Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Defining an Upset

The word" upset" is thrown out quite frequently in sports.  The media loves to sell you on the story of something incredible happening.  Except that many of the upsets are far from upsets.  In fact I can recall several occasions where a team that Vegas had favored* won and it was called an upset.  I can also recall situations where a ranked team lost to and unranked team and it was called an upset.  Minimum standards for mentioning the word upset:

  • 7 1/2 point dog in college football.
Conference games must have double digit spreads.  Texas Tech beating Texas at home 08 is not an upset.  Stanford beating USC 07 in the Coliseum is the biggest upset of that year.

  • 14 1/2 point spreads or National Championship implications for bitter rivals.
Michigan beating Ohio State or vice versa can almost never be considered an upset. The hatred runs so deep in games such as this that anything is liable to happen, especially when you ignore other game preparations for the sole purpose of beating your rival.
  • Must be an NFL playoff game with a double digit spread. 
Giants over Pats in the Super Bowl qualifies. When there are 32 teams playing under a salary cap its hard to say that the bottom team has no chance at the top team on any given Sunday.
  • NBA Basketball #7 seed over a #2 seed. 
  • "Little guy" over storied program.
Even Butler over Duke would have qualified despite around a 7 point spread. Had it been UCLA over Duke with an 8 point spread then surely it wouldn't have had the upset flair.

Upsets do not exist in hockey in my opinion.  Pucks bounce funny, things are random and clunky at times.  You can outshot and outplay your opponents and still end up on the losing end.  Sure this happens in other sports as well but none so frequently as hockey and I am including soccer here.  Hockey good sport but I think this past NHL and NCAA seasons proved that "upsets" are far to common to be treated as such.

Soccer I generally believe the results are fair but shit happens here too and smash and grab victories can occur.  Football is the purest of the major sports to determines a victor.  If you compare yardage parity and 3rd down conversions you will generally find your winner.  Fluky turnovers can occur to swing a result but its far more unlikely than in other sports. Basketball can be more easily corrupted by officiating but it also typically has a deserved winner.

As you can see I did a poor job of explaining my point and deviated from the premise.  The overall point is that the word upset is thrown around all too much.  Please do not fall into the hype created by ESPN, and take some measures yourself to determine an upset.


  1. I like what you are saying here, and I saw your point. ESPN glorifies the word "upset" almost as much as Lebron James. I think college football and basketball produce the purest form of an upset.

    When it comes to professional sports I think playoffs are the only time you can say an upset occured. This poses the problem of the "best" teams are supposed to be in the playoffs. So in that case you need to look at the spread. And in the NBA #7 over #2 is where I would consider an upset has taken place.

  2. You block a win the game!

  3. Yes, espn loves slapping the word upset to create false hype. College sports do produce the purest upsets. However, your comment about hockey is mostly true, but It should be noted that the 1980 USA hockey team beating the Red Army team at Lake Placid is one of the most stunning upsets in the history of sport.

  4. Absolutely right about USA hockey team. Oddly enoght I almost put a picture of that on here. Can't believe that I didn't put something else in there about it. Thanks Coach Mac but I never believed that.