Going for It

David Romer has studied football coaches’ decisions on whether to punt or go for it on fourth down. He has written a paper arguing that, generally, going for it makes much more sense than punting. Yet NFL coaches go for it on fourth down only in very circumscribed situations. This leads Romer to conclude that people often fail to choose the most rational option to achieve their goals.

Interestingly, since Romer’s findings have become known, NFL coaches have become more conservative in their play calling in fourth down situations. So, pointing out this case of irrationality has actually made coaches less rational! (Hat tip: Greg Mankiw.)

2 thoughts on “Going for It

  1. I’d say calling a reverse on fourth down is irrational, especially when your pass receivers have been running around open down field all day.

    Convert more third downs and you’ll avoid this conundrum.

    Avoidance is usually a sound strategy.

  2. Good point—a reverse would be irrational. My sense, too, is that going for it on 4th and 1 or 2 around midfield makes a lot more sense than going for it on 4th and 8 on your own 23.

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