Football Analytics

Old School vs. New School: A look into Advanced Analytics

“Old School” vs. “New School”. It’s a debate you’ve probably had a million times. The age-old sports debates arguing over Michael Jordan or LeBron James, Joe Montana or Tom Brady, all aiming to crown one the greatest of all-time. However, there’s a new debate in town. Do analytics actually help you win games? If you asked one hundred people on the internet you’d probably get the same three basic answers: yes, it can help, and some iteration of “I’m not going to use a computer when I have my gut instinct.” All of these have their own place of being both accurate and correct. Obviously different situations and circumstances call for different actions from whoever is the head coach of a team. The key is knowing when to use which method.

Analytics In Sports

Analytics is still relatively new to the general public; many people didn’t have any idea that professional sports clubs were using them until the 2011 film Moneyball. The film showed the story behind how the cash strapped general manager of the Oakland Athletics, Billy Beane, used outside the box thinking to construct a team that won 103 games in 2002. While it may have taken football longer to grasp the idea of analytics than it did baseball or basketball, it is here nonetheless (see the Baltimore Ravens).

Give Your Team an Edj

Enter Frank Frigo. Frigo is the co-founder of Edj Sports, an analytics company that aims to provide football coaches with non-conventional information about how to best manage intra-game decisions. When to go for it on fourth down, is it better to go for 2 here, should you kick the field goal? Frigo wants to help you answer all of these questions with solid, analytics and data-backed answers. While analytics is much more commonplace in football these days, it is still not completely understood or backed by a large number of football coaches. So, to battle this, Frigo came to the 2020 AFCA Convention in Nashville, Tennessee with some current high school and college coaches that use Edj Sports.

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Frigo started the session by first explaining how they breakdown the levels or pieces of analytics. The first piece is the descriptive piece and this includes things like past performances. The second piece is predictive which includes things such as tendencies and win probabilities. For this piece, Frigo described it as, “How do prior observations tell us what we might see in the future?” The final piece is prescriptive which is the idea of how do you take the information provided in the first two pieces and apply it to in-game decisions.

Now Frigo let the coaches currently using analytics explain their experiences. Adam Clack spoke about different ways that using analytics has impacted the way that he makes tough in-game decisions such as when to go for it on fourth down. David Buchanan took a moment to explain how the use of analytics has given him and his staff more ammo to explain to the kids why certain aspects of what they are practicing are so important. Lastly, Kingsley Osei-Asibey explained how the University of Illinois uses analytics in three different phases: game-planning, in-game, and post-game.

They then tackled the next biggest buzzword within the world of analytics, win probability. While each coach gave a great answer on what analytics and win probability means to them, Adam Clack gave a very profound one.

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It was at this point that the panel opened up to questions from the coaches in the audience. The question that most people have is always if I am a high school coach, how much data do I need to have available on my program as well as on my opponents to be able to use this effectively?

At the end of the day, analytics is just another tool aimed at helping football coaches make decisions that will put them in the best position possible to win games. How you use the tool, if at all, is up to you! What’s your edge?

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