As you can see, there’s a strong correlation. Nine of the 10 most popular teams based on Google searches also ranked in the top 10 in ticket sales this season, the exception being the Philadelphia Flyers.Further, there are huge differences in ticket sales between the top and bottom teams. Whereas fans spent only $27 million on Florida Panthers tickets this season, they shelled out more than $184 million (in U.S. dollars) to see the Toronto Maple Leafs play.Most of the differences are based on discrepancies in ticket prices rather than attendance. The NHL is a terrific live-spectator experience — I say this as someone who spends way too much on Rangers tickets — and most NHL teams can sell out their arenas if they charge the right price. But the right price varies. Whereas the average ticket cost $236 in Toronto, it was $74 in Tampa.The relationship is even clearer if we chart the data:You’ll notice that there are some diminishing returns to having more fans in your area.3I’ve used a logarithmic curve to fit the data, which tracks it more closely than a linear fit. Perhaps this is because there are only so many good seats available for each game or because larger markets like Toronto and New York have more non-hockey substitutes for the fan’s entertainment dollar.Still, the correlation is clear, and very strong. The size of the fan base, based on Google searches, accounts for 81 percent of the differences in ticket sales.4The 81 percent figure reflects the coefficient of determination of the regression line.You could undoubtedly do a bit better still by accounting for other factors, like how well the team has played recently. The on-ice success of the Chicago Blackhawks may explain why they do so well at the box office, for instance.But there aren’t a lot of exceptions, and there aren’t a lot of favorable precedents for a hockey team in Las Vegas. The Nashville Predators are a comparative success story — they’re a very good team that’s made some inroads in a highly non-traditional hockey market. And yet, while the Preds are usually selling out their rink, fans are paying comparatively little for tickets. So Nashville ranked just 24th in NHL ticket spending this year, and the Predators have barely been breaking even financially.Several other teams in non-traditional hockey markets — the Arizona Coyotes and Florida Panthers, for instance — are losing money. And most of them play in metro areas with considerably larger populations than Las Vegas.When should you be skeptical of Google Trends data? Sometimes ambiguities of language can cause problems. (Do you mean Kenny Rogers the singer or Kenny Rogers the pitcher?) And as the complexity of the analysis increases, so can the potential for error. It proved to be more difficult than Google expected to determine which searches predicted flu outbreaks, for example — although that was more an issue of flawed analysis than faulty data.In this case, though, Google is just stating the obvious: Putting an NHL team in a small market in the middle of the desert isn’t a good gamble. You may have doubts, as some readers did, about whether Google searches are a reliable way to predict that an NHL expansion team would struggle in Las Vegas. But it’s actually a pretty good way to forecast this kind of thing, and there’s another way to prove it:It turns out that there’s a strong relationship between Google searches and an NHL team’s bottom line. How often fans are Googling the term “NHL” in a metro area reliably predicts how much they’re spending on hockey tickets.In the chart below, I’ve estimated how much fans spent on tickets at each NHL arena during the past regular season. The process is simple: I just took total home attendance and multiplied it by the average ticket price.1The average ticket price is estimated based on a 50/50 blend of face-value and resale-market prices. For face-value prices, I used data from Team Marketing Report. For resale prices, I used data from TiqIQ, averaging prices from the start of the 2014-15 season and its most recent report in February. Then I compared ticket spending against the estimated number of NHL fans in each market based on Google search traffic.2The only new wrinkle: I subdivided fans between the New York Rangers, the New York Islanders and the New Jersey Devils based on the relative Google search volume for each team in the New York metro area. The Rangers are more popular than the other teams and capture more than half of New York’s hockey fan base. I did the same in the Los Angeles area; the LA Kings are more popular than the Anaheim Ducks.
At a glance, this leaderboard passes the sniff test. Aside from interlopers such as erstwhile Braves skipper Fredi Gonzalez and former A’s manager Bob Geren, it’s a list of eight well-respected tacticians. Moreover, the first five men listed have all won Manager of the Year awards, as have seven of the top 10. While it is famously difficult to predict who will win that honor, which suggests the award might not be the most robust measure of managerial quality, it’s still good to know that our new metric isn’t coming completely out of left field. And the bottom-10 list also makes sense, as it could pass as a meeting of the Crusty Old Curmudgeons Society: Jerry Narron90 wRM+ is weighted reliever management plus, a measurement of efficient bullpen management, where 100 is average and higher values are betterSource: FanGraphs, Baseball Prospectus Manny Acta87 Joe Torre113 NAMEWRM+ Joe Girardi111 Fredi Gonzalez108 Bob Geren108 Eric Wedge105 The best bullpen managers since 2000 Tony La Russa92 MANAGERWRM+ Bud Black106 As September draws to a close with multiple teams still locked in tight playoff races, baseball fans across the country have ample reason to pore over every last detail of their managers’ decisions. And when it comes to bullpen management, they have a great deal to scrutinize. Mistakes in this arena — which, by definition, almost always occur late in games — usually come in the form of either saving an ace reliever for “his inning” even as the game slips away at an earlier stage, or, conversely, wasting top relievers by deploying them in unimportant situations.Earlier this month, we showed that major league managers have gotten better at avoiding these types of errors over the past three decades. Instead of handing big moments to subpar relievers based on tired notions of seniority,1Such as age, career saves or years of big-league experience. managers are increasingly handing important responsibilities to the best relievers available. But not every manager is equally adept at doing this. Grading individual skippers on their ability to consistently deploy their best relievers in the biggest moments, we find that bullpen management is a repeatable skill that can be fairly assigned to individual managers, and that good bullpen management is worth something on the order of one win per season.Here’s how it worked. First, we ranked the relievers on each team2Excluding relievers who switched teams midseason. in every full season since 20003Moving the cutoff up from 1988 in order to focus on managers who are still relatively fresh in the collective memory. from best to worst in deserved run average (DRA), which is Baseball Prospectus’s context-neutral metric for evaluating pitcher performance.4The stat accounts for, among other things, weather, team defense and umpire performance. We then ranked those same pitchers by the average leverage index — essentially, the importance (and pressure) of the moment — at the point when they first entered the game.5We pulled leverage index data from Fangraphs. Finally, we checked how well each team’s ranking of relievers by leverage index matched its ranking by DRA, a correlation6Specifically, a Spearman correlation weighted by innings pitched. we’re calling a team’s reliever management (RM) score. Effective bullpen managers use their best relievers (those with the lowest DRAs) in the most important moments (those with the highest leverage index), which pushes the RM score toward an ideal of -1.In our last article, we refrained from assessing the reliever usage of individual skippers because we weren’t sure yet whether what we were grading was attributable to the manager’s ability or whether it was just a function of the bullpen he had at his disposal in any given year. So we decided to test that relationship out. If reliever management is indeed a skill, we’d expect to see the same group of skippers be good at it — or bad at it — year after year. You don’t wake up one morning and forget how to drive a car, but sometimes you do hit every red light on your commute to work, or, in this case, get handed a bad batch of relievers.After calculating each team’s RM score, we assigned it to their manager of record that season (the one who managed the most games). Then we looked at whether individual managers’ RM scores were correlated with each other from year to year. Although the effect we found was rather weak — only about 10 percent of the variation in RM score year-over-year is likely attributable to managerial choices — it was statistically significant, even two years out.7We found p-values under 0.02 in both our year-over-year and two-year correlations. So it’s reasonable to assign at least some credit (or blame) for a team’s RM score to the man in the dugout.Still, there’s so much variation in team RM scores from year to year that we needed to use a more sophisticated statistical model to estimate each skipper’s overall bullpen-management ability.8Specifically, we used a Gaussian random effects model with terms for the manager and the year, since we previously determined that bullpen management was a skill that managers are increasingly improving at. A random effects model, in contrast to a fixed-effects model, assumes a great deal of statistical noise around an uncertain mean, then strips that noise away to estimate, as accurately as possible, a “true talent” level over time. When we applied our chosen model to each manager’s raw RM scores for each season, we ended up with an aggregate measure of how likely any given manager was to optimally match their relievers to appropriate situations — good relievers to tense moments, worse relievers to calmer ones.We’re calling the resulting metric weighted reliever management plus (wRM+), and in the style of other “plus” statistics, it’s been rescaled for ease of interpretability: 100 is average, with numbers above 100 corresponding to the percentage factor by which a manager is better than average (or worse than average, for scores below 100). For example, Joe Torre grades out as the best manager since 2000 with a score of 113, meaning his bullpen management was 13 percent better than average. Here’s the rest of the top 10:9To be especially sure we were isolating managerial skill, we limited the table to only include skippers who have managed at least five seasons since 2000. Ozzie Guillen111 Bob Melvin93 Clint Hurdle90 Ron Washington94 John Gibbons91 Jim Tracy108 Bobby Valentine93 Bruce Bochy108 Jim Leyland92 Dusty Baker91 The worst bullpen managers since 2000 Buddy Bell105 wRM+ is weighted reliever management plus, a measurement of efficient bullpen management, where 100 is average and higher values are betterSource: Fangraphs, Baseball Prospectus Several of these guys are on the record as advocating innings-based roles, which are the bane of optimal relief management. But even the worst bullpen managers can change their philosophies over time. Hurdle went from having one of the worst RM scores in the league in Colorado to having one of the best in Pittsburgh. His overall ranking is more of a testament to his earlier difficulties than to his current acumen, and to the influence that front offices can have on managerial decision-making.So, now that we have a means of grading individual managers on reliever usage, how much is that actually worth in terms of wins and losses? To answer that, we looked at how many fewer runs were allowed — which in turn points to how many extra games were won — by good bullpen managers versus bad ones, sketching out a rough estimate of how many additional wins a manager’s bullpen smarts have been worth to his team.10For every team in our sample, we looked at how many runs the team gave up and how much the team over- or underperformed its run differential. We found that raw RM scores were significantly — if also weakly — correlated with both runs allowed (with an r of 0.11 and a p-value of 0.015) and whether a team over- or underperformed its run differential (an r of 0.12 and a p-value of 0.02). We used linear regressions of RM scores on these two numbers — and the fact that each win is equivalent to about 10 runs — to derive a total run value for bullpen management.Perhaps surprisingly, we found that bullpen management — good or bad — doesn’t actually affect a team’s overall performance all that much. Certainly it’s not as