Your Gut Instinct Might Be Wrong – Football Math

(Ed. Note: The following post was done by a new member of the family, ixrs. Please, welcome him to the show.)

You’re down by 14 in a football game with 3 minutes left in a football game. You just scored a touchdown. Your team sucks and only converts 2pt. conversions 40% of the time (most teams average around 45-55%) You should kick an extra point, right? Nope.

It’s mathematically more sound to go for 2.

Why is this relevant? Because fans often call for things that are detrimental to the team that they love as their first instinct. And likewise, everybody has been calling for Ben Howland’s head, and those that defend him are derisively called “Howlers” (at that other “Bruin” blog).

I’ve posted on reddit.com/r/ucla (this post, specifically) detailing why firing Howland is a bad idea. tl;dr -> Not firing him now will save 7 million dollars (not chump change, considering even Kentucky’s highest paid coach in the nation makes $4 million. The legendary Coach K of Duke makes 2.2) and this will help us HIRE A MUCH BETTER coach, or if the best case scenario occurs, Howland redeems himself.

You’d be naive to think otherwise. Money talks. Everything else walks.

Finally, football math is just interesting.

Math below:

Most teams have around a 40-55% chance at succeeding. No matter what happens, you’re hoping for another defensive stop and then another touchdown.

Let’s assume the worst case scenario — your team only gets a 40% conversion rate! Two 1 pt. conversions = a tie, so we’ll use that as a baseline. Now if you fail the first 2pt. conversion and succeed at the second, you’ll end up with 14pts., which is exactly the same result. Since that would be the exact same result, we can ignore it, because it’s the same as kicking two PATs.

Now lets compare the chances of losing versus the chances of winning, if one outweighs the other then we can figure out if the 2 pt. conversion is a better choice.

Now what are the odds of losing? 60% (failing the first 2pt. conv.) x 60% (failing the second 2pt. conv.) = 36% of losing.

Now if you make the first conversion, you win the game, because your second attempt is just a 1pt. attempt (so you’ll get 15pt. total, winning the game versus the 14 pt. deficit). What are the odds of making the 2pt. conversion? It’s a given- 40%.

Now 40% is a greater percentage than 36%, so your odds of winning outright outweigh your odds of losing outright.

Basically, you should go for the 2pt. attempt EVEN if your team is below 50% at 2pt. attempts! (As long as your team is above around 39% or so at 2pt. conversions.)

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