Thesis Defense (2. Motivation)

    I had several ideas for this research, which all basically fell under the large umbrella of how to evaluate teams' performance.

    Breaking that down a little further, the real question was what impacts a team's ability to win? To answer that question, I needed to think about why teams perform differently and who the people are that influence the outcome of a game. This can be addressed with a wide variety of answers. The first and most obvious answer is the players, who certainly impact the outcome of a game.

    What about the refs? The fans of a team that just lost will gladly tell you how the refs impacted the outcome of the game. Speaking of the fans, can they impact the outcome of a game? They might; research has been done on home field advantage, but is that because of the environment that the fans help create or more about the visiting team playing in an unfamiliar city, stadium, time zone, climate, etc?

    What about the front office personnel? The owner? The general manager? Team doctors? Or on the business side of thing. How about the marketing departments? Event management? Stadium ops? Media relations? We're getting further and further away from the center of the action here, but the point I'm trying to make is that there are more things to examine within the realm of sport analytics than just player evaluation despite what popular media would have you believe.

    The argument could be made that coaches' decisions have the largest impact on game outcomes. At the very least, most people would agree that the coaches and their decisions would rank pretty high on the list, especially in key moments and high-pressure situations. An example of a situation like this in football is when a coach must make the decision of whether to kick or go-for-it on fourth down. This is the decision-making process that I am evaluating.

    My research focuses on when coaches in the NFL make decisions on fourth down and whether or not they succumb to a subconscious psychological bias called the representativeness heuristic. So what is representativeness? It's part of Prospect Theory, which in short, explains why people make the decisions that they do. Prospect Theory is comprised of four well-established psychological biases (or heuristics) and the representativeness heuristic focuses on people overweighting new information relative to prior information.

    This research will be useful not only for the coaches, but for the general managers' evaluations of coaches, because if general managers and other high-level decision-makers are more aware of this bias then it could aid them in their decisions when choosing to hire and/or fire a coach.

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Thesis Defense (2. Motivation)