important as, say, having good relievers to employ in the first place. A manager who’s bad at managing a bullpen (for example, Manny Acta) might be expected to win about 0.5 fewer games per season as a result of his bullpen-management problems than an average manager with the same ’pen, while a good one (such as Joe Girardi) might win 0.5 games more than average over the course of a season. The total effect of this skill has a range of perhaps one win per year.In other words, bullpen management isn’t the be-all and end-all of managerial skills. That fits with what we already knew about managers: How they shape the chemistry and morale of the team tends to be vastly more important than their on-field tactical machinations, no matter how high-profile those machinations might be. And since every team is getting better and better at using their bullpen, the range of this skill is likely to shrink even further. And, more to the point, the single biggest determinant of team success, now and forever, remains the same: player quality.The usual caveats, discussed in greater detail in our earlier article, still apply.11Notably, our simple correlation-based metric doesn’t take into account matchups, reliever fatigue or bullpens changing over the course of a year. What’s more, for now we’re laying all the responsibility for the bullpen at the feet of the manager, when the front office and pitching coach probably also play a role. And our particular ranking method doesn’t account for fluctuations in reliever performance throughout the season — a guy who’s good in the first half but terrible in the second will be viewed as the average of the two — or for bullpens where the range of talent available to the manager is not wide (which makes for less obvious choices).Still, we can say this with some certainty: Effective bullpen management is a skill attributable at least in part to managers, and is not just the result of random variation. Moreover, some managers are far better at handling their bullpens than others, probably to the tune of a win or so at the margins every year (which is not nothing — consider the tight wild-card races in both leagues this year). So your deepest suspicions about bullpen usage were always correct — unless you’re a Braves fan, in which case it’s probably worth sending a note of apology to Fredi Gonzalez.CORRECTION (Sept. 21, 4:35 p.m.): A table in an earlier version of this article incorrectly listed Dale Sveum among the worst bullpen managers since 2000. Sveum shouldn’t have qualified for the list because he managed fewer than five MLB seasons during that period.
Just before the start of free agency last June, Los Angeles Lakers President Magic Johnson made a relatively blunt declaration when he said he’d willingly step down from his post if he failed to sign star players. So it was a legitimate jaw-dropper when Johnson, just nine months after landing the world’s best player, opted to resign Tuesday during a tearful, impromptu press conference in the bowels of Staples Center prior to the team’s season finale.Yes, this was a trying year for Johnson and the storied franchise, which fully expected to return to the playoffs after getting LeBron James. But the playoffs didn’t happen, and while Johnson and general manager Rob Pelinka deserve a lot of the blame for why things went wrong, no one thought it would result in this — at least not this soon, and certainly not in the bizarre manner in which it played out.In the coming weeks, there will be ample opportunity to analyze what comes next for the Lakers, who still have LeBron, a young supporting cast and enough cap space to make the kind of signing that could make them an actual contender again out West.Normally, we’d be prone to view a team president’s sudden resignation as a sign of enormous trouble for a franchise. The fact that we aren’t talking about how much this will damage Los Angeles speaks volumes about Johnson and how ill-prepared he was for the front-office job in the first place.Team owner Jeanie Buss, who got wind of the resignation after reporters did, now has an enormous task. She has to tap the right person, but based on her hiring of Magic — a choice she made based on trust and their almost 40 years of friendship after contentiously ousting her brother in 2017 — we don’t know yet who she’ll get or what level of experience that person will carry.Nonetheless, that role is vital, both to restoring the franchise to its rightful place — this 37-win season marked a Lakers’ record sixth-straight year with no postseason — and obviously for maximizing the 34-year-old James’s window for championship contention.What we do know now is that Johnson, an all-time great on the hardwood and one of the more personable businessmen in America, simply wasn’t prepared for the cutthroat front-office life, an issue we touched on briefly back when he was hired. Johnson himself says that leaving the role of president will make him happier, as it will allow him to return to his old life, away from the sourced reporting that, to him, likely felt like anonymous backstabbing. And back to a life where he can freely mentor and tweet to congratulate players leaguewide — something he couldn’t do as an executive, because of the tampering rules.From the outset, Johnson struggled with how to play inside those rules. Even more concerning about his front-office tenure: He often struggled to properly assess the value of players and what they brought to the table. Months after taking the gig, he traded a young, talented point guard in D’Angelo Russell to get Brook Lopez and his expiring contract, as well as the pick that would become Kyle Kuzma.1The move also gave L.A. the ability to dump Timofey Mosgov’s hefty contract. While Kuzma has been fine for a young player, Russell has since become an All-Star who has led Brooklyn back to the postseason. And Lopez — whom L.A. let walk in free agency last summer — has been one of the NBA’s best floor-spacing bigs, giving Milwaukee exactly what this shooting-starved Lakers club needs.2On a cheap, $3.3 million contract, too.Similarly, 24-year-old Julius Randle had a career year (21 points, 8 rebounds a game) in New Orleans after the Lakers let their former No. 7 overall pick go in free agency despite his relatively modest price tag.3He signed a two-year, $18 million deal with New Orleans. Instead, L.A. followed up on its LeBron move by then agreeing to deals with Rajon Rondo, JaVale McGee and Lance