Pats’ Belichick played the right odds, Harvard economist says

November 17, 2009

belichik1Bill Belichick has been crucified metaphorically by many pundits and fans for his gamble late in a National Football League game against the unbeaten Indianapolis Colts, but one top economist says the coach many previously called a genius made the right decision Sunday even if it backfired on him.

Belichick chose to have the Patriots go for a first down late in the fourth quarter with his team deep in its own territory and clinging to a lead on the road. New England failed to convert and the Colts immediately drove for the winning score in its 35-34 victory. And the second guessing began.

However, Greg Mankiw, former chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers under President George W. Bush and now an economist at Harvard University, said on his blog that sometimes even the optimal strategy fails.

“It did not work out well in this particular case, and Belichick is coming under some heat for his call,” Mankiw said. “This does not mean … Belichick (is) wrong. Some strategies that fail ex post might be optimal ex ante. Randomness is a fact of life, even if Patriots’ fans do not fully appreciate it.”

Belichick defended his decision again on Monday. He should take heart that most people face criticism in their lives, including Mankiw, who in 2004 came under heavy fire for saying outsourcing of U.S. jobs to workers overseas may benefit the U.S. economy.

(Reuters photo by Brent Smith)

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