Saturday, January 17, 2009

A Brief Word on Footballnomics

A website called Cold, Hard Football Facts (presented by Sports Illustrated as well) criticizes the NFL playoff system using the power of the social sciences:
The current system offers what economists and sociologists might call moral hazard: It alternately rewards inferior teams, such as the 8-8 Chargers or 9-7 Cardinals, simply because they were better than three rivals in a weak division, or punishes superior teams, such as the 12-4 Colts, 11-5 Patriots or 9-6-1 Eagles, who had to fight through brutal regular seasons in tougher divisions. That's not a very good system.
Take the argument as you will, but that's not even close to what moral hazard actually means. Moral hazard would look more like a football team having a perverse incentive to pursue a worse record than it's capable of. Like if the Cardinals went out at the beginning of the season and said, "Hey, we're in a crappy division! May as well just phone it in and coast into a home playoff game, just because we can."

It seems funny to me to take a completely arbitrary competitive framework (like the NFL regular season and playoffs) and then pick specific qualities around its margins to complain about. If job one is winning the division in the regular season, even if you're in a tough division, all the better: you want that to count for something, right?

No, what I'm more worried about is the prospect of the NFL expanding its regular season. One thing not to lose in the Steelers/Ravens hubbub is that we'd be looking at a better game if the Ravens weren't so ground down by injuries. (Not that they can't win anyway, obviously.) To say nothing of the actual physical punishment to the players, you want your system to make it as unlikely as possible for your championship teams to be fighting off significant injuries.

Granted, of course, that the Steelers' health advantage springs from the playoff seeding and, in turn, that 92-yard touchdown drive in December.


Post a Comment

<< Home