Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Moneyball in College Football, Bill Connelly Edition

Here is a post that I wrote in May after reading the comments of various coaches regarding the stats that they consider to be important.  Money grafs:

The general sense that I got from the article is that college football is a barren wasteland for statistical analysis among coaches. It's possible that some of these coaches have advanced stats for measuring their teams' performances and they just aren't sharing those stats because they want to retain an edge, but there is no hint of that sort of collusion. I doubt that dozens of baseball managers would say that they use batting average and RBIs to measure players and if they do, most GMs almost certainly don't. Since college football programs don't have general managers, it falls on the coaches to seek out and use better stats, but it appears that they don't, although at least some of them are curious enough to have read studies on the importance of turnover margin.

And here's the funny thing about innumeracy on the part of coaches: they have a ready-made solution at their universities. Do you really think that there aren't a dozen students (or professors) in the stats department at Alabama who would be thrilled to apply their regression analysis tools to help Nick Saban understand what stats have the strongest correlation with winning? Or what traits are most important for recruits at given positions? I'm not saying that coaches should use these sorts of analyses to make all of their decisions. As in baseball, stats are best used in conjunction with traditional scouting and coaching, and that's in a sport that lends itself to statistical analysis more than football. Likewise, I'm not saying that coordinators need to start spouting off about adjusted yards per play or S&P. Their jobs are still primarily to develop schemes and then to coach players to perform their roles in those schemes. However, there can be no doubt that they would be more effective at their jobs if they had better guidance as to what numbers matter.
And here is Bill Connelly on the same subject:
What role do statistics play in college football's version of Moneyball? It is still unclear. Though teams have long figured out their own ways to evaluate their own and other teams' success, the fact is that the only group even more resistant to changes in approach and bookworm tendencies than than the stereotypical, old-school "baseball guy" is the stereotypical "football guy." Be they boosters or long-time coaches, they have long internalized that there is one way to win a football game, and attempts at change will be met with extreme resistance...

It is still quite noteworthy and unique when a coach searches out innovation through numbers. But that means that the same market inefficiencies that Billy Beane attempted to exploit a decade ago still very much exist in college football, and those who best figure out how to exploit it will win quite a few football games. Baseball has caught up to Billy Beane in a lot of ways, but there is simply no question that he changed the approach to winning baseball games. Who will do the same in the world of five-star recruits, tailgates and traditionalist fanbases? And when they figure out how to exploit statistics for wins, how will they do it?
I'm flattered.



The Boy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Bill C. said...

Ha, well, I guess you should be. Great minds, etc. said...

Thank you for the post, pretty helpful info.