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Basketball, Football, and Hockey Are All the Same Game

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Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins (left) and LeBron James of the Miami Heat.

Researchers using data analysis techniques have found that college and professional football, hockey, and soccer are less complicated than many people believe.

Credit: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images, Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

University of Colorado researchers used data analysis techniques to analyze every point scored in every game over a decade of college football, and professional football, hockey, and basketball and found that the games are much less complicated than most people think.

The researchers found that scoring rhythms remained mostly stable throughout all of the sports. At the beginning of a game, the scoring rate is relatively slow before rising to a plateau and spiking before the end of a period when the opportunity to score becomes narrower. These stable tempos suggest that each scoring play is an independent process--that "there is very little correlation between one point and the next," says University of Colorado professor Aaron Clauset.

The researchers also found no evidence of momentum in any of the sports, and what looks like a hot streak is just a random sequence of events.

In addition, the researchers found that although hockey and football teams tend to extend their leads, pro basketball teams play worse when they have the lead. They say this could be attributed to the fact that basketball teams score more frequently, while hockey and football scoring plays are more scarce.

The researchers also say they developed a model for predicting game outcomes that is more accurate than current conventional models.

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