What if there was a way to improve the game of football and reduce concussive injuries at the same time without losing the games appeal
We are always interested in transformational projects for data. Or data that can help drive transformational projects. Transformation – which we admit a word they is likely overused, but nonetheless – may be due a adopting new cultural norms, a new business practice, or due to a technological evolution. It may impact how a program runs, how a products is made or distributed, or workforce efficiency or asset acquisition.
It could also be how a policy change impacts its community, its constituents, or its workforce as a whole.
Given the Super Bowl season we are in here in the U.S., lets take a look at how professional football has adopted – or not – major rule changes that have impacted its game play, its fans, its players, safety, and entertainment value.
It has been a long time since American Football has rethought its approach to scoring.
It has dabbled around the edges with two point conversions but not fundamentally addressed this aspect of the game since 1912 or introduced a truly transformational offensive rule change since 1933 when emphasizing the forward pass.
What if there was a way to improve scoring and hence offensive strategy of the game of American Football, reduce injuries while at the same time increasing the games scoring options, its unpredictability and hence fan appeal? What would this game look like?
By challenging some of the basic unspoken assumptions underlying the game, football can be refactored to draw out exciting and unpredictable aspects of a team’s offensive potential, turn the offensive side of the field into a point generation sweepstake and reduce the probability of injuries.
At the heart of this new design are principles that challenge footballs current assumptions that have determined its scoring system for the last hundred years and hence offensive strategies for the last half century. These new principles are:
- Any play that generates points cannot have an excessively high rate of predictability for success, i.e. the current Point after Touchdown (PAT),
- The points from successful scoring plays, field goals or touchdowns from scrimmage, should be directly correlated to the yards gained during the scoring play,
- Increase the risk and reward opportunities for the offense whenever and wherever possible without slowing the game down,
- Develop incentives to maximize the scope of the fields scoring geography,
- Incentivize select types of plays and skills to reduce excessive injury causing collisions.
When these principles are applied to the offensive scoring events/plays like field goals, extra points and touchdowns from scrimmage, they open the door to the development of dramatically different offensive and by implication defensive strategies. These new principles and designs will incentivize the types of play calling that will mitigate the chances of injuries by moving play downfield. Additionally, it can create opportunities for completely new and different emphasis on underrepresented skill positions like place kicking or rare long distance scoring from scrimmage. Lastly, it places a richer strategy dynamic for the fans who know 95% of the time what the next type of play will be called. It is the exception to be fooled.
Before we get into the details, we need to introduce a couple of borrowed and proven concepts from other sports that support the principles articulated above. These concepts will enable the offensive drive new approaches to football strategy. The concepts are defined as follows:
Degree of Difficulty (DoD) – a rating which reflects the difficulty of the maneuver or action an athlete is attempting to perform in sports such as gymnastics and diving, and which is factored into the final score. In the new approach to football we define the DoD as follows:
DoD for field goals and point after touchdowns is the equivalent to the reduction of the width of the goals posts by 0, 25 or 50 or 75. Table 1 describes the goal post distance and the allowed scoring methods.
Table 1 – Degree of Difficulty – Goal width and Scoring Method
Goal Post Width
Point after Touchdown
Borrowing a the idea from the three point play in basketball that the further you are from the goal the more valuable the shot should be, the DoD for football is the distance from the line of scrimmage to the end zone. For simplicity of audience understanding and visualization on television, we introduce the idea of Point Zones on the field.
Point Zones which are predefined areas of the field that determine the possible points on a scoring play based on the distance from the ball to goal posts or goal line.
So what do these concepts look like on the field. We will now describe how these ideas affect the offenses 3 main scoring methods and where the approach should not be applied.
1898: A touchdown was changed from four points to five.
1904: A field: goal was changed from five points to four.
1906: The forward pass was legalized. The first authenticated pass completion in a pro game came on October 27, when George (Peggy) Parratt of Massillon threw a completion to Dan (Bullet) Riley in a victory over a combined Benwood-Moundsville team.
1909: A field goal dropped from four points to three.
1912: A touchdown was increased from five points to six.
1933: The NFL, which long had followed the rules of college football, made a number of significant changes from the college game for the first time and began to develop rules serving its needs and the style of play it preferred. The innovations from the 1932 championship game-inbounds line or hashmarks and goal posts on the goal lines-were adopted. Also the forward pass was legalized from anywhere behind the line of scrimmage.
1960: The AFL adopted the two-point option on points after touchdown
1994: There is now a 2 point conversion following touchdowns (teams now have the option of passing or running for two points or kicking for one after a TD);
Let’s talk field goal! In Figure 1, we introduce the combined Point Zone and DoD for field goals that support the principles listed above and show them in the context of the field of play.
