Flat Maxima

FLAT MAXIMA….A couple of weekends ago I linked to an op-ed piece that mentioned something called the “principle of the flat maximum.” The idea is that at the very top range of ability level, everyone is so highly qualified that it’s almost impossible to predict who’s really going to be the best at the next level of performance. The measured differences are just too small.

What would be a good test of this? How about the NFL draft? The players drafted in the first two rounds are the 64 best college football players in the country, and this is very elite territory indeed. The fact that pro scouts have a ton of information on each player makes this a very stringent test of the PotFM, but even so, if the principle is really true, the performance of these 64 players once they get to the pros ought to be fairly random.

So is it? If you compared the pro careers of, say, all the players drafted in the first round during the 1980s to those drafted in the second round, what would you find? Obviously this requires some consistent measure of pro performance, but it seems like there are thousands of sports geeks out there who have come up with performance metrics of various kinds, so this ought to be doable. Does anyone know if this kind of comparison has ever been done?

POSTSCRIPT: What might prevent this from being a good test? One thing that comes to mind is the possibility that first round draft picks are given more opportunity to prove themselves. If you’re drafted #3 and have a multi-million dollar contract, your team will probably keep playing you even if you have a mediocre season or two. If you’re drafted #58, you’ll probably get cut.

What else would be a good test of the PotFM? Outside of sports, that is.