Nate Silver says NFL teams cost themselves half a win per season by not doing this
If there was one thing NFL coaches could do to guarantee themselves half a win more per season, you can pretty much guarantee all 32 of them would climb a 30-foot barbed wire fence and then kick the nearest puppy to secure that advantage for themselves. That advantage is there for the taking, Nate Silver says, and yet NFL coaches aren't taking it.
In case you're unfamiliar with Silver's expertise on the topic of numbers, here you go: after analyzing statistical models to call the winner of every political race from the U.S. President to the Billings, Montana, city council, Silver was hired by ESPN to work his numerical magic for the Worldwide Leader in Sports. If he says two plus two equals five, he's got a mountain of spreadsheets proving him correct.
In his latest piece for ESPN, Silver details how analytics have changed the way MLB and NBA teams approach the game. For example, Silver notes how the Boston Red Sox and Oakland A's teams of the early 2000's changed the way baseball approaches on base percentage. Those teams were built on players who simply found ways to get on base, and now OBP specialists like new Texas Rangers outfielder Shin-Soo Choo are signing $130 million contracts. The NBA found that a corner 3-point shot was, over the course of 100 possessions, worth just as many points as a layup. And now the Miami Heat are bringing in defensive stoppers/corner 3 specialists like Shane Battier as the final ingredient to their championship stew.
There is a similar statistical sweet spot in the NFL, but coaches have refused to exploit it: fourth-and-short. Coaches, Silver argues, remain far too conservative in fourth-and-short situations despite evidence that a little extra aggression goes a long way. According to the New York Times, the average NFL team sent its kicking unit onto the field in a fourth-and-short situation when the data says the offense should have remained on the field a whopping 21.7 times over the course of the regular season. All those missed chances added up to 0.5 losses per team over the season, Silver says.
And the reason for erring so often on the side of caution, Silver says, lays at the feet of NFL culture as a whole.
My view is that NFL coaches aren't irrational or necessarily ignorant of the statistics as much as they are poorly incentivized to get these decisions right. The average NFL team has been owned by the same family or organization since 1980 -- for the past 34 years. (By contrast, the average MLB and NBA team last changed owners in 1999.) Furthermore, because of the NFL's prodigious popularity and its generous revenue-sharing policies, even losing or incompetent owners possess extraordinarily valuable products. (The Jacksonville Jaguars are worth $840 million, according to Forbes.) This is a culture that fosters extreme risk aversion. Going for it on fourth down is risky twice over: in the micro sense of staking more on the result of one play, and in the macro sense of defying custom and tradition.
Maybe a decade from now we'll write about the NFL team that rode a wave of situational aggression to a Super Bowl title. Maybe.
Popular restaurant brilliantly responds to Oklahoma's 'pasta-gate'
Yesterday, Oklahoma self reported a handful of violations, including one of the most ridiculous NCAA rule book violations of recent memory.
At a graduation banquet last year, three Oklahoma football players consumed too much pasta. Yes folks, that's in the NCAA rules. Apparently it violated the rule that allows schools to provide "reasonable refreshments" on occasion for "celebratory events." That goes right up there with the old "you can give them bagels, but can't offer cream cheese or peanut butter" rule.
The three players each had to donate $3.83 to charity to restore their eligibility and cover the cost of the pasta, and come to think of it, nearly $4 is a heck of a lot of pasta.
Olive Garden took full advantage of the opportunity that the ridiculousness presented, offering one of the three players a "I (heart) PASTA" t-shirt for $3.83. Smart move Olive Garden seizing the moment.
Alvarez's guidance steered Andersen to, and ultimately away, from Browns job
After a 9-4 finish, including a 6-2 Big Ten mark, after his first season in Madison, Gary Andersen's name popped up on the radar for the Cleveland Browns when they needed to fill their head coaching vacancy.
According to The Wisconsin State Journal, Andersen said that the call from the front office of the Browns came "out of the blue" and that he told the Cleveland brass initially, "No, I'm good." However, after then-CEO Joe Banner and Mike Lombardi (who have both since been let go) pushed for a meeting, Andersen reached out to his athletic director, Barry Alvarez for some advice.
Alvarez responded by saying, "Gary, it never hurts you to talk."
Andersen decided to at least meet with the Lombardi and Banner to see what they had to say, and maintains that it wasn't really an interview. They gave him some information on the direction that they wanted to head as an organization and their plan of attack during their conversation at a small Ohio airport.
After that first meeting, Cleveland decided that they wanted another sit-down with the Badgers head coach, but after Andersen sat down and talked with Alvarez, he decided it just wasn't an opportunity he was interested in. During that talk, Anderson asked Alvarez why he never made the jump to the league when he had ample opportunities during his nearly two decades on the sidelines with the Badgers.
Alvarez's response included his love for the college game and the enjoyment he got from working with young people. While Andersen says he already had his mind made up to stay, hearing that from his AD just reaffirmed everything for him. Needless to say, that second meeting never happened.
Leaving Utah State was hard enough for Andersen, and he's adamant there is no place better for him and his family than Wisconsin.
“Look around the country, people move. They leave really good jobs. They move within leagues. They move to different parts of the country. They move for different reasons. We’ve been spoiled around here. We haven’t had a lot of movement. Most places don’t have that.” Andersen noted.
Cal's emotional reminder to let your players know you care about them
The Cal football program found themselves in a position that no one envies last Friday. After a routine training run, defensive end Ted Agu collapsed and died.
Last night, Cal held a candlelight service outside of Memorial Stadium where athletic director Sandy Barbour, head coach Sonny Dykes, and various teammates and staffers shared memories of Agu and how his spirit and personality impacted them. Well over 1,000 people were in attendance. The video is very emotional, and even if you didn't know who Ted Agu was beforehand, you'll feel like you did midway through the video.
Dykes' message to those in attendance was very powerful, noting that "you don't summarize a man like Ted with words, the only way that you can do it is with deeds. That's the lesson that our football team, our coaching staff, and our entire football will take away from this, is that when you've lived a life as big as Ted lived, you create a legacy that's even bigger."
While this is a position that no coach and program ever want to find themselves in, it's an important reminder to let your players know that you care for them, and that life is a precious gift. It's easy to get caught up in building the program and the wins and losses in the fall, but keep in mind that it can all be ripped away without a moments notice, so tell your guys how important they are to you.
Please continue to keep the Cal program and college community in your prayers.
Video: Mike Gundy explains four verts
Oklahoma State started a new feature today that we like. Standing in front of a white board, Gundy explained the Cowboys' version of four verticals. That's it. No graphics, no production value, just a coach talking ball for four minutes. And really, the simplicity of this idea is its brilliance. There's no reason every program in America couldn't do the exact same thing.
Gundy isn't giving away any state secrets here. It's a play that every team in football runs, but he'll drop a nugget in there that the average Oklahoma State fan can impress his buddies with come fall. Early in the video, Gundy implies that the rest of the Cowboys' coaching staff will make similar videos, which kills two birds with one stone. First, it allows the fan base to get to know the rest of the coaching staff more closely. And second, it means Oklahoma State can sustain this new idea without taking up too much of the head man's time.
Oklahoma State has been very good about finding easy ways for Gundy to engage with the Pokes' fan base. Last year, it was the daily #AskGundy Twitter Q&A, in which he'd take one question (sometimes more) from a fan per day. Again, that's something every single coaching staff in America could do.
Renderings: Colorado's upgraded facilities will be flat out impressive
Back in December, Colorado's Board of Regents approved a an impressive facilities upgrade plan totaling $142 million.
Today the @AllBuffs Twitter account provided a glimpse inside of what the upgrades are going to look like including a look at the new locker room, weight room, training room, indoor facility, and club level / meeting room.
When you're competing with brand new Pac-12 facilities like those at Oregon, Stanford, and USC, you better have something that wows recruits and from the looks of things, Colorado's isn't going to have any issues doing that. Mike MacIntyre and his staff have to be happy with how these have shaped up.
Finally, a study that examines pace of play and its relation to injuries
Since the word leaked of the defensive substitution rule (AKA the "ten second rule) proposal last week, we've extensively covered the reaction from coaches, the coaches who seem to be behind the push for the rule, and the fact that there is no hard data to support the claim that up tempo offenses are dangerous to players.
Thanks to some in depth research from the guys at College Football Matrix, no huddle coaches can breathe a little easier thanks to some definitive findings that favor an up tempo approach when it comes to its relation to injuries
Based on their data, which takes a look at the pace of play, and total starts loss due to injury from 2009-2012, the Big 12 averaged the most snaps per game (162.4) of any of the big five conferences, and lost a total of 595 starts during the four year cross section. On the other hand, the SEC ran about 13 less plays per game, and lost a total of 1,098 starts, which was the most starts lost among the power five leagues.
That's quite a statement favoring up tempo teams in regards to the proposed rule change. Personally, I've seen all I need to see on the proposal to formulate my own opinion, and continue to think it is as ludicrous as it was on day one. Now there's just solid scientific evidence to support it.
Texas Tech players held a halftime dunk contest last night
Texas Tech is not the first football team to provide halftime basketball entertainment with a dunk contest, but they are the first I've seen to capture the festivities on a GoPro camera.
In front of 12,667 fans, five Red Raiders put on a show the NBA should be envious of, capped by one player leaping over the oversized mascot head of Raider Red to slam one home.
Sadly, the football team's efforts were not enough to spur their basketball counterparts on to victory, as No. 8 Kansas squeaked by Texas Tech, 64-63.