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Touchdown Decisions

April 10, 2006

When a football team’s at fourth and goal, they can either kick a field goal for an easy three points or go for double or nothing with a touchdown. A recent study shows that pro coaches tend to err on the side of caution–even when it’s not in their best interests.


You don’t think of pro football coaches as timid or overly cautious. But according to economist David Romer of the University of California at Berkeley, some of their decisions aren’t gutsy enough. He found that on fourth downs, professional coaches tend to go for field goals or punt, even when their actual odds of winning the game would be higher if they went for a touchdown. He suspects a similar cautiousness may keep businesses from maximizing their profits.

DAVID ROMER (University of California at Berkeley):
What I take from this is that rules of thumb, the conventional wisdom that’s been handed down from one generation of managers to the next, often is way off the mark…

And in some cases, what seems like a reckless gamble may be the more reliable option. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.