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Concussions: More of a silent killer than we knew

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As a youth sports coach, I’m taught to look for concussion symptoms to help a player avoid further damage. However, new research is showing that the damage could already be happening even if a player is showing no outward signs of injury. From the Chicago Tribune:

…[A] new study of an Indiana high school football team hints that some athletes are suffering brain injuries that go undiagnosed, allowing the players to continue getting battered, unaware of the possible cognitive damage that has been done.

Of 21 high school players monitored for a full season by a team of researchers from Purdue University, four players who were never diagnosed with concussions were found to have suffered brain impairment that was at least as bad as that of other players who had been deemed concussed and removed from play.

“They’re not exhibiting any outward sign and they’re continuing to play,” said Thomas Talavage, an associate professor at the Weldon School of Biomedical Engineering at Purdue and the lead researcher on the study. “The cognitive impairment that we observed with them is actually worse than the one observed with the concussed players.”

The report, published in the latest edition of the Journal of Neurotrauma, found that some players received more than 1,800 hits to the head during practices and games, some with a force 20 times greater than what a person would feel while riding a roller coaster.

The research is coming out as the debate rages over what is more damaging: one hard, individual hit, or the cumulative effects of multiple collisions. The science is rapidly pointing to the latter. It helps explain why the brain of the late Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Chris Henry showed concussion damage, even though he was never diagnosed with such a condition, and why the brain of Penn player Owen Thomas, who committed suicide in August, showed trauma, even though he had never been diagnosed with a concussion.

In the Chicago Tribune article, players and coaches aren’t dismissive of the study’s results. Their worry is more about whether their players and teammates will play hard if they’re worried about head injuries.

“It’s a tough slope because you could end up scaring kids away from even playing football, and you see that a lot,” said Michael Holmes, the football coach at Leo High School in Chicago. “We make our kids conscious of it, but we don’t try to scare them.”

Reilly O’Toole, quarterback at Wheaton [Ill.] Warrenville South High School, said he doesn’t think at all about head injuries.

“If you think about injuries or concussions, that’s when they happen,” he said. “Once you start playing not to get hurt, that’s when you get hurt. It’s a contact sport. If you don’t like contact, you shouldn’t be playing.”

The Purdue researchers aren’t (yet) calling for the end of tackle football, but they are recommend scaling back full-contact practices so kids don’t have to take so many hits.

By the way, the Purdue researchers, citing their continuing study, are not telling the Lafayette Jefferson High players which of the four have signs of, not to put too fine a point on it, brain damage. If it were my kid, I would be demanding to know if mine was one of the four.

Angry football coach launches a moon shot

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Courtesy of Steve Griffith at Wacky Youth Sports Dad comes a piece from the New York Daily News about a high school football game that ended with many involved showing themselves to be asses, which inspired one assistant coach to show them his ass.

A wild melee at a high school football game in Queens ended ugly Saturday when an assistant coach dropped his drawers and mooned the opposing team’s spectators.

The Boys and Girls High School volunteer assistant bared his backside to fans of the home team, Campus Magnet, minutes after a shoving match erupted on the field between coaches and school safety officers.

“His fellow coaches were holding him back and he turned around and pulled down his shorts,” said David Sumter, 40, a Campus Magnet parent. “All I saw was his big [rear end].”

I believe Mr. Sumter said “ass,” although it’s possible he made air brackets when he said rear end.

As if it matters why a coach would drop his drawers on the field, apparently that coach — William Miller, as the Daily News identified him — and the Boys and Girls head coach were tossed out of the game after vociferously, non-nakedly protesting the referees’ calling good a Campus Magnet two-point conversion that put Boys and Girls down 16-6 with a few minutes to play. With all the ruckus, the refs shut the game down. Campus Magnet parents began heckling, and that’s why Miller went over to their section, screamed at the fans and, as the Daily News put it, “revealed his caboose.”

Hey, pull up your shorts! (NSFW, obviously)

Apparently Miller, a volunteer, lost his gig over this, according to the Daily News. I wonder if the school told him not to let the door hit a certain part of his body on the way out.

