The Not-So-Secret Math of Football
Hut, hut, HYPE! For so many of us, back to school also means back to football. What’s better than Friday night games, hot dogs and hot chocolate in the bleachers, a little good-natured heckling of your rivals, and… math?
You read that right. Whether you like it or not, football kind of runs on math — so if you’re uninterested in math class but very interested in football, this one’s for you! Give us a few minutes to dive into the math behind your favorite sport, and you just might develop a new appreciation for both.
Let’s start with the fundamentals of both math and football. Maybe it’s obvious (or maybe it’s hidden in plain sight), but one of the most basic ways that math shows up in football is in scoring. A touchdown is worth 7 points, a field goal is worth 3 points, and a safety is worth 2 points. That means scoring at its core is actually just the addition of these values! Both you and your team need to know basic operations if you want to tally up points and figure out how close you are to victory.
For example, if you say a team is down by 10 points, you just performed subtraction without even batting an eye. Want to really impress yourself? Knowing your team needs a touchdown and a 2-point conversion in order to tie the game is actually some low-key algebra! So if you can say that with confidence while watching the game, who’s to say you can’t tackle math class with that same confidence?
Geometry & Trigonometry
The math of football goes beyond scoring — there’s actually some more advanced math woven throughout the game, too! Besides the fact that the field itself is a rectangle, a great example of geometry in football is the kicking, which is all about angles. When a kicker is trying to make a field goal, they need to consider the distance to the goalpost, the direction of the wind, and the angle of the kick in order to be successful. Shapes and angles and vectors, anyone?
You might also see some geometry if you look at offensive and defensive routes, which are based on specific angles to determine effective plays. Have you heard a commentator say that someone “took a poor angle”? What they’re really saying is that they missed a tackle due to a miscalculation of the best geometric move. So if you think that geometry lesson isn’t important for your next football game… think again!
Much like you’ve heard coaches and commentators mention angles, you’ve also probably heard them talk a lot about stats (we’d be lying if we said our ears don’t perk up at the mention of statistics!). That’s because there’s so much math used in the evaluation of football players. Quarterbacks are assessed based on their pass completion percentage, running backs are judged on their yards per carry, and wide receivers are rated on their catches per game. Besides the calculation of these metrics (averages! fractions! percentages!), there’s so much math in tracking the changes and projections of each player’s performance — which is where statistics comes in. That means if you’re talking about your favorite player’s average and comparing it to years past, you’re actually using math and statistics in real life!
You might also use statistics if you’re calculating odds or forecasting as part of a fantasy football league — so don’t zone out during your next stats lesson, because it just might help you show up your friends this season.
We all know football requires many different skills, but we don’t usually talk about how math is one of them. Does it make football less cool to think about it as a bunch of math? We don’t think so. Does it make math even cooler when you think of it as the basis of football? Probably. Should you feel even smarter knowing that you’re actually doing math on the fly throughout the whole game? Heck yes you should.