How to not get memed: Stop making unanimous predictions
Your sports preview show needs a Designated Contrarian.
Two things that are true about our species:
As long as people have competed at sports, people have competed at predicting sports. The Romans bet on gladiator fights, the Greeks bet on the Ancient Olympics, and there were even humans placing sports wagers way back when the University of Georgia last won a football championship.
Knowing not the future, we fear it. We count on meteorologists, doctors, and The Rock to tell us what is about to happen, so we can prepare for it.
Ok, two more:
However, we also love nothing more than making fun of each other. So when these expert predictions go wrong, we are at our happiest, unless these expert predictions have gone against us personally.
Sporting events need preview shows, because TV networks need people to watch things adjacent to sporting events, but we have not yet unlocked technology that enables a better preview show than People In Business Clothes Making Logo Predictions While Arranged At Great Width.
So! Combine these factors, and you get outcomes like this:
The Eagles, a bad team per established criteria, indeed defeated the 49ers, previously a good team, despite all seven licensed forecasters predicting otherwise. These forecasters even included the voice of democracy itself.
The result of this mass error was Philadelphia gaining an additional victory lap at the expense of NBC’s panel, surely leading to much shame on the part of NBC’s panelists, who did nothing wrong individually, seeing as they each did nothing more than predict a good team would beat a bad team.
However, it’s not about the individual. It’s about the collective.
Look at this meme that would not exist if merely one or two people had decided to disagree simply for the sake of disagreeing:
The ancient rabbis impart wisdom to our sports pregame shows:
In a criminal case brought before the Sanhedrin court, if every judge agreed to convict, it was considered wise to adjourn and seek more evidence. Why? Well, if every person in a large room agrees on an argument, then how hard did each individual actually scrutinize it? If no one in the room tried to prove the seemingly impossible, then how can the room be certain the seemingly impossible did not occur? In haste to agree, did one person miss one detail that could’ve led to a single dissent, thus ensuring all options had indeed been considered?
The result could be an insufficiently challenged conviction.
Similarly, if there is unanimity among every person charged with predicting which team will win a basketball game, how can we be certain any one person challenged the favored prediction? While each individual pick could be well-reasoned, will an unfair screenshot be used to argue otherwise retroactively anyway?
The result could be memes.
The solution is simple, once we acknowledge a simple truth.
No one has time to actually give a shit about all the sports predictions they make, unless they are placing money on these predictions, and even if they are placing money on these predictions, then they care about the money itself, not the predictions, unless they’re trying to make it their job to sell sports predictions, in which case the thing they care about is still the money itself.
I’ve done sports predictions as part of a big panel before. We used to predict college football bowl games en masse every year, 40 at a time, and I’ve been part of a weekly NFL publication, requiring five picks per week. In both of these situations, I’d have strong opinions about a few games. But toward the end, I’d also flip coins, just side with advanced stats, or pick whatever seemed funniest.
Because no single person actually cares about whether all their sports predictions are correct or not, and because it is bad for the group when everyone is wrong (because the group will be shamed online via memes), the solution is for one person to go rogue each time.
Each sports preview show should have a Designated Contrarian, a person who always dissents from any unanimous verdict.
This person’s job would be to turn against the group and stand athwart the pregame show, even though this will typically be a bad idea for the individual. The group will usually be right!
However, in the event the group is wrong, this contrarian is realized as a hero who has ensured an incorrect group prediction will not be memed.
I’ve learned this the hard way. Our group was mocked online for unanimously predicting LSU would defeat Notre Dame in the 2014 Music City Bowl. The scar of the 2014 Music City Bowl lingers to this day. The following year, when any of our bowl picks became unanimous, I switched my picks to the underdogs. It’s fun to be bold, sometimes you’re right, and nobody gets memed!
For example, ESPN’s Chris Berman has a running joke of always picking the Bills to win the Super Bowl. Classic bit! But guess what? Epochs from now, when the Bills finally win the Super Bowl, no one will make fun of Berman’s panel for missing it, because one reanimated consciousness will have nailed it.
If this Designated Contrarian role does not prove fun, however, it could rotate. One person need not bear this burden each week. Straws could be drawn. We need not prescribe methods for choosing the one who will sacrifice a little personal glory for the good of the group. It is a costly and lonely duty, to be the one who predicts Mississippi State will defeat Alabama, and each group must arrive at this assignment as it feels most appropriate.
What demented sequence of events led to (1.) Vanderbilt being a unanimous favorite in anything and (2.) internet participant Capers retaining the proof of it years later? If there had been a Designated Contrarian, we would not have to ponder these things.
But there’s something in it for the scapegoat, beyond just fulfilling a noble task.
Because sometimes the lone voice is right.
Think of the bragging rights, whenever the underdog wins.
Not only did you lay your pride on the line in order to shield your friends from being memed, you were rewarded by being proved smarter than them. You listened to the rabbis, considered the evidence on a deeper level, found the courage to stand alone, and forced online enemies to delete their screenshots of your panel’s predictions.
In fact, these enemies never even screenshotted your group’s predictions in the first place, because your group didn’t make a unanimous pick. And only the most desperate Nobody Believed In Us whiners, who are from Boston, bother to refer back to a group in which someone (you) quite clearly believed.
You, the Designated Contrarian, solved the problem not just once the game finished, but before it even began.
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