Dr. Mark Moore has spent most of his life in the academic world, dealing with a complex branch of philosophy. Despite the popular notion that philosophers live in an ivory tower thinking abstract thoughts, Moore has directed his knowledge to some pragmatic ends.
In fact, it is hard to think of anything more pragmatic than a system for betting professional football.
This was hardly what Moore had in mind when he was earning his doctorate at the University of Tennessee and studying under Robert Hartman, a giant in a field known as "value theory." Hartman tried to create a formal system for making value decisions; not only moral decisions, the traditional realm of philosophy, but also decisions in economics, politics or anything else. It was all very mathematical and very esoteric.
Moore was so intrigued by Hartman and his work that he wrote his doctoral thesis on Hartman's book, "The Structure of Value," and spent years doing further research. In 1979, he decided to put his skills to practical use. He started a consulting firm, Moore Associates, offering clients his expertise in making value decisions.
One of his clients was a television network that asked him to evaluate the scripts of pilot films for new comedy shows. As part of his analysis, Moore would identify four traditional types of characters (heroes, villains, buffoons and churls), tabulate the quantity of dialogue between characters of different types, and develop a mathematical model that would reveal the optimal formula for a television hit.
Last summer, a very different type of client approached Moore. The proprietors of one of the growing band of football-touting services asked him to develop a method for betting on pro football games. "I've never wagered in my life, except for an occasional slot machine," Moore said. "I don't know a bookie." But he plunged enthusiastically into the project.
Moore looked at the work of various football advisory services, and saw that most of them published "power ratings" -- numerical expressions of the relative strengths of teams. That appealed to Moore's mathematical instincts, and so he started to analyze them in depth. "I found that the ratings didn't make enough distinctions," Moore said. "If, say, the ratings run from 80 to 100, there are places on that grid where one point doesn't make a difference, and others where one point is important; it's like the straw that broke the camel's back. So I would make my own interpretation of their ratings."
Moore started working principally with the power ratings of the well-known handicapper, Gary Austin, identified the situations in which Austin's figures were most accurate, made some adjustments to them and then compared the resultant figures with the actual point spread. Whenever there was a disparity of more than 3 1/2 points between his figures and Las Vegas', he would have a play.
On the first day of the season, Moore said, his system produced five plays -- and five winners. Since then, it has continued to perform consistently well; Moore says his record is now 29-12. This should have been a smashingly successful season for him. It hasn't been.
The client who hired Moore to undertake this time-consuming project went out of business without paying him. Moore still hasn't become a gambler, and it is probably not in his nature to become a professional tout, so all he has done with his selections is to share them with friends. (This week, he said, the system plays are Buffalo plus-2 1/2 vs. Miami and Pittsburgh plus-1 vs. Houston). After the sort of season that every football bettor dreams about, and could even become rich from, Moore hasn't made a cent. Fortunately, he can always turn to philosophy for consolation.