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Football-nomics in One Newsletter

Football-nomics in One Newsletter

If you are a podcast fan in general (meaning, you go beyond the single greatest podcast on the internet) - I highly suggest you check out Words & Numbers - it is co-hosted by an economist and  a political scientist and they get into all sorts of topics. I have listened to all 257 episodes. It's that good.

The latest episode discussed the time value of money. It hit on a few topics that I think are relevant to collegiate athletics, but it also in general.

Time Value of Wins

The latest episode was discussing the idea of the time value of money - the concept that money in hand today is worth more than the same amount of money in hand tomorrow. This is true because of inflation, personal preference (a bird in hand), ability to put that money to work, and a number of other reasons.

This value is also subjective - like all things. When making a financial decision, we always evaluate what rate of future return is worth putting that money away versus being able to spend it today.

The flip side of this is that with every passing year, money we had in the past is also less and less impactful on us. Wins and seasons are no different.

We don't know what the future holds for any program - so the promise of future change must be pretty powerful for us to be okay delaying it or hitting the reset button on an entire coaching staff. The famous "Stanford Marshmallow Experiment" was designed to test so-called "will power" by giving the kid an option to wait and if they did they would get a second marshmallow. But this misses the subjective nature of it all - for one child a second marshmallow is tempting enough.

For another it would take 20.

And that isn't some moral treatise on the advantages of one now vs 20 later - if I'm not craving a marshmallow later, than the 20 later is worthless to me.

But like most kids ate the one marshmallow now, most fans want to win today. When things go sideways, some will say hitting the reset button will incur a new learning curve and things may end up worse (see: half of BYU fans in 2017-2019 who wished Bronco had never left). Others will say it's worth it (see: the other half of BYU fans who now looking back think Kalani is a much better coach than Bronco and more suited to the future).

As far as building a program, the half-life on wins and seasons is very low. If you don't chain them together to evolve from being a great team to being a great program they are especially meaningless.

In 2016, Western Michigan went undefeated and won the MAC before ultimately losing to Wisconsin in the Cotton Bowl. You probably haven't thought about that game or their season since 2017 - and to everybody but fans of the Broncos and PJ Fleck's bank account, it carries zero value. It isn't helping them in recruiting. It isn't helping them win games. The donor support spiked and returned to baseline.

I would compare BYU's 1984 National Championship to this, except Utah fans care equally as much about talking about it, so it seems to not be an exact fit.

This brings me to my point of all this: eat the marshmallow, today.

We have no idea what next season or the season after will be like. Injuries, transfers, changes in the game, coaching turnover. Consistent program success is extremely hard to maintain, so live it up while you can. Enjoy the games as they are played, and don't sweat the losses because if magical seasons don't matter 3 years from now, that random loss will matter even less.

Hazlitt's One Lesson and the Playoff

If you have not read the book "Economics in One Lesson" by Henry Hazlitt, I highly recommend it. The premise of the book (the one lesson) is boiled down in the first chapter:

“The art of economics consists in looking not merely at the immediate but at the longer effects of any act or policy; it consists in tracing the consequences of that policy not merely for one group but for all groups.”

As playoff expansion talks go on, it is mind boggling to me that it has not been finalized yet. The ACC is saying they are fine with the current set up despite Clemson being their only program with a prayer of making it. The PAC only wants to expand if it guarantees P5 champs instead of the top 6 champs, despite not making it at all since 2016. It seems like a lot of cutting of their nose to spite their face, but why?

Football fans were ecstatic when we got a playoff because in theory it would open things up more than the BCS era did, but the result was the exact opposite - a committee that only serves to protect the blue bloods replaced the most objective format for selecting a champion the sport had ever known.

And while we are excited about NIL and players getting to actually earn on their merit, it will also have negative consequences on the current feel of the game. Well, I shouldn't say negative, but the game will feel more professionalized, for better or worse. It may be a net positive.

We have no idea what the future impacts of a playoff format change will be, we can all make our best guess. But everything is so tightly wound together that that playoff change will somehow affect a D3 coaching staff when teams get impatient at missing the now easier-to-get-into playoff and fire a coach. Nothing happens in a vacuum, but we can take a step back and try to make our best guess at it.

Push come to shove, 2021 was awesome. Fantastic season with a lot of highs. Don't focus on the lows, because the lasting memory will be Jaren Hall running down the sideline (only for the TD to get called back) and Tyler Allgeier doing his tomahawk chop.