Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Blindsided by Arithmetic

The Prairie Curmudgeon was watching Monday Night Football last night. One commercial was a trailer for a nice enough movie called The Blind Side. In big bold letters it stated that young Michael Oher's chance of reaching the NFL were astronomical. One in a million it said.

"One in a million," I said to my wife, who doesn't pay much attention to Monday Night Football. "How many people get drafted by the NFL every year?"

"I don't know. How many teams are there?"

"Thirty-two. There are seven draft rounds, I think."

"So, about 224 people are drafted every year. There are 300 million Americans. That's 0.7467 draftees per million. Close enough to one in a million for me."

"No. No. No," I said. "There are that many drafted every year. Assuming an average life expectancy of 75 years, there are about 4 million people in every age cohort. And, although it's not strictly true, most of the people drafted are all pretty much from one age cohort. So, in any given year your odds of being drafted are really only one in about 18,000."

"And being male," said my wife dryly "is a big advantage for playing pro football. Women need not apply. Cuts your odds in half, if you know what I mean."

Now, I must admit that odds of 1 in 9000 are no small cinch, but not exactly infinitesimal. They are, I suspect, about the same odds as catching a foul ball at Yankee Stadium. Not something I've ever done, but something I can certainly visualize doing.

Come to think of it, just sitting in the stands of an unremarkable suburban high school, I've watched, over the last decade or so, the play of four high schoolers who have been drafted by the NFL. Long odds, yes. Astronomical, no.

Don't get me wrong. I have nothing against Michael Oher. Or Sandra Bullock for that matter.

I do have something against Mad Men who can't Math.