Pay attention to the marathons, not the sprints

Sports Commentary

Lest you think sports exist in their own little bubble, it’s worth noting they’re not as sequestered as they seem at first glance.

And I’m not talking about how sports and the courts — not the ones of the basketball variety — come together, as you can’t go a day without seeing some sports figure making an appearance in front of a judge, or heading to jail.

What I’m talking about is how sports and business mix. But again, not in the way you might think. I’m not referring to any contract negotiation, or endorsement deal, or business venture by a rich athlete.

I’m talking about something from the world of business called the “error of recency.”

That phenomenon is the tendency of an evaluator, either in a performance review or job interview, to inaccurately assess someone due to a reliance on that person’s most recent actions.

Simply put, the error of recency is wrongly evaluating something because of what’s happened recently. It’s the inability to put things in perspective.

And that’s where it ties in to sports.

With our ability to immediately see sports on TV, or listen to them on the radio or over the Internet, or find out about them via Twitter, there’s a lack of time to digest. What you end up having is an inability to see the big picture.

Need an example? Look no further than our own St. Louis Blues.

When the Blues came storming out of the gate in this truncated season, going 6-1 in January, you couldn’t turn around without someone telling you this was the year St. Louis was finally going to get back to a Stanley Cup final.

Granted, the strike-shortened season is only 48 games, but still, that was too soon to be saying a title was possibly on the way.

And to prove it, the Blues then lost their first five games in February. And as the wheels fell off, so the fans fell off the bandwagon. The phrase “Same old Blues” was heard frequently and enthusiasm waned.

So the Blues currently stand 11-7-2, and what do we know about them? Nothing.

Why nothing? Because even in a shortened season, it’s a marathon, not a sprint. If last season taught us anything, with a No. 8 seed winning the Stanley Cup, it’s that all you need to worry about is getting into the playoffs. Once there, that’s when you find out what you’re made of. So don’t write off (or write in) the Blues right now. It’s too soon to tell.

Another example of the error of recency can be found in college basketball.

Take Gonzaga University, which has had brushes with greatness. In 1999, the mid-major school from Spokane, Wash., captured the imagination of hoops fans while storming to the Elite Eight before losing.

Since then, they’ve made three trips to the Sweet 16 — no small feat — but they always seem to do worse than expected. In fact, since that magical ’99 season, the Bulldogs are just 14-13 in 13 appearances in the Tournament.

But they’re really rolling this season, sitting at 28-2 and a No. 2 ranking in all of college basketball. And after Saturday’s win over Portland, Gonzaga will rise to No. 1 when the new polls are released this week.

Are the Bulldogs good? Yes. Are they the No. 1 team in the nation? They might be right now, but don’t let recent success fool you.

If they get a No. 1 seed in this year’s tournament, don’t be surprised when they’re the first No. 1 to lose.

And another college team that looks really good right now is Saint Louis. The Billikens have had a great run of late, but I don’t expect them to have a long stay in the NCAA Tournament.

But that’s just been my opinion recently. Check back later and maybe it will have changed.


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