Podcast Episode 13 - Harold Sackrowitz

This week Harold Sackrowitz, professor of Statistics at Rutgers University and author of "Refining the After-Touchdown Decision" joins Dave to discuss two point conversions. Harold first became interested in football analytics in the mid-90's when he and his son penned a paper on ball control, and whether the strategy of paying "keep away" from talented opposing offenses is an effective strategy (spoiler alert: it's not). His research found that an inferior team sacrificing offensive efficiency would require an unrealistically large reduction in the number of possessions to make a "ball-control" offensive strategy effective.

In the second half of the interview, Dave and Professor Sackrowitz talk about his paper on two point conversions. Harold was initially intrigued by repeated mentions of "the 2 point chart" on television broadcasts, and after digging up "the chart" he found it to be lacking in detail and context. To fix it, he devised a dynamic programming model to incorporate score differential, the number of possessions remaining in the game and a particular team's chance of converting a two point play. With this model he created a series of new charts to more accurately fit a variety of two point decision situations. Harold also describes the responses he's received and the subsequent conversations with NFL decision makers about his work.

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2 Responses to “Podcast Episode 13 - Harold Sackrowitz”

  1. Anonymous says:

    I think the interviewee is going about this in the wrong way (which explains the low hit-rate). IMO, the correct approach is not to say "here's what you did wrong in the past," which is something an academic would say. The correct approach is to say "here's a product/advice I can sell (or give) you to do better in the future," which is something a salesperson would say.

    Football coaches, like most jocks, have an oppositional relationship with professors, particularly since many of them come out of the collegiate athletics complex, which is constantly in deep tension with the academic parts of the college. Condescension-- even when it's deserved, which it usually is in this sort of situation-- is going to inspire hostility.

    I'd suggest speaking to someone experienced in marketing.

  2. Dave Collins says:

    Anon - I agree with you on the marketing analogy, it's tough to sell people on something when you start the conversation by telling them they're doing their job wrong. On the flip side though, it's also hard to sell someone a product when you have no insight into their buying decision process. Like a lot of stalemates over intellectual issues, I think football analytics debates require each side to give up a little ego in order to build trust.

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