Do football teams punt too much?

Economist David Romer says yes. Teams would enjoy higher returns if they would try for the first down more often. Furthermore his work has influenced how professional football is played.

The real question is why this mistake was made in the first place. Could it be the economist’s well-known distinction between the seen and the unseen? If you punt, no one sees the first down you didn’t make. If you don’t punt and fail to make a first down, you feel bad and are easily blamed. For agency-related reasons, we might expect coaches to be more risk-averse than players. The coach wants to hold onto his job, whereas a superstar player captures upside returns to a greater extent. The variance of player salaries, especially if you include endorsements, is typically much higher than the variance of coach salaries. So the coach plays it safe to a greater extent, and of course a punting decision is usually in the hands of the coach.

Addendum: Here is further discussion from Nick Schulz.


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