A Moment of Science

Computer Coach

Astrophysicists think about things like the origins of the universe, stars and planets, and whether to go for it on fourth down or attempt a long field goal.

Football game from sideline

Photo: Vlastula (flickr)

New software has been invented that could one day help aid college and professional football coaches to help make better play decisions

Astrophysicists spend their time thinking about big things, like the origins of the universe, the behaviors of stars and planets, and whether to go for it on fourth down or attempt a long field goal.

At least that’s the case for Chuck Bower, an Indiana University astrophysicist who has invented number crunching software that could one day revolutionize how college and professional football coaches make tough decisions during games.

With 22 bodies in motion on every play, an NFL head coach has to process a staggering number of details and variables in order to make the right call in crucial situations. However, even the brainiest coach can’t calculate all the odds in his head.

That’s where Bower’s software comes in.

Dubbed ZEUS, the program calls upon statistical data gleaned from every NFL game ever played. Like a powerful chess program, the mighty ZEUS can analyze that data in a matter of seconds in order to calculate the odds that a given play will work.

For example, say it’s fourth down and a yard to go, should you go for it or punt the ball away? ZEUS can almost instantly sift through thousands of similar game situations and then recommend a course of action based on the odds that the play will succeed or fail.

ZEUS isn’t meant to replace human coaches. Like most sports, winning in football depends as much on instinct and feel as it does on statistics and odds. However, statistical probabilities play a role, too and in those do or die situations, ZEUS could one day help turn the tide for your favorite team.

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