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Sheldon Hirsch - May 27, 2015

The NFL just moved the line-of-scrimmage for the point-after-touchdown kick (PAT) from the 2-yard line to the 15-yard line, an ineffective solution to a lesser problem.

The PAT bores fans because it is essentially automatic (over 99 percent success rate in 2014). The NFL recognized this back in 1994 (PAT league average: 98.8 percent) when it introduced the far more exciting two-point conversion option. Unfortunately, timid NFL coaches rarely attempt two-point conversions despite mathematical support for broader use (two-point attempts have succeeded ~50 percent of the time since 2010 and probably more often on running plays.)

The NFL hopes that the new rule will prompt more two-point conversions (which remain from the two-yard line). However, anticipating a ~94 percent success rate with the 33-yard PAT (based on NFL field goal success rates from ~33 yards), we should expect only a modest change in strategy. And at 94 percent success, the PAT will remain boring; essentially a bathroom or refreshment break.

The new rule did not go far enough. If the NFL prefers two-point conversions (as it should), why bother toying with the PAT distance to coerce coaches to “go for two”? Eliminating the PAT and leaving the preferred two-point attempt would have made more sense.

Moreover, the NFL ignored the greater problem that developed as kicking prowess improved: Kickers and field goals assumed an outsized role in the game. The ratio of touchdowns to field goals declined about 45 percent from the early 1960s (before Pete Gogolak introduced... read more »

Garrett Pendergraft - May 25, 2015

John Updike once described retirement as “the little death that awaits athletes.” If this is right, then much of the recent news from the sports world has been pretty morbid.

Chris Borland, Jake Locker and Patrick Willis surprised almost everyone by retiring from the NFL just a few short years after beginning their respective careers. Another young NFL player, Chris Conte, decided not to retire early — despite having suffered multiple concussions and other injuries — so that he could continue to pursue his childhood dream. And at the other end of the NFL career timeline we see Peyton Manning, who made some news of his own recently by also deciding not to retire — much to the delight of Broncos fans everywhere (and those Tennessee Volunteers fans who still root for whatever team Manning happens to be playing for).

Manning, of course, is not the only superstar who continues to play long after his legacy appears to be secure. Kobe Bryant and Alex Rodriguez are both well past their (dominant) prime, and yet they continue to play. These three examples represent numerous cases throughout recent sports history in which an athlete postpones retirement despite having been rewarded (and awarded) handsomely throughout their career, and despite the fact that another season is unlikely to produce additional championships or awards. In fact, in many of these cases an additional season is probably more likely to tarnish rather than add additional shine to the legacy.

I’ll leave it to others to discuss whether these decisions to... read more »

Sheldon Hirsch - May 23, 2015

In Game 1 of the NBA Eastern Conference finals on Wednesday, the Cleveland Cavaliers' J.R. Smith amazed on-lookers by scoring 17 points in five minutes, hitting six of seven shots (five of six 3-pointers).

His game-altering spree followed even more remarkable scoring streaks in basketball from earlier this season. Florida State freshman guard Xavier Rathan-Mayes scored 30 points in the final 4 minutes and 38 seconds of an NCAA game against Miami. He scored 26 consecutive FSU points without missing a shot, hitting eight in a row, including six 3-pointers. In an NBA game, the Golden State Warriors’ Klay Thompson made 13 consecutive shots, scoring 37 points in a single quarter. As if to show that was no fluke, Thompson followed that up with a 26-point quarter in another game.

These streaks brought back memories of Tracy McGrady closing a game with 13 points in 33 seconds, Isiah Thomas scoring 16 points in 94 seconds, and ex-Duke All-American Jon Scheyer scoring 21 points in 75 seconds in a high school game.

Man, those guys were hot. As any recreation league player who has ever hit three jumpers in a row knows, they were “in the zone.”

Actually, maybe not.

Researchers have exhaustively studied the purported “hot hand” in sports. They’ve evaluated the phenomenon in sophisticated ways in different athletic competitions. The results varied, but some prominent academicians vehemently deny that “hot hands” exist. As psychologist Daniel Kahneman (“Thinking Fast and Slow”) wrote,... read more »

Samuel Chi - May 19, 2015

Robert Kraft is mad as hell and he's not going to take it anymore.

Not from the NFL. Not from Roger Goodell. Not from anyone who has a disparaging thing to say about his organization or his beloved quarterback.

But the Patriots owner is mostly mad because the NFL commissioner that he helped to install and did his best to keep in power turned out to be a complete moron.

Don Canham, the legendary athletic director at the University Michigan, had a famous edict: "Never turn a one-day story into a two-day story." Instead, Goodell obliterated that command by turning a 10-second sound bite into a mushrooming scandal that warranted the "-gate" suffix.

The fallout of this epic buffoonery is that the NFL has ruined the reputation of its most accomplished active player and its defending Super Bowl champion and at the same time further dented the already tattered image of "the Shield."

And for what?

There were a few footballs that might've been deflated below the little-known league-mandated minimum by halftime of the AFC Championship Game. Maybe the weather conditions caused it - as deemed probable by Ideal Gas Law. Or maybe an equipment guy stuck a needle in them to let out a bit of air. Either way, it's not enough to make this into a federal case (as it may very well become) and cast a cloud over the upcoming Super Bowl.

If the late Pete Rozelle were still the commissioner, he would've told the complaining Indianapolis Colts to stand down (as... read more »