Advertisement

'Momentum' in sports is malarkey, researchers say

Game-winning "momentum" is an illusion, Cornell researchers say.

By
Brooks Hays
North Dakota Sioux Kyle Radke (R) loses his helmet after being checked into the boards by Boston College Eagles Matt Lombardi during the first period of their semi-final game of the 2007 Mens NCAA Frozen Four at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis on April 5, 2007. (UPI Photo/Bill Greenblatt)
North Dakota Sioux Kyle Radke (R) loses his helmet after being checked into the boards by Boston College Eagles Matt Lombardi during the first period of their semi-final game of the 2007 Mens NCAA Frozen Four at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis on April 5, 2007. (UPI Photo/Bill Greenblatt) | License Photo

ITHICA, N.Y., Feb. 18 (UPI) -- A basketball team makes a few three pointers in a row, the crowd gets behind them, there's a discernible shift in the competitive tides, and the team surges on to close out the game. The hot shooters go on to put together a five-game winning streak.

It's what color commentators and sports analysts frequently refer to as "momentum." But researchers say there's no quantifiable evidence that it exists.

Advertisement

"In our evidence, we see that momentum is really just illusory," said Kevin M. Kniffin, a postdoctoral student at Cornell's Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management.

Kniffin's work was aided by Vince Mihalek, who played hockey at Cornell for four years. Together they analyzed data from 916 Western Collegiate Hockey Association games from a six-year period. College hockey teams regularly play two games over a weekend -- often defending their home ice for both games -- making it an ideal scenario for momentum to rear its head.

But the analysis showed that winning the first game had no effect on the probability of winning the second when discrepancies in the quality and talent of the teams were accounted for.

"The new paper shows no evidence of momentum across games within a weekend," Mihalek said.

Details of the study were recently published in the journal Economics Letters.

[Cornell University]

Latest Headlines