Stephenson, leaving it woefully deficient from a perimeter-shooting standpoint. The head-scratching decisions weren’t limited to the perimeter, though: The Lakers also offered talented big man Ivica Zubac to their Los Angeles counterparts at the deadline, reportedly befuddling the Clippers by trying to unload a solid young player unnecessarily.None of this even gets into the fact that Johnson and the Lakers took their sweet time — waiting until it was likely too late — to try to deal for a second star, which was borderline malpractice considering James’s age. Depending on how you look at it, the failed play to acquire Anthony Davis at the trade deadline was either just the Pelicans being stubborn or them being realistic — and smart — after realizing that the youngsters L.A. was offering in return weren’t good enough (particularly when James was injured) to justify dealing away a franchise player.But that doesn’t excuse the Lakers not being more aggressive two summers ago, when they could’ve made a play for Paul George, who’d made it clear that L.A. was his destination of choice before Oklahoma City gambled on a deal for him. Nor does it explain why the Lakers didn’t do more to engage the Spurs for Kawhi Leonard (and pair him with LeBron) before he was ultimately sent to Toronto. In either case, having a second star likely would’ve provided L.A. with the insulation it needed to withstand a James injury and make the playoffs regardless.And there were the problematic mixed messages that Johnson sent: the preseason comments about how new LeBron teams always take a while to find their stride and the need for patience, but then the reports about him going off on coach Luke Walton just weeks later, apparently for not meeting the expectations he’d just tamped down. Then there was his suggestion that the young players who’d heard their names rumored in potential Davis deals simply needed to be hugged and nurtured after the whole ordeal, which he followed, one day later, by saying that those same players needed to be treated like men, rather than babied through the media.Had Johnson remained on the job, his next true test as team president was a decision about Walton’s future. Johnson told reporters Tuesday that he’d been given the authority to fire Walton, who has history with the Lakers as a former player and still has a good friendship with Buss. But Johnson said he didn’t want to pull that trigger and instead opted to step down himself.Now, it’s Buss’s turn to make a decision again. And while the stakes are incredibly high, with the team at an important crossroads, the Lakers can take solace in the fact that they’re almost certain to now get a more analytical, experienced front-office type than they had in Magic, who was never really meant for the unforgiving nature of an NBA job like this to begin with.
Most office pools — and a certain billion-dollar bracket contest — insist the NCAA Tournament still has the pleasing, symmetrical, 64-team format: Six rounds, each winnowing the field by half, for a total of 63 games, 63 losers and one winner. Fans, likewise, haven’t gotten over the habit of calling the round of 64, played out over the manic Thursday and Friday of this week, the first round.But the real first round is happening now in Dayton, Ohio, and for the fourth straight year, it really matters. In the so-called play-in games, eight teams will compete on Tuesday and Wednesday for four spots in the round of 64. And two of the winners will have a real chance at a deep tournament run — a better chance than you’d think if you’d glanced at the contenders’ resumes on Selection Sunday. Their first-round — I mean, round-of-64 — opponents could regret having to face them. And you, too, could regret filling out your bracket before the opening-round games are done: North Carolina State and the winner between Iowa and Tennessee could shake up the strong Midwest region.The play-in games aren’t just a gimmick. Like wild-card rounds in the playoffs for the NFL and MLB, they help sort the contenders from the also-rans. Teams that have to play, and win, a contest before facing their next opponent have momentum, an actual phenomenon in college basketball.1As my colleague Benjamin Morris will show in an upcoming article.Most important, play-in games provide vital data about teams’ current strength, which is hard to get from their schedules, littered as they are with non-tournament teams and results from months ago. Winning the play-in game, the most recent and important contest to date against a strong opponent, is a big indicator of a team’s ability today.The baseball playoffs have validated the potency of this combination of momentum and trial by fire. Wild-card teams that have won their first MLB playoff series have won their next series about half the time, despite facing opponents with home-field advantage and, usually, a better record. Winners in the NFL playoff wild-card round, on the other hand, have slightly underperformed expectations, winning three fewer games against rested opponents (out of 124) than would be expected based on their regular-season performance.2This finding is based on NFL playoff data provided by ESPN Stats & Information, combined with Simple Rating System scores from Pro Football Reference, and this formula for converting SRS into win probability (assuming home-field advantage is worth 2.5 points). Why are the NFL playoffs so different from baseball and basketball? Two untested hypotheses: 1) The extra week of rest matters more because the sport is so physically demanding; and 2) SRS understates the gap in quality between bye teams and wild-card winners because many top teams rest starters after clinching byes, artificially deflating their ratings. Also notable: More recently, the NFL playoffs have looked a lot more like MLB’s. Over the last nine postseasons, wild-card winners have won their next game against bye teams 15 times, compared to an expected total of 12 wins.Sorting contenders from also-rans is particularly helpful in college basketball, a sport that’s particularly hard to predict from regular-season results. Each team has played fewer than 10 percent of other Division I teams. Top teams come from more conferences in college basketball than in football, making each team’s average conference game less meaningful as a postseason preview. Many regular-season starting lineups are a mix of new players and players who have never played with them, meaning