High schools’ shameless logo-stealing days are over

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Ordinarily you would want to side with a school over some corporate weasel trying to bully it out of its beloved mascot and logo, except that the Internet has made it abundantly clear that many schools have shamelessly stolen their beloved mascots and logos from someone else.

The Lahontan Valley News in Fallon, Nev., chronicles the consequences of logo theft in its area, starting with a school that filched its tiger logo from Towson University. Really? Towson? In Maryland?

The story notes that a “quick Internet search” will find you hundreds of examples of logo, ahem, borrowing, but you don’t have to go far beyond Douglas High, the school that took the Towson Tiger, to find schools with a very loose reading of trademark law.

Locally, Wooster (Indianapolis Colts), Damonte Ranch (Southern Methodist University), Spanish Springs (Washington State University), McQueen (Army) and South Tahoe (Minnesota Vikings) have all derived their respective primary or football helmet logos from other sources with few modifications in recent years.

Other specific sports programs both in the area and nationally have carried direct copies of college or pro team logos and fonts on their uniforms.

If you want a sense of how much ripping off happens just in Nevada, without a casino necessary, check out this site of Nevada high school football helmets. What’s stunning is how few schools didn’t rip off Iowa, USC, Florida, SMU, Missouri, Virginia Tech, Michigan and the New England Patriots.

Here you can see Tom Brady in the Patriots’ throwback uniforms… oh wait, that’s the Liberty Patriots of Hendersonville, Nev.

The Lahontan Valley News points the foam finger at Collegiate Licensing, the trademark arm of the NCAA, for going after the local schools, who seem like pretty easy targets. Here is Douglas High Principal Marty Swisher on finding out his school with a scofflaw:

“The letter came as a surprise to us,” Swisher said. “We weren’t making any substantial profit off the logo, we’re 2,500 miles away from the school in question and we’re obviously not in competition with Towson. The boosters sold merchandise with the logo the past few years, but that money goes right back into the athletic program.

“But the law is the law.”

Yes, the law doesn’t say, “Steal any trademark you want as long it’s at least 2,500 miles away, and isn’t in competition.” Damn the law!

Fortunately for these schools, the NCAA and other trademark-holders tend to pat their simpleton heads and tell them they can use the logo until the uniforms wear thin. Literally, not in the eyes of trademark holders.

Written by rkcookjr

August 12, 2010 at 10:21 pm

Salinas football players lead march to fight city's gang image

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When my local youth baseball and softball players march through the streets of Oak Lawn, Ill., it’s to announce, “We’re ready to play!” When the local high school football teams march through the streets of Salinas, Calif., it’s to announce, “We’re not gang members!”

From the (Salinas) Californian:

“One City — Our City” read the sign carried by football players leading a first-ever peace march. Their goal? Show the community that its adolescents are doing great things.

Salinas police officers controlled traffic as they escorted an enthusiastic rally of about 500 people. The 12-mile walk [which went by all the city's high schools] began at 8 a.m. [May 24] from Alisal High School.

“Salinas is not full of kids who want to commit crime or be in gangs,” said Arturo Rodriguez, an Alisal High School football player who said he chose, on a day he could have slept in, to wake up early to take part in the effort.

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And why did the football players feel compelled to have this rally? Because Salinas has gotten a reputation as gang-banger central thanks to a major spike in violent crime over the last four years. Salinas’ per-capita murder rate in two years, from 2006 to 2008, went from 4.74 per 100,000 to 17.42 per 100,000, or seven murders to 25. The rate only went up, to 29 murders, in 2009. Salinas has more murders than just about any large California city, save, say, Oakland.

The city of about 150,000 is in the midst of “Operation Knockout,” a federal, state and local effort of mass arrests (at least 100 so far) that hope to, at least for a little while, calm down the drug- and gang-fueled violence. (Authorities say the violence has its roots in gangs fighting to control Salinas, a port, if you will, into the San Francisco Bay area drug market.)

Salinas’ image has taken such a hit from all the violence, the PONY league from nearby Monterey refused to play games there, for fear of its players’ safety. A little harsh and rash, perhaps, but it gives you an idea of what Salinas is dealing with.

Hopefully the next time the football players lead a parade, it’s not to say, “We’re not gang members!” Just, “We’re ready to play!”

