Monday, November 09, 2009

A Point I've Been Trying to Make

Bill Simmons, from his Week 9 NFL column: (

"On Monday night, Atlanta coach Mike Smith became the latest to screw up the "down by two scores in the final two minutes" conundrum. If you missed it, the Falcons recovered a fumble with 1:23 remaining on their own 47. Trailing by 11, they got two quick first downs and reached New Orleans' 23 with less than a minute to play. Right there, they should have spiked the ball, kicked a field goal and gone for the onside kick-Hail Mary combo. Nope. They kept plowing ahead. Quarterback Matt Ryan suffered a sack and was forced to spike the ball on second down. Tick … tick … tick … On third-and-13, they wasted a few more seconds on a quick slant out of bounds. Finally, their kicker nailed the 40-yarder that they could have had 25 seconds earlier. To make it worse, they recovered the onside kick but didn't have enough time (just 28 seconds) to get in Hail Mary range. Now, if they had hired a 17-year-old video game nerd as their Madden Late-Game Coordinator, he would have told them to grab that 40-yarder as soon as they could get it. This happens all the time. So let's call this a futuristic Great Call of the Week: I'd like to hand it out to the first NFL coach smart enough to hire a 17-year-old video game nerd for these situations. Someday. We can only hope."

Bill James, from the 1986 Baseball Abstract (

"In many other professions, simulations are much prized as educational tools; a major airline would never think of sending a pilot up with lives in his hands unless he had pulled a few dozen planes out of simulated crashes. And what is an APBA [cards and dice baseball simulation] game, anyway? Why, it is a simulation of a manager's job, nothing more nor less."

This is a powerful idea. I play baseball and football simulation games all the time. (Well, not all the time. Not as much as I'd like. But a lot.) It doesn't qualify me to be a major league manager. BUT IT WOULDN'T HURT!

So many times, we see managers of multi million dollar organizations unable to make the most simple, straightforward decisions. No, the game isn't the same as the real thing-but, if the game is constructed correctly, the math IS THE SAME. The first sports organization that gets a handle on this-using simulations to teach, not management, but the math of the game situations, will have an advantage.

To take the example Simmons cites in more detail, you need the two scores, regardless. The field goal is the easier score to get, by far-once you get the ball close enough, with a professional kicker, it's as close to automatic as you are going to get. So, as Simmons says, once you're in range, you TAKE IT. You need the ball back anyway, and you need as much time as possible left when you try to get the second score. It doesn't matter which score you get first, because you need both. What you need more of is TIME, and trying to get the touchdown now wastes that time. If you fail at the onside kick, you lose anyway. So why not do like Simmons says, get the kick now and then try to get the ball back? As he says, a Madden player knows this-instinctively, instantly. At the end of a game, when you need two scores, time is precious. Time is CRITICAL. You kick the field goal, then try to get the ball back. The key is you NEED TWO SCORES. Without the easy one, the hard one doesn't matter. So take the easy one, and save the time.

It's easy.

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