Sunk Costs and the Tuck Rule
Play the hand you’re dealt.
This morning I rewatched a fun ESPN “30 for 30” show about the tuck rule and the role it played in the New England Patriots’ (aka “The New England Economists” according to my University of Western Ontario mentor, economist John Palmer) 2002 playoff victory over the Oakland Raiders.
In the show Tom Brady and Charles Woodson sit on Brady’s couch and watch the key play with 1:40 left in the 4th quarter. Oakland is ahead 13-10 and if Brady’s loss of the ball due to Woodson’s tackle is a fumble, Oakland wins. But the refs look at a replay and decide that the tuck rule applies. The Patriots go on to win and make it all the way to Brady’s first Super Bowl win.
I could tell you all about the fun interaction between Brady and Woodson where at times they act like 14-year-old boys.
But I want to make a point about sunk costs.
Many of the Oakland defense players felt, understandably, cheated by a bad call. It wasn’t a bad call; it was good call to enforce a screwy rule. One player admits that because they felt cheated, they lost their intensity. A New England Patriot player who is interviewed, Tedy Bruschi, I believe, makes the point that Patriots coach Bill Belichick was always good at getting the players to accept the hand they were dealt, put it way, and play from there. Belichick, in short, recognized that sunk costs are sunk.
Extra credit: What subject did Belichick major in when he attended Wesleyan College?
Feb 5 2023 at 9:08am
He studied that human propensity to truck, barter, and exchange
Feb 5 2023 at 9:51am
I’m not sure the rule was appropriately applied.
Reply requires clear evidence the call was wrong. That is, the burden of proof is heavily in favor of keeping the status quo.
The question in the tuck rule is whether Brady had effectively stopped his passing motion and had “tucked” the ball.
looking at the replay, it is close. It isn’t being held quite like how one holds the ball normally. But the passing motion clearly had been completed (eg the nose of the ball is pointing directly into the ground). I’m not sure it met the definition of tucked and not sure it didn’t. Given the burden of proof, I believe the call should have stood.
Feb 5 2023 at 1:31pm
The Tuck rule, Spy-gate, Deflate-gate. The legacy of this Patriots team has certainly been sullied by a great deal of controversy. Walt Coleman, the referee who reviewed the Tuck Rule play and overturned the call, was (fortunately for him) never assigned another Raiders game for the rest of his career. It has since been speculated that he was a dyed-in-the-wool communist.
I, too, believe the Raiders team fell victim to the sunk cost effect, or Concorde Fallacy. By dwelling on what they perceived was a bad call and refusing to “accept the hand they were dealt”, one might say they decided to fold.
Incidentally, Brady posted a video on Twitter last year admitting it could have been a fumble:
Grand Rapids Mike
Feb 5 2023 at 4:14pm
Belichick’s undergrad degree is econ.
Grand Rapids Mike
Feb 5 2023 at 4:29pm
It should be noted that various commentators have noted that Belichick has applied Marginal Analysis in the management of the NFL salary cap. In managing the budget or budget line constraint, he let go to free agency or did not resign notable high cost players who were carefully replaced by more lower cost but effective players to maximize the team’s potential ie the highest isoquant, given the budget line. Of course it always easy with Brady as the QB.
Feb 6 2023 at 9:02am
You are right that it always has been easy with Brady as QB, but the defense is always near the top. Even this past year, we ranked in the top 10 in defense.
Grand Rapids Mike
Feb 6 2023 at 12:02pm
Somewhat off topic, Belichick thinking process did not sink in to the two Belichick grads that made there way to the Detroit Lions as GM and Head Coach. They made serious draft pick mistakes and unfortunate trades. The Head Coach was terrible. Both are gone now.
Feb 6 2023 at 1:00pm
And back with the Patriots lol
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