High school football coach punted for resume padding

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Pity James Allen, the high school sports reporter for the Times Union in Albany, N.Y. He, unlike the Albany school board, fact-checked the resume of Robbin Williams, hired as fourth head coach in four years for the moribund football program at Albany High (3-33 in the last four seasons, 19 straight losses dating back to Oct. 19, 2007). Turns out Williams, a prison guard and former high school assistant, not only padded his resume, but is also a horrible, horrible liar.

A copy of Williams’ resume, obtained by the Times Union, states he has an extensive pro football background, including participation in six NFL training camps, and says he was a member of the [Arena Football League's] Albany Firebirds in 1993 and 1994.

To attend an NFL training camp, a player must sign a contract with the team. Officials from three of the NFL teams listed on Williams’ resume — the Washington Redskins, New York Giants and New England Patriots — confirmed … no one named Robbin Williams ever participated in any games or had been invited to a training or free-agent camp.

When questioned … Williams stated he had tryouts with six NFL teams lasting one to two days. He said he never signed with a team or attended a training camp. He said he couldn’t specifically remember what he wrote on his resume.

Williams also told the Times Union he was a member of the 1988 Washington Redskins as a replacement player. Replacement players were used in the NFL for three weeks during the 1987 season while the regular players were on strike. Williams never appeared in any game and could not give a specific amount of time he was with the team.

Williams also said … that he “played with the Albany Firebirds during their first season in 1992.” The Albany Firebirds were a member of the Arena Football League and played at the Knickerbocker Arena, now the Times Union Center, from 1990 through 2000.

A story that appeared in the May 21, 1991, edition of the Times Union regarding area players trying to make it with the Firebirds included Williams, who signed a few days earlier, but who was cut before Albany’s June 1 opener. …

When asked … about his time with the Firebirds, Williams said he never appeared in a game for the franchise.

He was then asked if he was a practice player with the team, he said, “You could say I was a practice player.” Williams said he was with the Firebirds for “about one month.”

On his resume, however, Williams states being a Firebirds’ team member in 1993 and 1994.

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Robbin Williams also hedged on whether he made numerous, hammy talk show appearances.

And does Allen get thanked for bringing Williams’ resume fudges to public attention? Of course not.

Allen, lamenting in the April 26 Times Union, a few days after the school board withdrew its offer to Williams:

People who didn’t know me weren’t very flattering in their assessment of my work on this story. I was told I had ulterior motives — that I was out to get Albany High. I even was called a racist more than once because I’m white and Robbin Williams is black.

In other words, a number of the people who read his saga wondered why I pursued this story, or assumed the answer.

The real answer is the story chased me, not the other way around, once Williams started talking and facts started getting fractured. I simply wouldn’t be doing my job unless I looked into something I knew was wrong.

Albany High has made the Washington Post’s list of top high schools in the nation. But the school board must stay out of the way of that business. Because if the way it handled this easily-checked-out football hire is any indication, it’s no wonder the team is in such lousy shape. Then again, if the grief Allen got is indicative of the people who voted in that school board, no wonder it had its collective head up its ass.

Written by rkcookjr

April 27, 2010 at 10:02 am

School sports recession: Not in Texas!

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Most of the nation’s school districts are slashing away at their sports budgets (Just do a Google News search for “school sports budget cuts,” and wait for your community to appear).

Allen, Texas, is not most of the nation. Instead of chopping middle school sports or instituting pay-to-pay, the Dallas suburb, thanks to the largesse of the one place in the nation that passes bonds no matter what, is building a $60 million, 18,000-seat football stadium that looks a little something like this:

I’d love to opine that Allen, Texas, is a prime example of a community whose priorities are seriously out of whack, especially because the local high school already has an air-conditioned indoor football practice facility, something a lot of colleges don’t have.

Except that Allen, Texas, is a prime example of a community that seems immune from the Near-Great Near-Depression. Allen, Texas, voters passed a $119 million bond issue in May 2009, when it still looked like we might all survive on the meat of our grandparents, cooked up in squatted McMansions. Allen is a fast-growing community of 77,000 in a fast-growing portion of the Dallas metro area, and it’s a haven for Texans who actually feel like investing in education is a valuable thing, beyond buying new textbooks dedicated to the history of Phyllis Schafly. Allen has, in the past, also passed bond issues to build facilities related to actual academic education.

