The first question that popped into my mind as I settled into my upper balcony general admission seat to watch the Portland Pilots play host to the Washington State Cougars was, naturally, why on earth are there Teletubbies standing in front of me?
Could it be that the couple of pitchers of Pabst Blue Ribbon that my buddy and I drank at the Twilight Room surrounded by the Wazzu Alumni Association had not worn off in the ten blocks we walked to get to the Chiles Center and I was hallucinating four college men dressed up as Tinky Winky, Dipsy, Laa-Laa and Po? It certainly wouldn't be the first time I saw Teletubbies while a bit tipsy.
The energy in the Chiles Center for the game was surprising low. Perhaps because of the Sunday evening start time or because more than half the crowd were Washington State fans, the arena was not rocking especially for a home opener against a Pac-12 team. Not helping the energy was the stone feet of the four students in Teletubbies outfits. For the most part, they kept quiet, barely cheering for their Pilots and they didn't seem like a part of the game experience except for their colorful suits. It seems that they are not the DIY cheerleaders or high energy fun squad like I expected them to be, but instead are there for one purpose: to distract the opponent's free throw shooter. It makes sense, the Chiles Center features a walkway in the second level that is at the perfect height to be seen by the shooter and nothing is more distracting than men in Teletubbies costumes.
It made me wonder, have these Teletubbies had any effect on the free throw shooting of Portland's opponents? They seem to be a mainstay of the Chiles Center experience. They are even featured in one of Portland's promotional posters displayed on the main concourse so I assume that they are there for every home game. So I went back to the last ten games played at the Chiles Center to find out if there was any difference between an opponents free throw percentage in their game against the Pilots and for the season.
In Sunday's game, the Cougars went 24-for-34 at the line (70.6%). Coming into the game the Cougars were only 33-for-53 (62.3%) in their first two games. So in this instance, not only did the Teletubbies not help the Pilots, they may have made things worse.
In fact, over the last ten games at the Chiles Center the opponents free throw percentage has been better than their season average in six games. Though I have no proof, I would wager that the free throw percentage of a team in road games is below their season average, so to have six teams come in and shoot a better percentage - especially when there are grown men in Teletubbies costumes gyrating in the window - is surprising.
To be fair though and to give the Teletubbies some credit, the three best free throw shooting teams of the ten that I looked at were Gonzaga (76.2% in 2010-2011), Saint Mary's (75.9%) and Santa Clara (72.6%) and each of those three teams were held dramatically below their season average. Gonzaga shot only 66.7% in their game (a loss for Portland), Saint Mary's was also held to just 66.7% (a win) and Santa Clara shot only 59.1% (another win). But, these three games were also the highest attended games of the ten against their biggest rivals so you can assume that the crowd generally was much louder and distracting.
So why would teams shoot a better free throw percentage with Tinky Winky thrusting his pelvis in their general direction? My only theory is that where in a quiet arena with no out of the ordinary distractions a player might have his mind wander a bit, the Teletubbies make a player focus more on the rim and the shot. The distraction isn't enough to throw him off completely but it is enough to make him go to his happy place.
WASHINGTON STATE 83, at PORTLAND 73 11/20/2011
WASHINGTON STATE 2-1 (0-0) -- R. Moore 2-6 2-4 6; B. Motum 6-9 1-2 13; M. Capers 2-3 2-2 6; C. Enquist 2-2 4-5 8; F. Aden 7-14 6-7 21; D. Lacy 3-5 4-6 11; M. Ladd 3-8 1-1 8; D. Shelton 2-2 4-6 8; W. DiIorio 1-1 0-1 2. Totals 28-50 24-34 83. PORTLAND 2-2 (0-0) -- T. Douglas 2-4 4-5 8; N. Mitrovic 4-12 1-2 11; D. Rodgers 4-6 2-4 10; R. Nicholas 4-10 2-3 11; R. Barker 0-2 2-3 2; D. Carr 3-6 0-0 7; T. van der Mars 5-6 0-1 10; K. Bailey 2-9 9-10 14; D. Cason 0-3 0-0 0; T. Riley 0-2 0-0 0. Totals 24-60 20-28 73.
Three-point goals: WSU 3-9 (F. Aden 1-2; M. Ladd 1-4; D. Lacy 1-3), PORT 5-21 (N. Mitrovic 2-8; T. Riley 0-1; R. Nicholas 1-3; K. Bailey 1-3; D. Carr 1-4; D. Cason 0-2); Rebounds: WSU 28 (R. Moore 6), PORT 37 (R. Nicholas 7); Assists: WSU 16 (R. Moore 8), PORT 11 (T. Douglas 4); Total Fouls -- WSU 25, PORT 25; Fouled Out: WSU-R. Moore; PORT-None.