Figure 1 – Field Goal – Point Zones and Degree of Difficulty
For example, if the offensive team chooses to kick a field goal from the 23 yard line, in effect kicking a 40 yard field goal, they would have been situated in Point Zone 3. If they chose a DoD of 50%, 25% or 0%, they would have the opportunity to score 5, 4 and 3 points respectively. A coach’s decision would obviously need to take into consideration, the current score of the game, environmental conditions and the skill of the kicker and the supporting special team. In effect this opens up the field and offensive strategy dramatically for teams positioned with talented kicking operations or provides alternative approaches as the game clock winds down at the half or end of game. This creates a “moment” where the fans at the stadium or watching on TV no longer have a high degree of certainty of what is going to happen next – hence increased attention. It also will lead to fundamental redesign of offensive strategies. For the players, the model provides opportunities to score more points from more areas of the field without having to “grind” out the drives risking injuries as the field shortens.
The recommended Point Zones take into account the current statistical kicking performance. In 2014, there were no misses in the NFL statistics 0-20 range (in effect the 3 yard line) with five attempts. This practice, in effect violates principles #1, 2 and 3. In the recommended model, the Point Zone scoring system acts as a disincentive to taking the chip shot by only granting 1 point up to 27 yards or requires the team to change the DoD and increase risk to achieve up to 3 points or go for the touchdown. This stimulates a change in risk reward thinking, possibly moving teams to take more shots at the end zone while in zone 1. It certainly provides more options for the fans to think and speculate about what could happen by removing the predictable decisions. More fans would sit and watch what would have been the “gimmes”.
As the Point Zones move away from the goal posts/line, the risk and reward calculus changes. The field goal now has the potential to nearly rival the touchdown as a primary objective for the offense. The field goals maximum value is 6 points if kicked beyond the 62 yard distance with the maximum DoD of 50%. This may seem like an unlikely event, nearly equivalent to the current record of 63 yards, but we believe with reintroduction of tees and the greater point incentive, the distance will be conquered with increased investment in kicking skills and techniques. Most importantly, it gives the offense numerous options to exercise and keep the fans guessing and supports all of the principles.
Point Zone 3 is where the value of the field goal in the new and old models converges. The field goal kicker can score 3 points with no change in the degree of difficulty while kicking between 42 and 62 yards. In 2014 through week 12 they were hitting 75/102 attempts successfully or roughly a 25% failure rate. No guarantees. It is here, the model provides an incentive for the team with a greater reward for riskier behavior. An accurate kicker can realize up to 5 points for a successful attempt with a DoD of 50% within Point Zone 3. How many of the 75 successful field goals could have earned 1 or 2 more points and as a result made a difference in the game’s outcome. Once again, the situational context of the game will be a key to the decision process and provide a means to capture the audience with new strategies. Not all fans want to see just hard hitting.
Touchdown from Scrimmage
In the new model, touchdowns from the line of scrimmage are also subject to the similar risk reward calculus as the field goal. For a play from the line of scrimmage, the DoD is the yardage required to score. Figure 2, shows the Point Zones and the associated additional points that would be added to the six points when a touchdown is scored. Once again, the idea is to incentivize the offense to attempt more tries to score over longer distance by increasing the number of points that can be gained. The incentives would encourage teams to open up the offensive strategy and introduce plays to spread the field and reduce the number direct collisions occurring at the line of scrimmage.
The rushing offense style strategy seems to lead to most injuries. “Offensive lineman (center, offensive guard, and offensive tackle) sustained the most injuries (18.3%) of all positions; however running back had the highest percentage of injury for any one position (16.3%)”. (3)
Spreading the offense can mitigate “the leading mechanism of injury is football’s full-contact nature, with player-player contact accounting for 64% of all injuries and 13.4% of injuries attributed to player-surface contact. More specifically, being tackled (24.4%) and tackling (21.8%) accounted for a majority of the injuries.
In the spirit of reducing injuries, the DoD points would not be used to incentivize kickoff and punt returns.
Figure 2 – Point Zones for Plays from Scrimmage
Point after Touchdown (PAT)
The point after touchdown is straight forward. By default, the goal post will be set to DoD of .50 for a 1 point kick (See Figure 3). The team will have the option to set the DoD to .75 and go for two points. Passing or running for two points will no longer be an option to minimize injuries.
Figure 3 – DoD and Points after Touchdown
Tying it back to transformation in our world
Professional Football has been around several decades now and has adapted and adopted to changing norms. There are more norms for it to address – social responsibilities, players safety, impact on youth, simplifying rules, financial access, organization non-profit status, etc.. The tale though shows how a major program/entity such as this, with so much on the line can choose to adapt and adopt, with some fall off, turbulence, and alienation, but ultimately thrive with its constituents. Its easy to throw mud at the largest professional sports league in the U.S., and there is a lot to throw. While at the same time, there are always lots of good takeaways from leading organizations as well that show how adapting, adopting, adjusting minor and major rules through varying time tables can actually happen when leadership can stand behind a change.