As an example of the broad interests and proposed solutions of Steven J. Brams, a New York University professor of politics, in 2011, he offered an alternative way for the National Football League to determine which team gets the ball first when games go into overtime.
In February, NYU announced that Brams and James Jorasch, founder of Science House, an organization that brings together science and business, adapted some ideas about fair division of goods to take the randomness out of NFL overtime periods.
Most ties in the NFL are resolved with one team winning a coin flip and electing to receive the first kickoff of the overtime period, giving that team an immediate advantage and opportunity to win just by advancing into field goal range.
Brams and Jorasch would dispense with the coin flip. Instead, the teams would bid on where the ball is kicked from by the kicking team, which is typically the 35-yard line in National Football League play.
Under Brams and Jorasch’s rule, the kicking team would be the team that bids the lower number, because it is willing to put itself at a disadvantage. But it would make the kick from the average of the two bids.
According to Brams and Jorasch, bidding to determine the yard line from which a ball is kicked has been proposed before, but no one has ever proposed kicking from the average of the two bids. If a team wanted to get the ball first, it wouldn’t gain anything by bidding too high because a high bid could end with them receiving a kickoff deeper in their own territory.
Teams seeking to merely get the ball first would be discouraged from bidding too high — for example, the 45-yard line — since this could result in a kickoff pinning the receiving team deep in its own territory or forcing the team to settle for a touchback, which offers no chance for a kickoff return and better field position.
Instead of leaving to chance who has the upper hand in the overtime, strategy as crucial as any used during the game would be needed to win.