Plus, I come from a state (Indiana) that has something like 19 of the 20 largest high school basketball gyms, places where the arenas sit more people than live in town. So I can’t really argue too much — except to say if the economy ever goes south in Allen, Texas, that football stadium is eventually going to be a white elephant. But that day, in Allen, is a long way away.

Natalie Randolph isn't alone as a female H.S. football coach

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The reason you see journalists hedge on saying someone is the only one of something is because the moment you do that, it’s guaranteed you’ll get someone telling you you’re wrong.

So after the Washington Post (and I) noted that Natalie Randolph, just hired as football coach at DC’s Coolidge High, was believed to be the nation’s only female high school football coach, it suddenly popped up that, hey, she’s not the only one!

The example brought up was Debbie Vance, the head football coach at Lehman High (named after a former governor who was the son of a founder of the now-infamous Lehman Brothers) in The Bronx for the last two seasons. Her first year, the team went 1-8. In her second season, 2009, the team improved to 4-6.

It is slightly more common to have women coaching boys’ basketball times. But a 2008 analysis by the University of Minnesota’s Tucker Center for Research on Girls & Women in Sport found that only 2 percent of boys’ teams in that state — mostly swimming and tennis — had female coaches. I suspect the numbers aren’t any higher anywhere else in the country. The bigger issue, perhaps, is a decline in female head coaches in general at the high school level. The Tucker Center said only 17 percent of high school teams in Minnesota were coached by women, and only 38 percent of girls’ teams had a female head coach. Women’s representation is declining, the Tucker Center analysis showed.

As I mentioned in my previous post on Natalie Randolph, a lot of women I know opt out of coaching at the youth level because they feel like they don’t have time, given their many responsibilities in work, life and child-raising. At least in my experience at the youngest of youth levels, I haven’t seen the level of outright gender bias that Tucker Center director Nicole LaVoi sees (in addition to her noting what I said in the previous sentence about many women not wanting to add more one responsibility).

But then again, she’s conducting research, and I’m not. And I do agree that women, no matter who they’re coaching at what level, face questions of competence that men would never hear. From a conversation LaVoi had with Minnesota Public Radio:

“If a guy shows up for the first day of practice, he’s automatically assumed to be competent because he’s a male. But when a woman comes, that’s the first thing we think of,” said Lavoi. “That’s another one of the gender stereotypes about leadership. We automatically assume men are more competent than women.”

Lavoi says that uphill struggle to acceptance keeps some women away from the sidelines.

“A lot of them are sitting around going, ‘I didn’t think you wanted me. No one ever asked me,'” said Lavoi. “That’s a bright spot to me because I know there are a lot of women out there who are very qualified, who would make great coaches, but we have to figure out a way to get them to the dance.”

For more on the dynamic of women coaching boys at the high school level, here is a Nov. 5, 2009, piece from Central Florida News 13 on Tracy Stephens, the offensive line coach at East Ridge High School in Lake County. She has worked there for three seasons, hired by her husband, Jeff, the head coach, after he ran short of coaches to help in the spring. Just by being there, Tracy Stephens teaches an important lesson to the boys: that a woman can do things as well as a man, which is a message you wouldn’t think would need to be taught anymore, but does.

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Female football coach blows chauvinist pig minds

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Bringing back a 1970s, Equal Rights Amendment-era sobriquet such as “chauvinist pig” seems appropriate given some of the reaction to one Natalie Randolph — a dame! a chick! a skirt! — on March 12 officially taking over as head football coach at Washington, D.C.’s Coolidge High. As far as anyone can tell, the 29-year-old Randolph is the nation’s only female high school football coach. [MARCH 13 UPDATE: She isn't. But she's one of a very, very few.]

From Washington Post metro columnist Petula Dvorak:

After The Post broke the story Wednesday [March 10] that Natalie Randolph will take the job at Calvin Coolidge Senior High School in the District and probably be the only such female coach in the nation, a flurry of online commenters worried about the boys of Coolidge.

“This is a brutal physical sport that rips the testosterone from guys and puts it on display. There is no place here for an estrogen injection,” one reader commented on the story.