November results may predict little about March results.From 2001, when the play-in concept was introduced, through 2011, this sorting mechanism didn’t matter much, because the single game decided which team would offer itself up for ritual sacrifice in the next round. In those days, play-in games pitted two would-be No. 16 seeds against each other for a chance at a game against a No. 1 seed. Those games aren’t unwinnable, yet they were never won.Those 10 underdogs did slightly better than expected in the round of 64. Their Simple Rating System3Simple Rating System is, as its name suggests, a basic way of evaluating teams based on their schedule strength and margin of victory. score heading into the tournament, along with the SRS of their top-seeded round-of-64 opponents, suggested they should have lost those games by an average of 29 points. Instead, they lost by an average of 27 points — a layup better per blowout.Since 2011, though, the play-in round has expanded to four games, with four of the teams competing to be seeded from 11th to 14th. These teams have a lot more to play for: They aren’t going to face a top-two seed in their next game, so they have a fighting chance of winning.The NCAA’s move was both innovative and retrospective: The 1983 and 1984 tournaments — with field sizes of 52 and 53 teams, respectively — also had play-in games, then called an opening round. Winners advanced to the first round, which was then also a kind of preliminary round of its own, pitting outsider teams against each other for a chance to play the top 16 teams, which each got two byes.The back-to-the-future tournament restructuring of 2011 immediately paid dividends. Virginia Commonwealth beat the University of Southern California for an 11 seed in the Southwest region, where VCU was a 10-point underdog to Georgetown, according to pre-tournament SRS. Instead, VCU crushed Georgetown by 18 points. And that was no fluke — the Rams then routed third seed Purdue by 18 and went on to the Final Four.VCU’s run is an outlier; you’d want good odds to bet on any play-in winner reaching this year’s Final Four in Arlington, Texas. But it’s also consistent with the historical data. Since 1980,4As far back as our data set goes 61 percent of 109 teams that had to win an opening or first-round game exceeded SRS expectations in their next game, against an opponent with a bye. The data set spans the play-in games of the past 13 tournaments, plus the opening rounds and first rounds in the early 1980s, when more teams got at least one bye. And the average team outperformed its rating relative to its opponent by two points. An extra layup doesn’t matter in a blowout, but it could swing a close 5-12 matchup.The sample size here is too small to be definitive: The standard deviation of teams’ performance relative to expectations is almost 10 points. But other findings corroborate this one. For instance, the analysis so far hasn’t accounted for how play-in teams that won their next game did later on in the tournament. But many went on to make deep tournament runs. VCU was the seventh opening-round winner to get to the Final Four. The 1980 Final Four featured three teams that had to play their way into the main, 32-team bracket. And Jim Valvano’s North Carolina State championship team of 1983 was a No. 6 seed that didn’t get a first-round bye.Seven semifinalist berths is a remarkable yield from this group of teams. Treat the 32 opening-round winners who won their next game as you would any other team in that round of the tournament, and you’d expect seven of them to reach the Final Four. And yet these were no ordinary teams. Each was, after all, flawed — it was in the opening-round game for a reason. None was seeded in the top four in its region.Don’t take this as advice to write in any of this week’s play-in winners for a trip to Arlington. The most important factor in predicting winners will remain teams’ relative strength through the season. But if you’re looking for an edge in a bracket contest, you could do worse than backing a play-in winner. And if you’re a fan of a team slotted to play one, hope your team’s coaching staff has been keeping a close eye on Dayton.CORRECTION (March 19, 11:00 a.m.): An earlier version of this article said four teams would match up in two play-in games. Eight teams will play four play-in games this week in Dayton.
I wrote this week that Michael Sam, the Missouri defensive end who came out as gay in February, wasn’t certain to be picked in the NFL draft. Of those players at his position who had been rated as sixth-round picks before the draft — as Sam was — slightly less than 50 percent were chosen by an NFL team.I also wrote that I’d take Sam’s side of the bet given even odds:Personally, however, if the odds are something like 50-50 on Sam being drafted, I think I’d take his side of the bet. Why? A player only needs one team to draft him. A player like Sam who generates polarized opinions might have a better chance of being chosen in a late round by a team like the New England Patriots or the Seattle Seahawks than one who everyone agrees is mediocre.Perhaps this counts as a “correct” (if well-hedged) prediction. But I got one thing pretty wrong. I assumed that Sam would be chosen by a team like the Patriots or the Seahawks or the San Francisco 49ers that play in an urban area especially tolerant toward gay people. But St. Louis was probably the best fit all along.How come? Public acceptance of homosexuality certainly varies from city to city and state to state. If we use support for gay marriage as a rough proxy, for example, I estimate that about 47 percent of voters approve of it in Missouri, as compared with 58 percent in California, 59 percent in Washington state and 66 percent in Massachusetts. (Obviously, the percentages are likely to be higher in cities such as San Francisco and Seattle specifically as opposed to the states as a whole. But that’s probably also true for St. Louis, which is considerably more liberal than the rest of Missouri.)What varies a lot more, however, is appreciation for University of Missouri football. Interest in the Tigers is about 50 times higher in Missouri than in the rest of the country, according to the number of Google searches.In other words, a higher percentage of people in St. Louis and elsewhere in Missouri will know of Sam as a football player and not just as a gay athlete. Here’s hoping that helps him to concentrate on what he does best.
