How big data reveals that basketball, football, and hockey are all the same game

Data analysis is a fact of life in pro and college sports. Teams have statistics gurus on the payroll, fans track every player movement, and corporate owners collect data on the optimal stadium experience. More than ever before, we know which variables matter in determining who wins and who loses. So what if it turns out that the games we love are far less elaborate than everyone makes them out to be? Could the scientific deconstruction of sports end up killing the religion of the game?

If that’s the case, Aaron Clauset could be the man to blame. Clauset, a computer science professor at the University of Colorado, recently analyzed every point scored in every game over a decade of college football, pro football, pro hockey, and pro basketball—more than 1.25 million scoring events across 40,000-plus games. Among his conclusions? “These games look a lot less complicated than most people think.”

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