Are you ready for some football?

As another big weekend of (American) football awaits, I am again drawn to the broader intuitions and insights we might draw from the game. The best blog I know for analyzing football strategy and tactics (not sabremetrics-like analysis) is the erudite but down-to-earth Smart Football site run by Chris Brown, who now also writes regular columns for ESPN’s Grantland site. Highly recommended for astute and balanced analysis of football trends and history. He also does a great job of calling BS on over-caffeinated TV commentators who love to spout buzzwords they barely understand. (Hmm, sound like anything in the popular business press?)

Even though sports teams only engage in zero-sum competition on the field, there are obvious similarities between this on-the-field competition and business. Both require fitting people with diverse specific skills into coherent patterns of action, patterns intended to give the team some kind of advantage over rivals. There must be fit between the routines developed and the resources (skills) available. There are complicated relationships among the prevalence of particular routines, the scarcity of resources useful for those routines, and the results of competition between different teams’ resource/routine combinations. Why do all the service academies throw relatively few passes and run triple option offenses, when that style has fallen out of favor in college football as a whole? The answer is not that hard to see, and it may shed light on similar but trickier questions in business strategy.

4 Comments on “Are you ready for some football?”

  1. … Chris Brown, who now also rights regular columns for ESPN’s Grantland site…

    He corrects them, fixing their errors?

    I am not a football fan. I fail to see the attraction in the game itself. More deeply, I feel that semi-pro ball has ruined college athletics and damaged the university system. Alumni give more when the football team wins. What does that say about the values they learned in class?

    The best strategy in football comes from Wargames: don’t play.

  2. teppo says:

    “Why do all the service academies throw relatively few passes and run triple option offenses, when that style has fallen out of favor in college football as a whole?”

    Some guesses – it has something to do with the nature and/or capabilities of the athletes that they attract/recruit, and the option offense is likely to be hard to prepare for given its comparative uniqueness. I’m no american football expert so those are guesses.

    • stevepostrel says:

      Good guesses. The academies are very unlikely to recruit NFL-track quarterbacks and linemen, given both the service commitment post-graduation and the rigors of academy life. They get a lot of all-around athlete, captain-of-the-team types who are willing to block bigger guys and to execute precisely over and over again, two things you need to run the option effectively.

      In addition, the option running game allows you to finesse around linemen whom you can’t effectively block, partly neutralizing some physical disadvantages. Finally, the contrarian nature of the offense really bothers opposing teams who only face it once a year or so. On Saturday, Boise State’s coach was quoted as saying he would never agree to play Air Force if they weren’t now in his conference. Good instincts–the heavily favored Broncos won, but the AFA offense rolled up over 400 yards, most of it on running plays, and their relentless cut blocking sent a number of Bronco defenders to the sideline limping.

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