Members of the OSU women’s volleyball team during a game against Nebraska on Oct. 3 at St. John Arena. OSU won 3-2. Credit: Ed Momot / For The LanternThe Ohio State women’s volleyball team capped off its regular season with a dominating effort on Saturday, steamrolling Rutgers on senior night in St. John Arena.It took only three sets (26-24, 25-7, 25-12) and 74 minutes for the No. 16 team to take down the Scarlet Knights (4-28, 1-19), as the Buckeyes led for nearly the entire match.OSU finished the regular season with an overall record of 23-9 and placed sixth in the Big Ten with a 12-8 mark.Fittingly, senior outside hitter Elizabeth Campbell led all players with 14 kills on a proficient .440 hitting percentage in her final regular-season home game. Fellow senior outside hitter Katie Mitchell added 10 kills at an even better .529 clip.The three other Buckeye seniors saw plenty of action as well. Middle blockers Tyler Richardson and Andrea Kacsits had seven and six kills, respectively, aided by the absence of junior Taylor Sandbothe. Richardson, along with freshman outside hitter Audra Appold, also led her team with three blocks.Freshman Taylor Hughes started and saw the majority of the playing time at setter with 32 assists, but senior Emily Ruetter did contribute four helpers.As the score would indicate, OSU far outpaced Rutgers offensively, posting a .319 attack percentage compared to the Scarlet Knights’ dismal .043 rate.Serving also played a key part in OSU’s commanding win. The Buckeyes racked up nine aces on the night, their second best total of the season.Libero Valeria León led the way with five aces, adding to another solid defensive night for the junior, who had a game-high 18 digs.Although the Buckeyes wound up having an overall impressive night from the service line, the match didn’t start off so well in that regard.Despite Rutgers’ abysmal .105 hitting percentage in the first set, it managed to hang around thanks to four blocks from its defense and four service errors by OSU.The Buckeyes managed to take decisive late lead, 22-17, but a 7-1 run by the Scarlet Knights allowed them to take a 24-23 advantage. Guided by two Campbell kills and a Rutgers error, however, OSU survived its only scare of the evening.Powered by six aces — four from León — the second frame featured the Buckeyes’ most lopsided win in any set this season. Behind a .417 attack percentage (and a brutal minus-.136 rate by Rutgers), the Scarlet and Gray raced out to a 16-2 lead — powered by a 12-0 run — and took an 18-point victory into the locker room for the intermission.It didn’t get any better for Rutgers after the break. With four kills each from Campbell, Mitchell and Kacsits, the Buckeyes attacked .387 for the set, which was more than enough to overpower another lowly percentage (.094) by the Scarlet Knights.While OSU might be done playing at home in the regular season, it could have at least one more match in St. John Arena.The team will now turn its attention to the postseason as it hopes to host the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament by earning a top-16 seed. The Buckeyes will find out their fate when the selection show airs Sunday at 9 p.m.
OSU senior forward Julia McKinnon (17) controls the puck during a game against Minnesota on Oct 16 at the OSU Ice Rink. Credit: Courtesy of OSUThe turn of the calendar hasn’t translated to better results for the Ohio State women’s hockey team, but it will get a two-game crack over the weekend against the bottom-feeder of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association.OSU (7-17-0, 3-15-0) is set to travel to Mankato, Minnesota, over the weekend to take on Minnesota State. The Buckeyes swept the Mavericks (3-19-2, 0-17-1) in a home series in October, and they hope to have the same success this weekend. The Scarlet and Gray enter the weekend having only won one game in their last six contests, but they hold strong with the belief that their work in practice will begin to translate into in-game success.“We haven’t really let off the gas pedal as far as working the girls,” OSU assistant coach Carson Duggan said. “They’ve had a couple of really tough days of practice as far as battling and skating, and their work ethic has been great.”The Buckeyes are on an eight-game winning streak against the Mavericks and they believe that outworking their opponent will help extend the streak to 10 after this weekend.“First and foremost we have to outwork them,” Duggan said. “I thought this past weekend we played a really good brand of hockey and we just have to continue doing that and focus a little more on bearing down and putting pucks in the back of the net. Stick to our gameplan and we’ll hopefully have a successful weekend.”Struggling to light the lampLast weekend, OSU outshot St. Cloud State 25-20 in the first game and 37-17 in the second, but lost both contests 2-1. The team has been happy with its improved offensive production in terms of shots but is still looking to score more goals.“This week we’ve definitely focused on getting those gritty goals,” senior forward Julia McKinnon said. “Not all goals are going to be nice, so I think just getting greasy goals and going to the front of the net and continuing to shoot, one of them are going to go in.”Duggan said she thinks that beyond the ability to score goals, the team also needs to have the drive to put the puck in the back of the net.“It’s a skill but it’s also a will to want to score, you have to bear down and we’ve been really preaching that this week in practice,” Duggan said. “Some of the drills we’re doing are catering to getting more of those garbage goals around the crease versus just the shots from the outside. I think not staying on the perimeter as much and trying to insert ourselves more into the slot area. So that’s been a priority this week in practice and hopefully that translates this weekend.”OSU has scored just three goals in the last four games, so the team has made that one of the most crucial elements to improve upon.“You can’t win games only scoring one goal a game,” McKinnon said. “I think just moving forward we have to get those goals because you can’t win one-goal games”In the second game of the October series, OSU shut out Minnesota State. Duggan said she believes staying strong defensively depends on eliminating shots off rebounds.“If we continue to stick to the systems and play tough defense, let (sophomore goalie) Alex (LaMere) see all the shots and eliminate their second and third chances, I think that’s the recipe for success defensively,” Duggan said. “The girls know that, so I think they should be ready defensively.”The puck is scheduled to drop in Mankato at 3:07 p.m. on Friday and Saturday.Up nextOSU will continue to set up temporary residence in The North Star State the weekend after taking on the Mavericks when it is slated to travel to Duluth to face OSU coach Jenny Potter’s alma mater, Minnesota Duluth, which swept OSU in December. Puck-drop is scheduled for 8:07 p.m. on Jan. 29 and 5:07 p.m. the following day.