I wonder if this person has ever seen childbirth up close.


I’m sure Randolph knows more than anyone that her lack of a penis is going to come back again and again as an issue, even though she played women’s semipro football and has experience as an assistant coach in the District schools.

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No. 81 in your DC Divas program, No. 1 in your hearts. Check out the TD catch Randolph makes at 1:25 in this summation of  the Divas’ 2006 championship season.

Even though it appears Randolph is the only female head football coach at any American high school, Dvorak points out that women have had success coaching boys’ teams elsewhere.

That includes Joanie Welch of Wasilla, Alaska, a hockey mom who has brought her presumably Palin-esque pit-bull-with-lipstick style (if we believe the Sarah Palin definition of hockey mom) to the local high school as an assistant hockey coach for the last three seasons, in her first year attempting to guide a local lothario named Levi Johnston.

Back to Randolph, as unfortunate as it seems that her being a head football coach is news — even in an age where the Florida High School Athletic Association (dubiously) claims football is a coed sport — what’s even more unfortunate is that her coaching at all is news.

Yes, there are many female coaches at all levels of sport. Research by Nicole LaVoi, associate director of the University of Minnesota’s Tucker Center for Research on Girls & Women in Sport and Michael Messner, professor of gender studies at sociology at USC, finds that only one of five youth sports coaches is female, even though by at least one count, girls comprise close to 50 percent of all youth sports participants.

While LaVoi and I have some slight differences on why that number is low, we would be in agreement that it would be great to see that number go up. I’m disappointed that this year, for my 7-year-old son’s baseball team, I will not have a female assistant, as I did last year. It was disappointing that when I managed by 10-year-old daughter’s softball teams, I never had a female assistant, even though I begged one ex-softball playing mom to come aboard. (Claiming she was too busy — a pretty legitimate claim, and a common reason in my experience why moms haven’t coached — she instead sent her husband.) I was heartened that one the assistants of my 10-year-old daughters’ co-ed basketball team was (well, still is) a woman.

I think the message sent to both boys and girls by having a female coaching (and I don’t believe she has to be relegated to an assistant — it’s just in these cases I happened to be the head coach) is that women can be athletic role models and are knowledgeable about sports. Again, that seems like a ridiculous message 40 years into Title IX, but a subtle message can creep in, with no female coaches, that sports is a boy thing only. It’s my 10-year-old daughter, not my 7-year-old son, who talks about how unusual she is compared to her classmates that likes to play sports.

In Randolph’s case, I’m going to bet that while some of her players might at first resist having a girl for a football coach, that opposition will fall as it would for any male coach. That is, once it’s clear to them she knows what she’s doing, they will follow. At least the players are at the age where their lack of maturity might excuse some of their conduct vis-a-vis a lady football coach.

I’m not sure what the excuse would be for adult football coaches who would know better than to worry about a dame! a chick! a skirt!, like this knucklehead quoted anonymously (way to have some balls, tough guy) in the Washington Post:

“All I know is, I don’t want to be the first one to lose to her. That’s going to be wild.”

Written by rkcookjr

March 12, 2010 at 2:48 pm

Update on the player Drew Pinsky saved

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I’m a few weeks behind here. But in case you were wondering, Jackson Allan, the high school football player whose life was saved by television personality/physician Dr. Drew Pinsky, is home. From his Facebook support page:

Jackson returned home to his mom’s place on the evening of Thursday, Dec 17th.

Jackson’s leaving Rancho is simply the best gift everyone in his family and friends could have. He’s made incredible progress and I’m sure it will continue.


“Rancho” is Rancho Los Amigos National Rehabilitation Center, where Allan was transferred for rehab after recovery from brain surgery at UCLA Harbor hospital. “Les” is Allan’s father.

The backstory: Allan, a 10th-grader at Polytechnic in Pasadena, Calif., collapsed after suffering a head injury during his October football game against rival Chadwick. Pinsky, whose son plays for Polytechnic, ran to the bench where Allan collapsed and, along with Chadwick parent Dr. Roger Lewis, administered emergency aid that is credited with keeping Allan alive. It appears Allan still has a long way to go with rehab, but given where he was a few months back, that’s incredible progress.

