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A Fine is a Price

A famous paper of the same title studies a natural experiment that tests this hypothesis. They found this pre-school in Israel where parents were perennially late picking up their kids. The pre-school instituted a fine that parents would be charged if they were late. And lo and behold, the parents were late picking up their kids since they rationalized the fine as a price (for additional babysitting), which made them feel less guilty about being late.

I bring this up because the NFL spent most of this season very publicly fining players, particularly defensive players, who made dangerous tackles/plays. Till last year, while a few fines were handed out, it was mostly a ‘please don’t do this kind of thing or we might frown on you’ kind of thing. Now, they are fined 25k to 100k depending on the egregiousness of the violation.

So here’s a simple test of the “fine is a price” theory. Top defensive players, raking in large contracts can clearly afford a fair few of these fines without any fiscal repercussions- the fine isn’t really much of an additional deterrent over their desire not to hurt a fellow player. Journeymen in the defense making the league minimum contract (~800k a year) can’t really afford these fines- for them this fine is a deterrent.

So, is the ratio of Goddell-attention-grabbing hits by star defenders to those by regular players up year on year?* If yes, I’d submit, we have independent confirmation that a fine is indeed a price.

*Our own thoughts, without any systematic data collection is that this did happen. Our recollections are skewed by the late hit artist that is James Harrison of the Steelers, and of course our own Julius Peppers’ hit on Aaron Rodgers in the latter half of the NFC championship game.

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Habits in human beings are easily understood. DNA, the kludgey nature of the human brain, and the natural aversion to try something as one grows older all play a part.

With sports teams, though, I do not understand. Why do some (metaphorical) old dogs refuse to learn new tricks? The current example on my mind is, of course, my beloved football team, the Chicago Bears. The Bears have, to put it mildly, a substandard passing offence. One might suspect this is easily fixed – throw some money, hire some talent and all is forgiven. Indeed, the Bears have tried this a few times. But they haven’t had a decent passing offense since the days of Sid Luckman, apparently the only QB in his era to understand the forward pass. And they can’t seem to buy one for love or money.

Several teams, spanning multiple sports, develop (well deserved) reputations over decades for certain inabilities. This is of course well beyond the career of any official, team member or such. For examples, I submit, in no particular order- Indian cricket (fast bowling), South African Cricket (performing at key moments in important games, i.e. not choking), Baltimore Ravens (passing offense), Italian soccer (offense, or so i’m told). [One can develop positive reputations too, I’m just not in a sunny mood since the Halas Trophy went north of Chicago]

So, to summarize, why?*

*With corporations, I can imagine brand image or some other suitably amorphous Bschool concept playing a role. But even there the reasoning is shaky in some cases.

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The NFL playoffs are upon us. For football fans and fans whose teams made it to festivus, this is the highlight of the year- lots of high quality football starring quality teams (and whoever comes out of the NFC west). This is also, however, a time when that which masquerades for analysis on TV reaches a new low. Demand for quality content meets a supply of ex-players trained from years of speaking much yet saying nothing at press-conferences to produce what Cheap Talk economists call a babbling equilibrium (subliminal advertising alert).

Case in point- the pre-match analysis:
1. Offense, Defense, and special teams are critical.
2. The 12th man (i.e. home team crowd) can make a difference.
3. Ball security and turnovers (takeaways) are key.
4. “Exploiting good matchups” is important (explaining what this might mean, or instances thereof clearly less so).
5. Field Position is vital.
6. Hyped-player of the week could be a difference maker.

NFL coverage is the posterboy for dumbed down mainstream media. For an example of slightly un-dumbed down analysis, here’s a piece on yesterday’s Eagles-Pack game by my favorite sports economist, Jonathan Weinstein.
(Disclaimer: JW is not actually a sports economist. This hasn’t stopped him from writing some of the best pieces of actual analysis.)

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