The Cubs Quantum Leap

By Adam Grossman

Superposition is a term that seems to belong to the world of sports.  In football there is a "superback" that can play multiple positions including tight end, fullback, or running back.  In baseball, there are utility players that can play multiple positions throughout the course of a game.

Superposition, however, actually belongs to world of physics. More specifically, “The superposition principle is the idea that a system is in all possible states at the same time, until it is measured.” In the world of quantum mechanics, the smallest particles (think electrons and protons) exist in every possible position until they are observed. When that occurs, all of the probability collapses into a single position.

If you have not fallen asleep already then a natural question at this point is why are we talking about Superposition (and especially quantum mechanics) and sports? Superposition can be applied to why live games or events will continue to be a value for the sports industry. More specifically, audiences live in superposition while watching games. From the start to the finish of a game, there are many different possibilities of an outcome. The fans, media, and sponsors constantly live in a world of multiple possible outcomes in every game their favorite team plays. This inherent drama and emotion is what drives so much passion about sports. It is only after the final score or outcome is observed that we can know with certainty what will happen to the our favorite team during a game. 

We can use last night’s epic (or heartbreaking depending on which team you cheer for) Chicago Cubs win as an example of superposition in sports. Going into the ninth inning, the Cubs were losing 5-2 and had a 2.5% win expectancy according to the baseball analytics site FanGraphs. At this particular moment, the Cubs possible states included:

·            Scoring zero runs and losing Game 4 by the score of 5-2.

·            Scoring one run and losing Game 4 by the score 5-3.

·            Scoring two runs and losing Game 4 by the score 5-4.

·            Scoring three runs and losing Game 4 in the bottom of the ninth or extra innings.

·            Losing Game 4 and winning Game 5.

·            Losing Game 4 and losing Game 5

·            Scoring four runs and winning Game 4 by the score 6-5 with the Cubs   wining the series 3 games to 1.


Each one of these “theoretical states” exists for the Cubs, and Cubs fans “exist” partially in each of these states until the game is over. Even though the last outcome had a very small probability of occurring, it still was a possible state and part of the overall Cubs superposition. 

            Superposition does exist for all entertainment options – particularly for movies and television shows. For example, fans are currently thinking about how the show Game of Thrones will conclude at the end of its eighth season (the show just completed season six). However, once viewers see the series finale, Game of Thrones no longer is in superposition. The series is over, and the viewers know what happens.

            Unlike other entertainment options, sports are constantly in a state of superposition. That is what makes them such a valuable asset. Every year for many sports, there is a new season with a new slate of games. Each game has a conclusion, but there is a new game and new theoretical possibilities for each team. The team or sport for the most part is never “over”. Even when ratings are down for NFL games year-over-year, the concept of superposition will likely keep fans engaged with the league for years to come. More specifically, fans need to watch each game live to achieve the maximum emotional impact of superposition.

            Superposition sounds like a sports concept. Even though it comes from the world of physics, it does not require a quantum leap to see how it shows why fans, media, and sponsors love sports.