Playing favorites


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In the midst of the annual hoopla that is college basketball’s Final Four, I have a bone to pick with those that created a particular term. I’m referring to a word that has become as synonymous with "the dance" as it has through all of sports, in particular their betting and projected outcomes. ESPN analysts, sports journalists and Vegas alike use this particular word in droves to describe what team or person has the best odds of winning.

I’m talking about the term “favorite.”

I have a favorite ice cream — Butter Brickle. I have a favorite movie — It’s a Wonderful Life. And I most certainly have my favorite sports teams, but them being my favorites has in no way translated i to a probability of wins. The Minnesota Vikings have been my favorite football team for all 29 years of my life, and they have yet to win a Super Bowl.

The term “favorite” implies a desire, hope and preferred outcome. How has such a term become synonymous with objectivity?

The analytical tools used to determine the outcome of a particular game or match must be based in the kind of math that I certainly don’t understand — probabilities, tendencies and percentages all mapped out in spread sheets until someone qualified to read all that data makes an informed decision about who is going to win and by how much. And then that projected winner is given the title of “favorite.”

The Kentucky University men’s basketball team was the favorite to win the current NCAA Tournament, but I wonder how many people actually wanted them to win? That brings me to my second frustration about the word "favorite" in the world of sports.

The opposite of the “favorite” is the “underdog.”

If “favorite” is subjective, then “underdog” is downright cruel. At the end of the careful analysis of numbers, one team is deemed the preferred champion and the other is worthy of lying beneath a dog. The projected loser isn’t even considered a dog, but somehow must maneuver itself underneath the underbelly of a canine.

This all seems even screwier when considering that people love underdogs. We, as a culture, love the comeback, the David vs. Goliath moments, the weaker overcoming the stronger against impossible odds. We are inspired by the underdog: Movies aren’t made about favorites.

The only time the favorite is our favorite is when the favorite was our favorite before they were deemed the favorite — or something like that. But annoyed as I am about the terminology, I don’t know that I have any suggestions otherwise. Referring to the two sides as "the projected winner" and "the projected loser" is stale and calculated.

This all has me realizing that “favorite” and “underdog,” as disparaging and subjective as they are, only add to the narrative of the game. These terms heighten the drama of the event and make it all the sweeter when things don’t go the direction the analysis suggested.

Nic R. Krause was born a cranky, curmudgeon of a child in a Minnesota suburb. He was plucked from the muggy tundra and relocated to Colorado Springs 22 years ago. From intramural jai-alai, to his complicated relationship with the Minnesota Vikings, Nic, plainly stated, is bonkers for sports. Follow him on Twitter @NicRKrause.

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