In an early key college football matchup, the 8th ranked Ohio State Buckeyes lost to the 3rd ranked USC Trojan's last evening by a score of 18-15. A number of reasons will be given for the defeat and many will be valid. One key decision likely to be overlooked by most observers was Ohio State Coach Jim Tressel's decision in the second quarter — when faced with a 4th and goal from the Trojan's half-yard line — to kick a fieldgoal.
Conventional wisdom holds that it is always better to "put some points on the board." As with so much "conventional wisodom," this little tidbit is wrong. In the book, "The Wisdom of Crowds," an economist studied over 1000 "4th and short" situations — and after taking into consideration everything from the odds of scoring to field position to "the loss of momentum" — determined that in 92% of the cases, football coaches would have been better off "going for six point" instead of opting for three. In other words, in more than 9 out of 10 cases, the head coach made a decision that was detrimental (in probablistic terms) to his team's chances of winning.
The reason for this — and so many other poor decisions in life and business — is that people are "loss averse;" and Ohio State and other football teams are likely to lose more games in the future until they can unlearn this destructive behavior.
To wit, in the first quarter of the game, USC's coach, Pete Carroll, when faced with his own 4th-and goal opted to go for it on 4th down. He was successful. Had Jim Tressel done the same thing the odds are favorable that the Buckeyes would have scored 4 additional points — or enough to alter the outcome of the game.
Again, until conservative coaches unlearn this behavior, look for coaches such as Pete Carroll and Bill Belichik — who have already unlearned this behavior — to win more games.
For other sports-related unlearning madness, read these old posts: