More on Optimal Sequencing: Soccer Edition

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[Cross-posted at: Wages of Wins Journal, 7 August 2014]

This earlier Wages of Wins piece by Shane Sanders (July 29, 2014) generated plenty of discussion. It highlighted the problem of Triathlon deaths in the swim leg. One crucial point to make with many economic policy analogies on which to draw is that sequencing of the legs (or phases) matters – all other considerations aside, the ‘best’ sequence of phases can be optimized according to some objective (in this case, minimizing fatalities).

One such possible economic policy analogy is with respect to unemployment benefits. Imagine a two-phase policy, where in the first six months the recipient is eligible to a relatively unrestricted entitlement of an amount according to some predefined percentage (say 40%) of some benchmark (average weekly earnings or minimum full-time wage). If the recipient is still unemployed after the 6 months have elapsed, a second phase kicks in at which the benefit is now highly restricted thereafter (having to satisfy minimum job search requirements, etc.) and/or reduced in value. Now, many people will disagree as to whether this two-phase policy is too generous or too miserly (or even on the basis of something else entirely). However, one aspect most of us would agree on is that swapping the sequence of these two phases would make absolutely no sense whatsoever.

It got me thinking about other such analogies about sequencing from sport that could be useful in policy circles. Recently, I published an article in the December 2013 issue of Journal of Sports Economics [gated], along with Jan Libich (my colleague at La Trobe) and Petr Stehlίk (University of Western Bohemia, Czech Republic). We took on soccer’s penalty shoot-out problem.  In knock-out matches that are tied after 90 minutes, the following 30 minutes of overtime is often beset with overly-defensive play due to insufficient incentive to attack.   This means that overtimes often finishes goalless, and that nearly 50% of the time, the match is decided via penalty kicks anyway (put differently: in nearly one of every two ties, overtime fails to achieve the one and only thing it is fundamentally there to do).

We show that an alternative sequence – regulation time followed by a penalty shoot-out followed by overtime – improves attacking outcomes. The qualification is that, while the shootout produces a winner – you still play overtime, with the winner of that winning the contest as currently. It is only when overtime fails to resolve the deadlock that the winner becomes the team that had won the shootout already (think of winning the shootout as worth half-a-goal lead at the start of overtime).

Specifically, we show that the probability of at least one goal being scored in overtime rises by approximately 50% (depending on the underlying characteristics of the match). Exactly how we estimate the effect of a policy that’s never existed is outlined in the paper for those of you who are interested to read further.

Coming back to sequencing, why the simple economic intuition (as well as the data) says this rule change will likely work is the following: there will always be one team chasing the next goal, because they will be eliminated unless they do – they have little else to lose. While the other team may correspondingly become more defensive, we show the net effect to be overwhelmingly positive. Furthermore, what you will no longer get are those overtimes where both teams sit back having jointly overestimated the probability that they will win if it goes to a shootout.

Had Mario Götze spurned that chance just minutes from time in the recent World Cup final, and it had have instead gone to spot kicks, the penalty shootout problem would now be far higher on the soccer agenda. Nonetheless, better public policy (optimal sequencing included) should never be far from the agenda, so I hope to see more studies like this make some impact in the broader public policy debate.

H-Index Boost!

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According to Scopus, my h-index has just hit the heady heights of…wait for it…4. Curiously, my hInorm-index (explanation of numerous common impact metrics here) also becomes 4 simultaneously. According to Harzing’s Publish or Perish, the analogous numbers come in at 9 and 6, respectively. If I was a UK astronomer, I’d surely still be kicking around in Sunday League. However, I’d like to think that these numbers are quite respectable within my own cohort (incomparable across disciplines for numerous reasons). Unrequited thanks to Egon Franck and Marcus Lang for the citation that pushed me over the line.

Sports Symposium

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On Wednesday, I attended a wonderful Sports Symposium event, hosted by La Trobe’s Centre for Sport and Social Impact (CSSI), of which I am a staff member. It was aimed primarily at young hopefuls who wish to make a career in the sports industry. The guest speakers included notable AFL figures Geelong CEO Brian Cook, The Age sports reporter Emma Quayle and player agent Paul Conners (Conners Sports Management). Each of the speakers had some special nuggets of wisdom to impart. ‘Tenacity’ was a big theme for each of them.

CSSI Director Professor Russell Hoye tells me that this is set to become a semi-regular event. I can’t wait to see who is on the bill for the next one. I’ll be there with bells on.

Anti-Tanking Policy in the AFR

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My newspaper op ed piece appeared this morning in the Australian Financial Review (Thursday 31 July), regarding my suggestion to circumvent tanking in pro-sports leagues with reverse-order drafts (see also this earlier post) called: “Stop Tanking: Rank Draft Picks by Finals Exit, Not Ladder“. See p.51 of the hard copy if you have it, or e-mail me a request (the link is gated). The timing is excellent – these things are often talked about long after the incident itself, typically round about when rumours surface of an impending investigation (or even later). Far better to spotlight the issue before the damage might actually occur.

Equality and Diversity Program

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This morning, I completed a 4-hour program on Equality and Diversity Awareness. It followed an on-line module that I had already completed last week (about 2 hours). It was largely a refresher course, one of multiple I’ve completed since undertaking a 3-day full program way back in 1999. This one covered disability, multiculturalism and related issues – the highlight for me was the section on indigenous culture, delivered by Mick Coombes (La Trobe’s Indigenous Employment Coordinator). Very useful – I learned a lot.

These issues are a bit of a hobby horse of mine – I volunteered to act as a Conciliator/Advisor for the La Trobe Equity and Access Unit from 2002-2009 inclusive. On occasion, I dealt with conciliation and mediation cases when the Unit was short-staffed, as part of this role. Check out the poster via the link below!!!

Poster

Policy in the Pub

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Last night, I went to an Economics Society of Australia (Victorian Branch) event that is a wonderful new (henceforth monthly) initiative, called Policy in the Pub. The inaugural speaker at this event at the Elephant and Wheelbarrow in the City was the Grattan Institute’s Jim Minifie, who gave a superb presentation on the interim Murray Report on the Australian financial system. Fortunately, it was well attended by about 35-40 people, including some significant local luminaries in the economist community.

These sorts of initiatives should be lauded as a good attempt to continue to keep our profession relevant and to engage with members of the broader community who may be tempted to engage with us. I’ll be going again in the near future, and I’d strongly encourage current ESA members to consider going to the next one.

More on Penalty Shoot-out Alternative

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Following on from my post on 2 July, I had another newspaper piece in the Australian Financial Review (today, Tuesday 15 July), called: “GOAL! A Better Alternative to Penalty Shootouts“. The link is gated as usual (see p.43 of the hard copy if you have it, or e-mail me a request). It further delineates the economic case for shifting the penalty shoot-out to before extra-time.