By Paul Seyferth
Blog post 3, Sport and the University, section 10
Earlier in the semester, we brought the entire Polsci 101 class together for a game in the union. The premise of the game was to acquire other people’s territories through attack, fortify, and sharing methods. The winning team ended up being the one that began attacking other teams from the very start.
“Fortune favors the bold” turned out to be a pretty obvious theme for the game. But in modern sports, does fortune really favor the bold?
Like many of you probably did, I spent my Thanksgiving with my family stuffing myself and watching football. During the
Dallas Cowboys vs. Philadelphia Eagles game, I noticed something I found odd. Dallas was trailing by multiple possessions late in the game. When they were faced with a 4th down and short in the middle of the 4th quarter, they elected to punt the ball away instead of going for it to try to keep the drive alive. This struck me as peculiar because Dallas was essentially forfeiting their chances at winning punting. But at the same time, most coaches probably would have made the same move.
But why? Why do coaches hardly ever elect to make the bold move of going for a 4th down conversion? Or am I the one that is crazy for doubting professional coaching minds who know infinitely more than I do about the game?
After looking into it a little bit, it turns out I am not the only one with similar thoughts. There have been several studies on this exact subject, and most of them point toward our favorite saying being correct: Fortune favors the bold. I’m no statistics major, but, according to those who are, when it comes down to it, teams are usually better off not punting. Taking away one quarter of a team’s chances will, statistically, leave that team at a significant disadvantage compared to a team that went for a conversion when facing a 4th and manageable yardage. Some experts on the subject even compare a punt to a turnover.
Most who would argue against this theory would say that football isn’t played by statistics; it is a game won on the field with traditional, good play. While there aren’t really any examples at the professional level to argue either side, this strategy has been used in extreme success by coaches at lower levels. Kevin Kelley, a coach in Arkansas, implemented the system for his high school team, and that team soon won the state title. Several other high school coaches have followed Kelley’s lead with success. Not to mention, it isn’t like innovation in the game hasn’t been successful before.
Maybe a more aggressive strategy wouldn’t be as successful in the NFL as it is at the high school level, but it seems, at the very least, worth a shot. After finding out the facts, my first question puzzles me more than it originally did.
Why aren’t coaches bolder?
To me, Edmund Burke’s ideas in “Reflections on the Revolution in France” sum up the thoughts of coaches pretty well. Society is not prone to change, and changes usually come with a generally negative impact. Coaches know that if their bold system doesn’t immediately work out, their fan base will be calling
for their firing right away. If a coach goes for it and doesn’t get it, he’s an idiot for trying something so radical. If he punts it away, following the norms of the sport, he is just playing the game and can blame his players for not preforming. Coaches are essentially stuck in the non-changing ways of the game until one decides to be bold enough to risk his job.
Football is a ever changing sport. Spread offenses, mobile
quarterbacks, and trick plays have all recently been created and will have lasting impacts on the game. In my opinion, it will continue to change until one day, punting on 4th down is no longer an automatic. Fortune will eventually favor the bold, and the man that brings that change to the National Football League will be looked at as a genius.