NFL Auctions

Fans of the NFL probably are probably glad that in the last few years the league has changed its overtime rules slightly.

Under the old rules, the overtime period started with a coin toss. The winner of the coin toss would choose to receive a kick-off and try to score or kick-off and defend. The first team to score in the overtime period (touchdown or field goal) won the game. Unsurprisingly, coin toss winning teams did not choose to kick and defend. This means that the rules to overtime became win the coin toss, get the ball.  Because the overtime was sudden death, the team winning the coin toss and receiving only had to get enough yards to reach field goal range and kick a field goal. Winning the coin toss gave teams an advantage and the coin toss winning team won about 60% of games that went to overtime.

Under the new rules, both teams must be given possession of the ball. Unless the receiving team scores a touchdown, the kicking team will get a chance to play offense. After both teams have had the ball, it goes back to sudden death. While this is fairer, it still relies on a coin toss to decide who got the ball first.

In 2002, Chris Quanbeck, an engineer, came up with an even fairer, and definitely more interesting, solution: the coaches participate in an auction to determine possession and field position. The auctions use field position instead of money to determine “price”. Quanbeck lists three possible formats for the auction:

1. Similar to the Dutch auction, the price starts high and drops. In this case, the high price teams pay is starting with the ball at their own one yard line. The referee lowers the price (moves the ball away from the one yard line in one yard increments) until the a coach accepts the price (field position).

2. This auction is like the English auction. The starting price is excellent field position. A coach can either accept, in which case the other team gets the ball at the acceptance price, or they can increase the price (move the starting position farther and farther from the end zone).

3. The third auction is a sealed bid first price auction. The price they write down is the point on the field from which they are willing to take the ball and try to score. The team that selects the farthest yard line (highest price) will start with the ball there.

Of these three options I think the first one is the most exciting. Presumably coaches would go to the auction knowing what price they will accept, but there’s no way to know what the crowd noise and pressure will cause them to do. It would also be much more suspenseful for fans watching at home.

One thought on “NFL Auctions”

  1. What a great idea. The idea of the first option is by far the best. Essentially it is a Dutch auction, only the price is going up. The first coach to react gets the ball, but at what cost.

    One potential problem I see with this is that teams like the New England Patriots or Green Bay Packers, and I guess the Baltimore Ravens, would simply accept the ball on the 5 yard line or so simply because they trust their quarterback. On the flip side, teams knowing that could simply take the ball automatically. It is a fascinating example of game theory and would add a strategic element to overtime that currently does not exist.

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