Junior quarterback Braxton Miller (5) is tackled during a game against Wisconsin Sept. 28 at Ohio Stadium. OSU won, 31-24.Credit: Shelby Lum / Photo editorFor the better part of the past two seasons, Ohio State’s junior quarterback Braxton Miller has been the crutch the Buckeyes lean on when things go wrong.But so far this season, Miller’s third as the starter for OSU, that crutch has started to splinter.Now with Iowa and the eighth-ranked run defense in the Football Bowl Subdivision coming to Columbus, Miller said Wednesday OSU has to be careful not to repeat its early season mistakes.“(Iowa has a) pretty good defense, you know, probably the best we’ve faced so far. Got to have good preparation throughout the whole week,” Miller said.Miller made his return from an MCL sprain against Wisconsin Sept. 28, throwing four touchdown passes, but then struggled against Northwestern the following week. No touchdowns and three turnovers, including two fumbles, had fans calling for redshirt-senior quarterback Kenny Guiton.Miller said he struggled against the Wildcats with ball security, but the fumbling issues are something that can be fixed.“I’ve been watching film on it. I really wasn’t holding the ball correctly when I was cutting (through) the holes, and I wasn’t holding the ball real tight and it’s an easy fix,” Miller said.Coach Urban Meyer said Miller played well against Northwestern, but he can’t ignore his issues with ball security.“I expect him to be ‘Braxton Miller’ with better ball security,” Meyer said to the media Wednesday. “You take away those two fumbles, he actually played pretty good that game, real good, but that’s like saying take away a bad golf shot on the 18th hole. That’s the way it is.”Despite his praise of Miller, Meyer said he was close to putting Guiton in the game after Miller’s second fumble.Since Northwestern, Meyer said he has noticed Miller working harder on holding onto the football.“I see a guy that I wanted to see and I did see, a guy that recognized the mistakes he made, and then he’s going to work hard to correct them,” Meyer said. “No. 1 was ball security, that was the No. 1 issue.”Miller said Wednesday the coaching staff made him carry a ball during team stretches to practice ball security.“It’s always just keep it tight when I take off and run, QB run or anything like that,” Miller said. “Throughout the stretching at the beginning of practice, it’s ‘hold it tight.’ They had me hold the ball throughout the whole stretch.”Although ball security has been a big focus for the coaching staff, it might not be the only issue Miller is struggling with.Miller said his knee made it difficult to run the way he wanted to against Northwestern, but he is almost back to full health.“I’d say just a little bit on my cutting-wise and you know,” Miller said. “Just not my old self in running a little bit, but I’m still working on it, it should be good.”Miller, though, is still a valuable leader for OSU, senior wide receiver Corey “Philly” Brown said after the game against Northwestern.“He’s still vocal. He’s still going to tell us what we need to do,” Brown said. “He’s the quarterback of the team so whenever he talks, everybody listens, and we’re just going to follow his lead and go where we need to go.”Miller will look to right his wrongs from the previous game when the Buckeyes kick off against the Hawkeyes Saturday, scheduled for 3:30 p.m. at Ohio Stadium.For Miller, success will depend on if he is able to get back to the standard he’s set for himself.“I wasn’t fully myself throughout the whole game,” Miller said. “Playing on grass a little bit, you know, little bit on my running, I just wasn’t my old self, I felt like and you know just got to keep getting healthy, getting treatment on it and just get back to my old ways.”
Ohio State men’s hockey players celebrate after a goal in the second period of the game against UMass on Oct. 19. Ohio State fell 6-3. Credit: Casey Cascaldo | Photo EditorFollowing Ohio State’s 27-day break, the Buckeyes returned to action with a sweep of the Mercyhurst Lakers by scores of 3-1 and 5-4.Ohio State (11-4-3, 4-2-2-2 Big Ten) dominated the Lakers (8-10-2, 6-5-1 Atlantic Hockey) on special teams and limited Mercyhurst’s shots throughout the series to secure the pair of wins.Game 1Ohio State won the first game of the series against Mercyhurst 3-1 including the first goal of the season by Ohio State junior defenseman Matt Miller. The teams failed to find the net in the first period despite a combined 25 shots between the two squads. Mercyhurst had an opportunity to score on the power play in the first 20 minutes, but the special teams of the Buckeyes held strong and killed the penalty. Scoring opened up midway through the second period as sophomore forward Austin Pooley scored for the second time this season. Pooley was assisted by senior forward Brendon Kearney and junior forward Sam McCormick. The goal came shortly after a failed power play attempt by the Buckeyes after Mercyhurst was called for having too many players on the ice. Overall, Ohio State converted on two of its five power play opportunities on the night and killed all six penalties it faced.Neither squad scored for the remainder of the period, and the score remained 1-0 in favor of the Buckeyes until Miller scored to increase the Buckeyes’ lead. Miller found the net during a five-on-three power play after two Lakers picked up penalties within a minute of each other. Senior forwards Dakota Joshua and Mason Jobst assisted on the goal.Mercyhurst scored with under a minute remaining in the game with an empty net to make it a one-score game, but the Buckeyes’ defense held strong and even added an additional empty net goal by Jobst with two seconds remaining to make the final 3-1. Jobst was assisted by Kearney, his second assist of the game. Redshirt senior goaltender Sean Romeo allowed one goal on 20 shots faced, with the one goal coming during a six-on-five. Through his first nine games he started this season, Romeo has allowed 18 goals and is averaging 2.19 goals allowed per game in addition to a .916 save percentage.Game 