Sept. 24, 2016.
Arkansas visited Texas A&M for a college football game.
The following happened.
- Arkansas lined up for a field goal. The line of scrimmage was the two-yard line, so it was basically a glorified extra point, except the ball was placed near the left hash instead of the center of the field.
- Arkansas’ coach, Bret Bielema decided to take a delay of game penalty. The purpose was to back up the kicker’s contact point. This is supposed to “make the angle better.”
- Texas A&M’s coach, Kevin Sumlin, being give a chance to back up the opposing kicker, refused the penalty, leaving the ball on the two.
- An Arkansas lineman, probably on instructions from the bench, moved early and created an illegal procedure penalty.
- Texas &M’s Sumlin, having refused the obviously intentional penalty, accepted the “unintentional” penalty, therefore allowing Arkansas to back the ball up the same five yards he had refused to accept a moment earlier.
- Arkansas lined up and made the kick.
For the record Texas A&M won the game and I had no dog in the hunt.
Now for the main points…
I’ve been watching football since about 1970. I’ve seen the “delay of game” gambit tried on numerous field goal attempts from inside the ten (never from further, which should tell you something) and seen it turned down every single time. This is the first time I ever saw a subsequent penalty accepted (therefore negating the logic of refusing the first penalty, which was for the same yardage).
It’s kind of a pet peeve of mine that this happens most often in college games, because presumably, every single university that plays major college football has a math department where they should be able to locate at least one person who is familiar with basic geometry.
And that means “I’m a football coach” should not excuse any man’s ignorance of mathematics, which dictate that, in every single instance, the odds of your place kicker missing a field goal attempt rise with every yard further from the goal posts you place him.
It’s called math and you don’t really need a degree in its applicable branches (probability, geometry) to know it’s true. For a quick test, just stand in front of your television and imagine the the sides of the frame are the goal post. Stand two feet away and place the heels of your hands together at your waist line. Then move your fingertips until they are aligned and observe the severity of the angles. If somebody were kicking a football off your waist and aiming between those imaginary goal posts, then anything that left the foot and stayed inside that angle would be good.
Now back up to ten feet. Place your hands the same and spread your fingertips until you have the “goal posts” lined up.
You will notice that the angle of field within which the ball must remain in order to go between the imagined goal posts is much narrower.
And what that means is, all other circumstances being equal (wind factor, curvature of the ball in flight, etc.), as they will be in this case, the further away you get from a fixed range of possibilities, the harder it is to keep a flying object properly aimed within that range!
This means that it would be the height of stupidity to deliberately back up your place kicker in any circumstance….except that a further height will always be obtained by the opposing coach, who, having also dedicated his life to football, will automatically refuse to let you decrease your chances by refusing to let you do what you want to do, not for any logical reason, but just because he knows you want to do it.
Until Sept. 24, 2016, this last bit was just a forty-something year old theory of mine. But today, I was provided with proof. Because as soon as one coach was given an opportunity to take a second penalty, which differed from the first only in being perceived as a mistake, rather than a deliberate act, he took it.
For the record, Bret Bielema and Kevin Sumlin are not less intelligent than normal. Every one of their actions was perfectly predictable to anyone who watches a lot of football. Including all those math professors who seem to have sat silently by and never once manged to get off a note to the athletic department explaining the realities of this oft-repeated circumstance.
And I’ll bet that if Bielema, Sumlin or any of those math professors, were put in charge of the Pentagon tomorrow, not one person alive would be able to tell the difference.