and recognition and things you want. I think it is a significant difference." - hey, that's what I always heard about offensive players deciding to go to FSU.

In all seriousness, Fisher is right to say that it is probably easier to throw and catch a football when it is 50 degrees outside versus 15 degrees, but so is running around in 50 or 60 degrees versus 85 or 90. So every region has its advantages and disadvantages. As others have pointed out, though, most regions see the greatest "defections" from the highest-ranked kids who have their choice of schools; 3*s tend to stick around where they grew up. Sure, some higher-ranked kids do as well, but I think their decisions to stay or go are based on a myriad of factors, with weather being pretty low on that list.