Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Undercover Economist on NFL Overtime

Tim Harford proposes an auction:

An even more elegant solution to the overtime problem was proposed in 2002 by Chris Quanbeck, an electrical engineer (and Green Bay Packers fan). Quanbeck's idea was to auction off possession of the ball in the natural currency of the game: field position. The team that was willing to begin closest to its own goal line would receive the privilege of possession.

Football's number crunchers reckon that this "privilege" turns dubious about 15 to 20 yards away from your own goal line. That is, the expected value of having the ball so far back is negative—it's more likely that your opponent will score before you do. But it's not clear that the same would be true in overtime, when teams would be attempting to get within field-goal range rather than trying for touchdowns. If this system were implemented, it might take a couple of seasons for a consensus to develop about how far back is too far back. Still, everyone would be trying to work that out from a position of equal ignorance.


I like it. He also mentions MDS's pizza-splitting solution, but claims the auction is fairer still, as the "splitting" solution still conveys an advantage to the team that picks second. In an auction, the decision is simultaneous, and no team has an advantage.

7 comments:

ahren said...

i like that idea. even with consensus, the relative strengths of the involved offenses and defenses and weather would differ enough to make the auction somewhat interesting every time.

i have no confidence in mccarthy to properly execute this however.

another way to settle overtime that would be kinda cool would be to engage in a game of "kickover". one team starts at their 30 and punts to the other team. the other team returns the punt and then has to punt back. this continues until somebody scores on either a punt return for a td or a blocked punt.

this guarantees that the game has an exciting end, plus you'd finally get to see all the good players play on special teams.

perhaps, as an ex-punter, this has more appeal to me than most, but i still say it beats the current system.

tracker said...

Hate the auction. Hate the kickover. The point of overtime is not to create an exciting or interesting resolution of the contest. It's to determine which team is better at football. Football is already exciting and interesting or we wouldn't be watching it.

I have no confidence in mccarthy to properly execute this either. Why? Because he's a football coach. Gimmicky games of auction and kickover, belong in fantasy leagues and playgrounds, respectively.

ahren said...

admittedly, my kickover solution is gimmicky... i was mostly joking.

but i don't really see why the auction takes away from "playing football" or "seeing who the better football team is". in fact, doesn't it accomplish that more effectively by removing the coin flip luck from overtime?

and yes mccarthy is a football coach, and while a lot of being a football coach is scheming and "coaching up" prior to a game (which he seems good at to me), the other part is making in-game decisions, many of which have immediately obvious costs/benefits and can thus be evaluated and acted upon pretty certainly in real-time. he fails at this completely.

as my evidence, i submit last season's home game against the chargers... he calls timeout... THEN challenges the call. this is malpractice. nevermind that it was made worse by the fact that it kept him from correctly challenging the next play for fear of being out of timeouts... it's just an obviously wrong decision and he makes them all the time.

PaulNoonan said...

Ditto that. Why is the kickoff any less arbitrary than an auction?

DannyNoonan said...

Why not just play another quarter without the "sudden death" element? Or another 2 "quarters" so both teams kick off and receive. You could shorten them or something.

Eric said...

Flip a quarter and determine the winner that way.

Or use the chess method. In chess the first player to reach 6 points wins the championship, with each won game counted as one point and a draw counted as 1/2 point. If both players achieve 6 points at the same time the defending champion maintains the title.

TRanslated to football this means a tie game is awarded to the home team.

tracker said...

Danny wins. Another overtime period. If it ends in a tie, so be it.