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Friday, January 05, 2007

More on Fourth Down Decision-Making

Here is a New York Times article (Registration required) from December of 2004 discussing the science of fourth down decisions.
“Belichick is known for his unorthodox strategies: being more willing than most to not punt on fourth down; running the ball far more than average in certain crucial situations; and eschewing two-point-conversion attempts in situations when orthodox doctrine recommends them.

Not coincidentally, experts in the world of football statistical analysis endorse all these strategies. For example, David Romer, an economist at the University of California at Berkeley, published a working paper arguing that conventional football wisdom led to far too much punting. Romer analyzed thousands of plays and calculated the chance of scoring from any position on the field. Based on that, he gauged the relative worth of the field position gained by punting against the lost opportunity to score. Romer found that football coaches punt far more than they ought to -- perhaps acting out of fear of the worst outcome (going for it on fourth down and failing), rather than rationally balancing risk and reward.

Romer's paper, ''It's Fourth Down and What Does the Bellman Equation Say? A Dynamic Programming Analysis of Football Strategy,'' is far from light reading, so it came as a shock to Romer when he learned that Belichick, who was an economics major at Wesleyan University, had read it.”