LSU Finance Professor Don Chance Explores the Chances in Sports Championship Series

August 3, 2020

Don Chance
Don Chance

BATON ROUGE- LSU finance professor Don Chance recently took a side-step from his typical study of the financial world to examine a puzzling question in sports. His article, “Conditional Probability and the Length of a Championship Series in Baseball, Basketball, and Hockey,” is now in print at the Journal of Sports Analytics.

In this article, Chance, who holds the James C. Flores Endowed Chair for MBA Studies, used data from the World Series, the NBA Championship Finals, and the Stanley Cup to examine whether teams are evenly matched throughout these series. The assumption that each team has a 50% chance of winning is rejected. Also, there is no other single probability that matches the historical data for any of these sports. The only conclusion is that the probability of a team winning shifts substantially during the series. While this conclusion is not unusual, there are vast differences across sports and within a sport.

“Let’s say a team is up three games to two. In baseball, it has only a 35% chance of winning the next game, but in basketball and hockey, its likelihood of winning is 55% and 60%, respectively. If a team is up three games to none, in baseball, it has a 90% chance of winning game four and sweeping the series, but in basketball and hockey, those probabilities drop to around 75%. We don’t know the reasons, and that might be studied in the future,” stated Chance.

Chance, coincidentally, enjoys studying the concept of chance in a variety of settings. His objective for this study was to see how well historical data fit models that are typically assumed in analytics to indicate how championship series evolve. He also argued that the notion of an evenly matched series should be redefined. “Most people think a series is evenly matched when each team has a 50% chance of winning. I say that a better definition of being evenly matched recognizes these changing odds of winning such that an evenly-matched series is most likely to go seven games,” commented Chance.

“Championship series are a huge industry in and of themselves. People watch championship series that do not even follow the season. We have already had the NBA and NHL series significantly postponed, and it’s not clear if the baseball season will be able to continue. Hopefully, someday soon, we’ll see another championship series,” added Chance.

The Journal of Sports Analytics is a new high-quality research journal that aims to be the central forum for the discussion of practical applications of sports analytics research, serving team owners, general managers, coaches, fans, and academics.

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Bridget Conrad
E. J. Ourso College of Business