The following is a cross-post from NFL.com, where we’ve recently launched a Football Freakonomics Project.
Economics is all about tradeoffs. If you want to buy a top-tier performance car, it’ll cost you a lot more than a Camry. If you’re looking for an investment that’ll set you up for life, you have to be willing to take on more risk.
NFL personnel decisions involve the same kind of tradeoffs. Better players generally cost more. Bigger players are generally slower. Just look at the NFL Draft, and how hard it is to balance all these tradeoffs when making your picks – especially when you’re spending huge money on a team leader whose future is impossible to predict. (We explored this puzzle earlier in “The Quarterback Quandary.”)
In this installment of “Football Freakonomics,” we look at a different kind of tradeoff – the decision of how to handle a player who’s gotten in trouble off the field. Unfortunately, you don’t have to think very hard to come up with a lot of big names from the recent past: Michael Vick, Ben Roethlisberger, and Plaxico Burress, to name just a few.
With guys like these, the tradeoff is pretty clear. The player has already proven his value on the field, so that’s the upside. But will his off-the-field trouble follow him back into the game? And then you’ve got to wonder how his physical performance will be affected by his time off for bad behavior.
It would be nice to be able to give a purely scientific answer to the following question: After getting into big off-the-field trouble, do players tend to perform better, the same, or worse?
Beekeepers transport their hives from field to field and make money helping farmers, orchardists and others pollinate their crops. (See the wonderful old paper by Steven N.S. Cheung, “The Fable of the Bees: An Economic Investigation,” Journal of Law and Economics, 1973.)
There are now indications that colony collapse, the current plague of the industry, may result from too-frequent moves of hives and the resulting greater exposure to more varieties of pathogens. The beekeeper thus faces a trade-off: increase revenue by moving hives around, but incur a potential cost of collapse; or move hives less and make less revenue, but reduce the potential risk. From what I’ve been told, different beekeepers make different choices, depending in part on their assessments of the risk of colony collapse and their degree of risk aversion.