Why Do Incorrect Stories Stick?
I want to give up on college sports. I can’t.
While it doesn’t carry national championship implications for LSU, today’s Alabama-LSU game is still a pretty big deal. In 2011, they met in the “Game of the Century” that was won by LSU, 9-6, and then again in a rematch in the BCS Championship Game. Alabama won that one 21-0, and LSU never crossed the 50-yard line.
On the basis of these two scores, a lot of people seem to have picked up the “SEC is all defense, no offense” story. Indeed, today’s story on the game at ESPN.com says that today’s game “carries more offensive glamour than recent meetings.” That’s probably true, but I’m a bit mystified by the “SEC is all defense, no offense” story that emerged in 2011.
Why? Because it’s not true. I just looked at the numbers and found that Alabama and LSU each averaged about 35 points per game in 2011. The correct interpretation of the 9-6 “Game of the Century” and the 21-0 National Championship Game, I think, was not that the offenses were bad but that the defenses were that good.
I think Simon and Garfunkel got this right: “a man he hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest.” In this case, low-scoring, ultra-high-profile games comfort those who wanted to believe that SEC football doesn’t involve a lot of offense and provided very vivid examples for the agnostic.
We do this in politics and day-to-day life, as well. Vivid stories stick even when they run counter to the evidence. It’s probably a good idea to be extra-skeptical when we find an idea superficially appealing.