The football coach who never punts (not Bill Belichick)

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New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick is being roundly roasted for going for it (unsuccessfully) on fourth-down-and-two from his own 28-yard-line, allowing the Indianapolis Colts a short touchdown drive to come back for a 35-34 win Nov. 15. (’s Pete Prisco called the decision “fourth and jackass.”)

One high school coach might understand Belichick’s decision not to punt: Kevin Kelley, head coach of Pulaski Academy in Little Rock, Ark.

In September, Kelley was profiled in Sports Illustrated for his unorthodox decision never to punt, nor kick a field goal or extra point. About 75 percent of his team’s kickoffs are onside kicks. Why does he do this?

Pulaski hasn’t punted since 2007 (when it did so as a gesture of sportsmanship in a lopsided game), and here’s why: “The average punt in high school nets you 30 yards, but we convert around half our fourth downs, so it doesn’t make sense to give up the ball,” Kelley says. “Besides, if your offense knows it has four downs instead of three, it totally changes the game. I don’t believe in punting and really can’t ever see doing it again.”

He means ever. Consider the most extreme scenario, say, fourth-and-long near your own end zone. According to Kelley’s data (much of which came from a documentary he saw), when a team punts from that deep, the opponents will take possession inside the 40-yard line and will then score a touchdown 77% of the time. If they recover on downs inside the 10, they’ll score a touchdown 92% of the time. “So [forsaking] a punt, you give your offense a chance to stay on the field. And if you miss, the odds of the other team scoring only increase 15 percent. It’s like someone said, ‘[Punting] is what you do on fourth down,’ and everyone did it without asking why.”

The onside kicks? According to Kelley’s figures, after a kickoff the receiving team, on average, takes over at its own 33-yard line. After a failed onside kick the team assumes possession at its 48. Through the years Pulaski has recovered about a quarter of its onside kicks. “So you’re giving up 15 yards for a one-in-four chance to get the ball back,” says Kelley. “I’ll take that every time!” Why not attempt to return punts? “Especially in high school, where the punts don’t go so far,” he says, “it’s not worth the risk of fumbling or a penalty.”

Much of Kelley’s analysis has support among number crunchers. In 2005 David Romer, a prominent Cal economist, published a study that argued that over the course of the three NFL seasons he studied there had been 1,068 fourth-down situations in which teams, mathematically, would have been better off going for it. In all but 109 cases the teams either kicked or punted.

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Kevin Kelley, not talking about punting.

It’s hard to argue with Kelley’s success. Since he took over Pulaski’s program in 1997, he’s 76-26-1, with Class 5A (largest school) championships in 2003 and 2008. His team, 8-3 this season, plays Greenwood Nov. 20 in the Arkansas state playoff quarterfinals.

And David Romer isn’t the only one making the case that pro teams should go for it more often. In the New York Times’ Fifth Down blog, statistical analysis hobbyist Brian Burke outlined why Belichick’s decision, though it didn’t work, was best:

With 2:08 left and the Colts with only one timeout, a successful 4th-and-2 conversion wins the game for all practical purposes. A conversion on 4th-and-2 would be successful 60 percent of the time. Historically, in a situation with 2:00 left and needing a TD to either win or tie, teams get the TD 53 percent of the time from that field position. The total win probability for the 4th-down conversion attempt would therefore be:

(0.60 * 1) + (0.40 * (1-0.53)) = 0.79 WP (WP stands for win probability)

A punt from the 28 typically nets 38 yards, starting the Colts at their 34. Teams historically get the TD 30 percent of the time in that situation. So the punt gives the Pats about a 0.70 WP.

Statistically, the better decision would be to go for it, and by a good amount. However, these numbers are baselines for the league as a whole. You’d have to expect the Colts had a better than 30 percent chance of scoring from their 34, and an accordingly higher chance to score from the Pats’ 28. But any adjustment in their likelihood of scoring from either field position increases the advantage of going for it. You can play with the numbers any way you like, but it’s pretty hard to come up with a realistic combination of numbers that makes punting the better option. At best, you could make it a wash.

So what’s the controversy about Belichick’s decision then, other than stick-in-the-mud, stat-nerd-hating types who are better at second-guessing than coaching? It has a lot to do with how you would adjust that statistics in a specific situation.

