Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science in Engineering Management (MSEM)


Engineering Management

First Advisor

Diane Evans


The purpose of this paper was to investigate what advantages, if any, an analytical approach using historical data could have in guiding critical game decisions in order to maximize a team’s chances of winning. The analytical approach described in this paper involves using expected point values that correspond to an offensive team’s location on the field and historical first down conversion rates. From this information a decision is made that chooses the fourth-down option that yields the highest amount of expected points. Using historical, data a fourth-down Strategy Sheet was developed based upon expected point values. The Strategy Sheet was used in a simulation and comparison studies, which compared actual values to expected values. Both studies showed with statistical significance the developed analytical approach outperformed traditional football strategy. After determining the validity of the analytical approach, the next step was to determine how often coaches abide by the analytical approach. The results from a survey given to 104 coaches found that a majority, 61.5%, make decisions that disagreed with the analytical approach. The author argues the reason that coaches underutilized analytics was due to multiple biases and the Ellsberg paradox. Overall, this study of fourth-down decision making has concluded that analytics are beneficial in guiding decision making, and current coaches underutilize them.

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Engineering Commons