No one plays against “odds”

Sports writers have become so enamored of "statistics" that they have come to imagine that teams and individuals are actually engaged in contests with statistical constructs, rather than with other teams.

For instance, when UMBC recently beat number one seed Virginia in the NCAA Men's Tournament, one sports site wrote that UMBC's victory “proved even the longest of odds aren't totally insurmountable.”

But David did not defat "odds": he defeated Goliath. And UMBC did not "surmount" any "odds": they beat the Virginia basketball team. 

That Virginia team was stocked with players stronger and more athletic than those on UMBC. And no doubt it is rare for a team physically outmatched, like UMBC, to beat their opponent.

But UMBC was not playing against, say, 125-to-1 (or whatever other odds Las Vegas, etc., had set for the game). They were playing against the concrete players on Virginia. And what they beat was not 125-to-1, but those particular players.

Comments

  1. If I had a theory that placing any bet with odds of 100-to-1 was guaranteed to be a losing bet then the victory of a team given odds of 125-to-1 by bookmakers would disprove my theory. This would be true even though the team in question is playing another team and not "the odds".

    You could still argue that saying "the victory of the outsider proved even the longest of odds aren't totally insurmountable" is an illegitimate way of expressing that my theory had been disproved - but Websters certainly thinks the use of terms like "beating the odds" (and "surmounting the odds" seems only an extension of this) to be a legitimate usage.

    https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/beat%20the%20odds

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    Replies
    1. "If I had a theory that placing any bet with odds of 100-to-1 was guaranteed to be a losing bet "
      If you had such a "theory" it would show you had not comprehended the idea of "odds." No "empirical" test would be relevant.
      "Websters certainly thinks the use of terms like "beating the odds" (and "surmounting the odds" seems only an extension of this) to be a legitimate usage."
      Dictionaries report on common usage. That's their job. I'm noting that a certain common usage is incoherent. You respond by citing Webster's to show that the usage is common.
      SMH.

      Delete
    2. So your post boils down to the view that statements like "event A proved even the longest of odds aren't totally insurmountable” even though having common usage are not a good way in your opinion of expressing ideas like "Even though event A is statistically unlikely to happen and bookmakers will offer long odds against it , it will still occasionally occur" on the grounds that it may reflect confusion between the event itself and the statistical likelihood of it occurring. Fair enough.

      Delete

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