Never Punt on 4th Down


There is a high school in Little Rock, Arkansas, Pulaski Academy, which has won five state championships, has had an overall record of 138-24-1 and recently went undefeated in 2015.

Why are they so good do you ask? Because they don’t punt on 4th down!

Their now legendary football coach, Kevin Kelley, used a study done by a Harvard professor who stated that field position didn’t matter as much as conventional wisdom thought it did.

For example, if you give the ball up on your 5 yard line, the opposition will score 92 percent of the time. If you give the ball up at the 40 yard line, the opposition will score 77 percent of the time.

Coach Kelley took this study and other data and decided that instead of punting to extend the amount of plays, he will increase the likelihood of gaining 10 yards for a first down by going for it on 4th down - thus increasing the odds by 25 percent.

Pulaski Academy’s 4th down conversion is 50 percent, and that’s if they don’t get a first down within the first 3 downs. They average 6 yards per play. Their time of possession also increases and gives less time for the opposition to run offensive plays to get back into the game.

The other point the data noted is if you win the turnover battle in a game, you win the game 80 percent of the time.

Coach Kelley viewed kickoffs after touchdowns as a lost opportunity and onside kicks every time. On average the opposition takes the ball at their own 33 yard line on a kick-off. If Pulaski onside kicks it and loses the recovery, the opposition takes the ball at their own 48 yard line, giving up 15 yards on average.

However, Pulaski Academy recovers these onside kicks at between 25 and 30 percent of the time at great field position.

How does never punting help your business?

Organizations have opportunities to gather data on their processes, procedures, and products. By surveying buyers’ businesses, you can gather a sample of what your buyers like and don’t like and on top of that gather the competitive intelligence on the other companies you compete against.

Gathering data is the start but gathering the right data that is unbiased is key.

Coach Kelley took the data from a very reputable and credible source. From that credible source, he was able to formulate a strategy. Now his record is proof of that. Businesses need to do the same, and they can get it from their buyers.

Because of statistics and analytics, Coach Kelley is now trying to integrate an even more unorthodox style into their football program. He is introducing a rugby style, lateral pitch, which continues a play to gain additional yards per play.

How did he come to this conclusion?

The data stated that when his team records plays of 20 yards or more and plays that incorporate 3 or more players to obtain those 20+ yard gains, Pulaski Academy has an 80 percent chance of winning.

The rugby style laterals extend those plays for the 20 yard gains. So why is he taking such a risk in potential fumbles or turnovers? Because the numbers tell him he should.

“It all comes down to risk aversion,” Kelley says. “The coaches I've talked to, a lot of them will say, ‘ We think you’re right. We think we should.’ But they’re afraid of the media or the fans or losing their jobs. I think that’s the bottom line.”

Do you use data to make better strategic choices or are you staying risk adverse?

#winlossanalysis #strategy

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Vinay D Cardwell

vdc@vinaydcardwell.com

Salt Lake City, UT

801.960.2670