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State Street Stats: College football teams lie!

Also, stick to the end for a feel-good story.

NCAA FOOTBALL: DEC 10 81st Annual Heisman Trophy Ceremony Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

B5Q is the home to the smartest people on the internet, so let’s hang out to get even smarter. Grab a red brat, a boot of beer, and some complimentary popcorn because it’s time for State Street Stats.

I was beaming with joy earlier this week when our fearless leader, Mr. Drew Hamm himself, informed me that our benevolent SBNation leadership gifted us with access to data from Sports Source Analytics.

Unfortunately... there isn’t much 2019 data (yet!). We could look at 2018 data, but I’m tired of looking back at that awful season. When I brought this conundrum to Drew’s attention, he dropped some serious wisdom.

“When there is no data, that means all the data is available to us. I think Confucius said that.” - Drew Hamm

Sounds like a vote of confidence to me. Full steam ahead, boys and girls and those who lieth betwixt!

I opened up a spreadsheet and decided to go on a multi-hour journey to find some obscure, outlandish fact. Would I find some association between turf type and S&P+ projections? How about the relationship between the age of a stadium and seating capacity? Or maybe a relationship between the school’s conference and the number of fullbacks on the roster?

I started by sorting players weight, smallest to largest. After one minute, I knew I found something huge, and two things shocked me:

  1. college football is holding a dark secret, and
  2. I found an incredible feel-good story.

I hope you’re excited because I am absolutely stoked to share this with you.

College football is full of lying liars!

Before I explain why, I would like to tell you about Benford’s Law. If it doesn’t click with you right now, that’s okay! You’ll still be able to get the full point.

In the decimal system, we use 0 through 9. For the first digit of naturally occurring data, we expect it to be between 1 and 9. The uninitiated might think that each digit has an equal chance of being 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, and so on. Well, that’s intuitive, but Benford’s Law says otherwise.

Benford’s law is a really great tool for detecting fraud. If an individual or organization is cooking the books, we can test their data against Benford’s law. Here is a chart of Benford’s law for reference:

Benford’s Law is strongest for the first digit of a number and is only good for naturally occurring data. Data like weight, height, salaries, prices, etc. follow Benford’s Law. Data like ID numbers or license plate numbers don’t necessarily follow Benford’s Law.

Now we can get back to our data and how college football teams LIE TO YOU.

Let’s look at the third digit of each player’s weight in D1 college football. It should follow Benford’s law. For example, 10.1% of players’ weights should end in the digit ‘1,’ ‘2,’ or ‘3.’ Similarly, 9.8% of players should have a weight ending in ‘9.’

Let’s compare that expectation to reality.

After your shock wears off, I will point you to the 0 and 5. See how those are spiked? That would not happen if college football teams were telling the truth. We can see that teams are rounding players’ weights to 0 and 5, but they are not doing so consistently.

Therefore, I am certain that college football teams lie about their players’ weight, and they lie a lot. Also, if a player’s weight’s last digit is a ‘0’ or a ‘5,’ it is much more likely that their team lied about that specific player.

Do you may want to know the p-value that shows the statistical significance of this evidence? You do? Awesome, because I want to tell you.

The p-value is 0. Well, it isn’t exactly zero, but it’s so small my excel sheet can’t even measure it. Here’s proof:

P-value is actually zero!

This infinitesimally small p-value means we have the most statistically significant evidence in the history of statistics supporting our conclusion of widespread fraud. The probability of this being coincidence is akin to winning the lottery every day for the next forty billion years and then the world ends by a sharknado apocalypse.

Next, let’s take a look at the Badgers. As I write this, I have no idea if I am going to conclude that (the evidence suggest that) Paul Chryst (might be) lying about his players’ weights. Let’s take a look...

The chi-square test came in at 0.43 which does not suggest that Paul Chryst lies about his players’ weight. Now, you’ll notice in the chart that Wisconsin’s players’ weights vary from expectation, but the p-value tells us that it’s a reasonable level of variation.

The world of college football is lying to you, but Paul Chryst is (probably) not. We can trust our coach. His punts might make me angry, but he doesn’t lie like his colleagues across the country. He’s an honest man.

Last question to explore here before leaving the rabbit hole: which teams are telling the truth, and which ones are lying?

One way to find out is to look at how often each team claims the last digit of the players’ weight is a 0 or a 5. If everyone was telling the truth, we would expect most teams to be between 15% and 25%. However...

Out of 130 schools, only a handful are in the expected range. On the far right hand, we see the range of 90%-100% of players’ weights ending in 0 or 5. These schools include Nebraska, Illinois, and Purdue (all 99%). I think these are benign, as they are consistently rounding to 0 and 5.

However, schools that inconsistently round are likeliest to be hiding something. This is the 40%-90% range, and it includes Ohio State, Iowa, and Rutgers. The only question is, what could these teams be hiding?

In the Big Ten, the most honest teams are Wisconsin (24%), Maryland (23%), and Michigan State (22%).

Wait, everyone already knew that teams lied about player weight?


Well, now I’m a little bummed out, so let’s get to this feel-good story.

Baylor CB Ricardo Benitez

As I was looking at players’ weights, I notice an outlier. A player from Baylor who came in at 110 pounds. For context, the nearest player in the country weighs 140 pounds. Let’s take a closer look at Ricardo Benitez.

According to Baylor’s website, Benitez was “born with a rare physical disability called femur hypoplasia.” Basically, he was born without femurs.

His family was told he may never walk, but he worked his rear end off to be medically cleared to play football in the seventh grade. And now, this dude is an athlete.

Last season, Benitez walked on to Baylor and suited up against Oklahoma State. He is listed as a redshirt freshman on Baylor’s roster this season.

This is just awesome stuff. Check out his GoFundMe and hear his story in the video below.

It’s important to remember that data describe real people with real challenges in real situations. My spreadsheet has tens of thousands of data points (thanks to Sports Source Analytics), and it’s also critical to remember the human side of that data.

That made me feel good. I feel like we need more of these types of stories. In fact, I think we will start a series of posts here to make us feel good. And, we will post them on Fridays.

Since we have some pretty awesome data to work with, feel free to let me know over on twitter or in the comments if you have any requests for the season for State Street Stats. No guarantees, but I’ll do my best.