2In more of a high-scoring affair, Ohio State finished the sweep of the Lakers, winning 5-4 on a game-winning goal by senior defenseman Sasha Larocque.Mercyhurst took their first lead of the series midway through the first period, an even-strength goal by freshman forward Geoff Kitt. The Buckeyes responded just over four minutes later with a goal by junior forward Ronnie Hein, assisted by Larocque and junior forward Tanner Laczynski, his 10th of the season.The Buckeyes followed up the score with a power play goal by senior forward Freddy Gerard, his sixth goal of the season. Gerard was assisted by Hein and Laczynski, his 11th assist of the season.Saturday’s game was the 100th game played by Gerard for Ohio State. Through Saturday’s game, he has scored 18 goals, 26 assists and 44 points during his career at Ohio State.In the second period, Mercyhurst scored two unanswered goals to take the lead over Ohio State, one coming on the power play and the other at even strength just over three minutes in. Junior forward Carson Meyer responded just 20 seconds later to tie the game 3-3, assisted by Joshua and senior forward John Wiitala.With six minutes left in the second period, Mercyhurst found the net to once again take the lead, but less than four minutes later, Meyer once again scored to tie the game. With his two goals against Mercyhurst, Meyer now sits at six goals on the year, tied for No. 2 on the team with Hein. Ohio State scored on three of its four attempts on the power play Saturday night and allowed the Lakers to convert on one of their three attempts. Overall, the Buckeyes were three for nine in the series and killed all but one of the Laker’s nine tries with the man advantage.The tie was eventually broken by Larocque midway through the third period with his second goal of the season to give Ohio State the 5-4 lead, and from there the Buckeyes ran with the lead, limiting Mercyhurst to only seven shot attempts in the third period. Freshman forward Gustaf Westlund assisted on the goal, his 11th of the season.The five goals by the Buckeyes were tied for the most they’ve scored this season, also finding the net five times against Penn State on Nov. 24. The Buckeyes outshot the Lakers 94-47 in the series.Sophomore forward Tommy Nappier allowed four goals on 26 shots. So far this season, he has allowed 16 goals and has a .941 save percentage.The Buckeyes will stay at home to take on Michigan State on Jan. 4 and 5. The puck drops on Friday at 7 p.m. and Saturday at 8 p.m.
Carmen Greenway – described as a ‘very competent’ cyclist – with her husband Rufus and sons Finlay (back) and Rafferty (front)Credit:PA She was just having a lovely time… one second you’re happy and then next second it’s a trainwreckhusband Rufus Greenway A mother of two died following a bicycle crash moments after she took a smiling selfie on the way home from celebrating her mother’s birthday.Carmen Greenway, 41, is believed to have had one hand on the bike as she hit a bumpy patch of road and lost control while returning from having dinner at a pub.She fractured her skull and died six days later in St Mary’s Hospital in Paddington, central London, after suffering a cardiac arrest.Mrs Greenway’s mother was riding behind her when she fell, just 100 yards from her family home. Her husband Rufus Greenway, an audio-visual company director, said she had probably had a drink on the evening of August 18 before cycling back to Isleworth, west London.The 47-year-old said his wife, who was also his business partner, was a “very competent” cyclist who would regularly take selfies.Asked why she had not worn a helmet, Mr Greenway said: “It was just a gross oversight, maybe overconfidence (that she did not wear a helmet).”It’s unfortunately an unfortunate accident. If she was wearing a helmet she would still be alive.”He said his “media-savvy” wife had been “taking some selfies on the main road”, adding: “She did that regularly.””She was not taking it at the moment of the accident,” Mr Greenway added. “She was 100m from our house, one hand on the bars, quite relaxed, and probably had had a drink. “She cycled that way every weekend and perhaps it’s familiarity breeding contempt.”She was just having a lovely time, happy to be with her mother for her mum’s birthday. One second you’re happy and then next second it’s a trainwreck.” Carmen Greenway with her husband Rufus, an audio-visual company directorCredit:PA Carmen Greenway taking a selfie while cycling to a pub, on the day she fell off her bike and died six days laterCredit:PA “The biggest loss is my children have lost their mother at 41. I’ve lost the love of my life. No rows, no arguments, I thought I was in it for 60 years,” Mr Greenway added.”We were just living an adventurous life together and it was getting better every day. The sanctity of life was being in each other’s arms.”The couple’s eldest child Finlay, 13, had been a “rock”, Mr Greenway said, while four-year-old Rafferty kept pictures of his mother on the wall in his bedroom. Mrs Greenway’s mother Sherry Bennett, who was riding behind her daughter when she fell, told the New Zealand Herald: “Carmen is a very devoted wife and adored her children and adored her husband. She’s a special person. “She was special to me because she was my only daughter. She’s just got this special quality about her, she just exudes love and happiness.”She just had this huge personality that was so infectious. People just wanted to be with her, just gravitated to her. Everyone was her friend.”Mrs Greenway’s funeral was held last month. Mr Greenway called for legislation to be introduced to require riders to wear a helmet, similar to that in force in Mrs Greenway’s native New Zealand.He was in Moscow at the time of the accident, which happened around midnight near the family home, and flew home to be by her bedside.Mr Greenway paid tribute to his wife of nearly 13 years as he told how her death had devastated her family and friends. Want the best of The Telegraph direct to your email and WhatsApp? Sign up to our free twice-daily Front Page newsletter and new audio briefings.