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by Jason Kerr

What is an acceptable risk?  That’s the question Rider fans were left asking after watching their team lose 29-25 to the Calgary Stampeders on Oct. 26.  With less than a minute left in the first half, Rider coach Corey Chamblin sent his offence back out to attempt a two-point convert after scoring the go-ahead touchdown.  A successful attempt would have put the Riders up by a converted touchdown, but after an incomplete pass, the Riders only led 15-10.  It’s a decision that still has fans talking.

“From a purely statistical view you always go for the single point,” said Michael Kozdron, a probability specialist at the University of Regina and devoted Rider fan. “But you can’t reduce this decision to pure statistics.”

While two-point converts are rare, this season CFL teams are converting on 99 per cent of their single point convert attempts, or PATs (point after touchdown).   Kickers have hit 338 out of 341 PATs, with B.C., Calgary and Montreal providing the only blemishes.  The stats are not completely accurate because the CFL counts a botched snap as a missed two-point convert attempt.  Despite this statistical flaw, the single still remains the surest bet.  However, stats and probability can help only to a certain extent.

“You can use data to help guide future decisions, but it’s just one factor,” said Kozdron. “You have to consider weather, the quality of your kicker, and the psychological impact on your players of missing or making the two-point attempt.”

For Kozdron, this is where risk evaluation comes in, and he says football coaches are paid to evaluate risk logically.  Fans, he says, are too emotionally invested in the game.

“There are serious issues with how our society manages risk,” Kozdron said. “Lots of decisions are made emotionally.”  He says there is a place for emotional decisions, but people need to think with a balance of emotion and logic when evaluating potential risks.

“Fans are extremely emotional and can’t make unbiased decisions, which is different from a coach making a rational decision,” he said.

However, despite pointing out the importance of logical decision making and how easy it is to convert a PAT, Kozdron agrees with Chamblin’s decision.

“Psychologically, the benefit of heading into the half up by a converted touchdown is worth the risk, if you think you can get it,” he said. “But it’s up to the individual coach and situation.”

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