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Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Auctioning Pro Football Overtimes

Pro football overtimes have the excitement of sudden death, but the problem of being determined largely by the coin toss: 70% of the coin-toss winners win the game.

What to do? One solution is to auction off the overtime. When I first heard this mentioned in an economics journal article  I had visions of millionaire owners bidding fantastic amounts to win the "coin toss", and thought this would be a marvelous way to make money for some charity for, say, medical research on dementia.

But the idea of the auction is a bit different, as Tim Harford explains: "The Quanbecks suggested that the referee could act as an auctioneer, calling out the field position in 1-yard increments [starting at the 1]. The first coach to throw his red challenge flag wins the ball at whatever yard line the ref last spat out. Or perhaps the two head coaches could come to midfield with sealed bids, with the envelopes to be opened by a cheerleader representing each team—a gridiron version of Deal or No Deal."

We can go further. Suppose both coaches throw the flag at the same time. Then, there's a second auction, which relies on the number of offensive players, starting with 1. Surely, no coach would want to start with just one player, or even five players.  But 9? 10? That's reasonably likely, particularly for teams with great offensive lines and a star receiver.

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