Can Selling Beer Cut Down on Public Drunkenness? A New Marketplace Podcast

Our latest Freakonomics Radio on Marketplace podcast is called “Can Selling Beer Cut Down on Public Drunkenness?” 

(You can download/subscribe at iTunes, get the RSS feed, listen via the media player above, or read the transcript below.)

It features Oliver Luck, the athletic director at West Virginia University, whose Top 10-ranked football team opened the 2012 season by beating Marshall 69-34. Luck himself played quarterback at West Virginia from 1978 to 1981 and, after a four-year NFL career, got into sports administration. These days, he is best known as the father of Indianapolis Colts' rookie quarterback Andrew Luck.

As the A.D. at West Virginia, here's what Luck saw happening at home football games:

“People drinking far too much at pre-game parties and tailgate parties before games. Sneaking alcohol into games. Leaving at halftime or any point during the game to go back out to the tailgate to drink even more and come back into the game. ... They would usually drink hard liquor -- ‘get their buzz back on’ and come back into the game for the third quarter.  And the police again would know exactly at what point in the third quarter these ‘throw-up calls’ would start to come over the radio.”

How a Football Coach Sends Signals That Have Nothing to Do With Football

On Yahoo! Sports, the football writer Jason Cole profiles Todd Haley, the Pittsburgh native who has returned to his hometown Steelers (yeah, they're my team too) to take over as offensive coordinator. Cole writes about Haley's notorious "screaming jags" and wonders if Haley and Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger can coexist:

Haley believes the outside world doesn't understand the method to his madness. In previous stops, Haley was walking into rebuilding situations that required more attitude.

"The general public doesn't know if that's contrived or not contrived and over the years you have seen a lot of coaches who have shown emotion," Haley said. "I take a great deal of pride in my passion for the game, but it was also what the situation dictated at the time."

Okay, nothing so noteworthy about that. But then Haley reveals himself as a master of signaling theory:

How Much Do Football Wins Pay Off for a College?

An NBER paper by Michael L. Anderson looks into the how a university's football performance affects its academic performance:

Spending on big-time college athletics is often justified on the grounds that athletic success attracts students and raises donations. Testing this claim has proven difficult because success is not randomly assigned. We exploit data on bookmaker spreads to estimate the probability of winning each game for college football teams. We then condition on these probabilities using a propensity score design to estimate the effects of winning on donations, applications, and enrollment. The resulting estimates represent causal effects under the assumption that, conditional on bookmaker spreads, winning is uncorrelated with potential outcomes. Two complications arise in our design. First, team wins evolve dynamically throughout the season. Second, winning a game early in the season reveals that a team is better than anticipated and thus increases expected season wins by more than one-for-one. We address these complications by combining an instrumental variables-type estimator with the propensity score design. We find that winning reduces acceptance rates and increases donations, applications, academic reputation, in-state enrollment, and incoming SAT scores.

Football Freakonomics: How Do Players' Body Clocks Affect Their Performance?

I have been lucky enough to visit the secret lair at the NFL's headquarters where each year a crew of industrious people try to come up with an NFL schedule that pleases every team, player, TV network, fan, mayor, police department, religious official, and sports pundit in America.

This is of course impossible.

But they do try their best, and in today's Times there's a nice article by Judy Battista about how this year's schedule was made by the NFL's Howard Katz and his team.

After you look over the 2012-13 schedule, you might also want to take a look at the latest Football Freakonomics video we've done for the NFL Network. It considers the "body clock" factor on teams' schedules:

Did John Elway Sign Peyton Manning to the Broncos …

... because it was easily the best route to get rid of Tim Tebow?

Talent Evaluation is Different in the NFL and NBA

The sudden emergence of Jeremy Lin has led people to wonder about talent evaluation in the NBA. Two recent examples -- from Stephen Dubner in this forum and from Jonah Lehrer at Wired Science -- both take similar approaches.  Both begin with the story of Lin, and then pivot to a discussion of the National Football League.  In essence, each writer argues that talent evaluation in basketball and football is similar.  

In my next two posts, I wish to address why I think talent evaluation in the NBA and the NFL is quite different.

Football Freakonomics: What Can Linsanity Teach Us About the Upcoming NFL Draft?

In his first six NBA starts, Jeremy Lin averaged 24.3 points and 9.5 assists while leading the Knicks to six straight wins. 

If those numbers were attached to someone like Kobe Bryant or LeBron James, you wouldn’t bat an eye. But until a couple weeks ago, Lin was little more than roster fodder, an undrafted player already cut by two teams and about to be cut by his third. That’s when a desperate coach who had run out of able-bodied point guards threw him into the fire. The rest – for the moment, at least – is history.

Let’s be honest: the reason we’re hearing so much about Lin is because he was overlooked. This might lead you to think he’s a true anomaly, a great game-time athlete who somehow slipped through a pro sports league’s finely-tuned talent-scouting machine. But if you look closely at the NFL, you’ll find Jeremy Lins all over the place.

Football Freakonomics: The First Annual Dough Bowl Awards

Are you the kind of person who loves to hunt for undervalued stocks that are ready to pop? Or maybe you cruise tag sales and flea markets hoping to find an old stamp collection or oil painting that’s worth millions?

If so, you may like our latest Football Freakonomics episode. It’s called “Dough Bowl.” It is our tribute to the NFL’s best bargains, the players who lit it up this year for far fewer dollars than their counterparts. (We had a lot of help on this one, since it isn’t always easy to get good salary and cap-hit data. Big shout-outs to Scott Kacsmar and to founder Michael Ginnitti; also: a big hat tip to the Ravens’ Domonique Foxworth for suggesting the idea.)

We put together an entire offensive and defensive roster of Dough Bowl stars:

(Almost) The Triumph of Game Theory at the Super Bowl

One of the amazing things about the Super Bowl game this past weekend was that both coaches understood that the Patriots would be better off if the Giants scored a touchdown late in the game and reportedly instructed their teams accordingly.  To my mind, this represents a high point in the prevalence of strategic thinking. 

Was the failure of Ahmad Bradshaw to follow through on his coach’s instruction merely a failure of execution?

But I wonder whether the Giants failed to strategically optimize on the very next play selection.  With about a minute left in the game (and with a timeout remaining for the Patriots), the Giants choose to go for a two-point conversion.  My question is not about whether they should have kicked a point after.  No, I wonder whether they might have done better by handing the ball to a swift runner, who might have even more perversely attempted to forgo scoring two points and instead tried to burn as many seconds off the clock as possible by merely running away from the other team (toward, but not into, the other endzone!).  

Football Freakonomics: Tackling the Old Defense-Wins-Championship Cliche

We all know the cliché. Go ahead, put on your best John Facenda voice and say it with us:


What’s that even supposed to mean? That defense is more important during the playoffs than the regular season? That defense is generally more important than the offense?

Or is the saying maybe the collective echo of some grizzled defensive coordinator in a long-ago championship game, trying to fire up his troops during halftime? “Men, you and I know that our teammates on offense are good men, tough men, talented men. And they helped get us here. But let me be clear, gentlemen: DEFENSE WINS CHAMPIONSHIPS!”

What’s that even supposed to mean? That defense is more important during the playoffs than the regular season? That defense is generally more important than the offense?