First, let’s look at Kelley. One of the most obvious reasons to go with no-punting-and-kicking in high school is because kickers in that age group are for the most part, shall we say, unreliable, as Kelley points out. The chances of a shanked punt, dropped ball, bad snap or block are much higher because the skill level isn’t so great. That’s the reason why you see most youth football games without punts and kicks, except kickoffs. (Also, a lot of youth leagues march the ball off, say, 30 yards for a “punt” rather than have teams kick.)

Also, Kelley coaches at a private school, meaning he’s not beholden to whatever the local parents breed. I’m not intimating he recruits illegally. But Pulaski has the opportunity to attract kids from all over the Little Rock area. The school has a long tradition of football excellence, so certainly there are top players who do what they can to get in. No disrespect to Kelley’s coaching ability, but he has a steadily high level of talent compared with most of his competition. If you’re a small school with undersized players that regularly get stomped on, eschewing punting and kicking is probably not going to make much of a difference. For Kelley, going for it, by his reckoning, means his team scores 84 percent of the time it has to convert a fourth down, according to a Nov. 4 profile by The Associated Press.

If Kelley were to criticize Belichick, it would be for punting too much. When Belichick decided to go for it late against Indianapolis, he had to burn his team’s final timeout to figure out a play with quarterback Tom Brady, as well as stop the confusion that saw his punt team heading onto the field while his offense was not leaving it. That last timeout became crucial because without it, Belichick couldn’t challenge the spot of the ball on the fourth-down pass to Kevin Faulk, the one marked (correctly) for a one-yard gain when he needed two.

Of course, there’s a reason NFL coaches punt and kick. Unlike in high school, punters and kickers tend to be consistently reliable. Also, you have to weigh not only where you are on the field, but who is going to get the ball if you fail. Perhaps Belichick’s call, going for it on fourth-and-short with his team up six points, is more defensible if he’s in Indianapolis territory. But it’s also a lot more defensible if the quarterback is, say, Cleveland’s Derek Anderson, the worst-rated in the NFL, rather than Peyton Manning, a contender for best quarterback of all-time.

The heat that Belichick is getting for not punting will guarantee that coaches at all levels not go in the same direction as Kelley did. I’m having a hard time finding coaches, at any level, who are as anti-punt as Kelley. Then again, Belichick has the job security, thanks to three Super Bowl rings, to get away with making that call. Kelley, thanks his success as his inability to get fired by his boss (Kelley is also athletic director) also has the security of trying whatever wild-ass thing comes into his head without the world coming down on him.

Whatever you think of Belichick’s call — and as a Colts fan, I whole-heartedly supported it — and Kelley’s stance, you might agree that it’s unfortunate that too many coaches don’t have the leeway to try something different once in a while, just to see if the conventional wisdom isn’t so wise after all.

ADDENDUM: I saw over at that Belichick wasn’t the only coach to make this gamble over the weekend. From the Detroit Free Press:

Holt’s 20-3 lead over defending Division 1 champ Rockford was down to 20-13, and Holt had the ball on its 29 in a fourth-and-less-than-1 situation with less than 2 minutes left, and the scenario was playing out in Holt coach Al Slamer’s head.

“You know how you sense the momentum has changed?” Slamer asked. “If we punt, we give them the ball on the 30- or 40-yard line, they go down and score and win the game.”

Instead, Slamer decides to go for it — ON HIS OWN 29! Did his assistant coaches try to call for a competency hearing?

“Absolutely,” Slamer said. “The testosterone was making the decision. Doggone it, it was just time to get half a yard.”

But what if Holt didn’t make the first down and hands Rockford the ball on the 29? “It’s one of those that if it works out, it’s great,” Slamer said. “If it doesn’t work out, you commit hari-kari at the 50-yard line.”

Put away the knife, Coach.

Holt made the first down, and on the next play, Jake Gallimore rumbled 70 yards for the clinching touchdown in Holt’s 27-13 victory.

And it all boiled down to Slamer’s gutsy/suicidal call. “What the heck. If you can’t get half a yard, you don’t deserve to be in the semis,” he said.


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