Do the Best Teams Win?

Bill James is a famous sabermetrician. This means that he studies competitions that are normally not evaluated beyond wins and losses and looks at the numbers inside the event. Bill James event of choice is Baseball. Today, mine is Bible Quiz.

Bill James suggests there are Pythagorean Standings. In a nutshell, what these do is say that a team’s point differential tells how good of a team they are. For those not visualizing this, this means that a team who wins 300-100 and then loses 200-190 twice would be better in Pythagorean Standings. I think most people agree with that basic premise.

Now, in Bible Quizzing, each quiz is such a relatively short “game” that you really have no guarantee that the best team will win each one. Obviously, the better team will have a better chance to win, but there is a reason the best team doesn’t win every quiz 400-0-0. Because as good as they may be they are not so much better that they win every question. And as long as the possibility is there that the other team can get a question, you can have an upset.

Now, why do we even bring this up? Well, first to start the argument of what must be considered to be the best team of all time, we need to know what makes a great team. Second, how do we determine who will win events? Third, how does this affect the teams not at the top?

First, let’s address the second question. Every competition, there is a best team. Sometimes this team is clear and it seems like a formality as to who will win the event. Other times, the top teams are closely bunched. To me, the perfect example of a close choice is that of the recent tournament in Michigan. Having heard indirect word from both Old Paths and Faith, it seems like Old Paths had a rough start to the day and Faith merely ran out of steam or had a bad quiz. Now, which is the better team?

Unfortunately, there is probably no uniform way we can determine this. To find out for sure, we’d stick the two of them in a room, take the top 5 quizmasters in the country and quiz an hour with each. Whoever won this 5 hour marathon quiz would be the better team. Of course, not only does anyone want to do this, it would take away from some of the other elements of Bible Quiz (using strategy, overcoming an unfortunate start, and adding pressure because of the value of each question, etc.).

I recently attended a tournament in West Virginia. Genessee Valley (NY) was the highest scoring team in the morning, followed closely by FBCCF, and PVBS (KY). Now, my thought was that those three teams would be closely matched all the way through. Although in doing a little recalling of rudimentary stats I have kept and a memory log, I have found that the NY group has frequently been among the highest scoring teams and yet, seems to frequently fall to the 4th-7th place level in the tournament. I cannot answer why, but it seems that they must be lacking in one of the aforementioned (or possibly, unmentioned) additional elements of Bible Quiz.

This is why teams that score a lot of points are very impressive, but not necessarily the best. While every argument for the best team ever starts with teams like those TMA teams in the mid 90’s who averaged 321, 297, and 306 in three consecutive years. While surely that should be considered, why not include the Athens team from 2003? While their team averaged 149 points only, they viewed each quiz as a unique event, overcame some adversity, and were clearly a dynamite team. But they weren’t dominant in a points method. Now, I don’t think they were a best of all time team, but they are certainly better than some other teams that have won.

This is clearly something that could be evaluated in much greater detail, and we will touch on that. Next week, however, we will talk about the effect on teams outside of the top 5-6 battling for a mild upset to get into the top 5.

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