By Michael Spencer

DENVER (CBS4)– A group of researchers and the University of Denver is trying to put an end to the hottest debate in football – what should teams do on 4th and short?

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“In my opinion, you should always go for it,” said DU professor Ryan Elmore, only half-joking.

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Elmore, professor Ben Williams and DU grad student Will Palmquist are currently researching the benefits of going for it on fourth-and-short compared to punting. The trio has run thousands of simulations studying expected points, and while their research won’t be published until later in 2020, the results are becoming clear.

“I don’t want to misstate the conclusions,” said Elmore. “I think the results show that you should basically go for it if you have 4th and 1 or 4th and 2, even if you’re down close to the other team’s goal line.”

Palmquist, who is a goalie on the DU soccer team, took Elmore’s class during undergrad, and enjoyed the class so much that he chose to work with him again for his senior thesis.

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“This isn’t a new idea. A lot of people have looked at NFL 4th downs and coaches decision making,” said Palmquist. “We’ve kind of gone along and found similar things to what other people have pointed out, that NFL coaches tend to be a little too conservative.”

So the question is, “Why don’t coaches go for it more often?”

“People are risk averse,” said Elmore. “Just naturally. If you go for it and the outcome, even though the bad outcome is less likely, if that happens then it hits you harder than a good outcome.”

“Loss aversion and job security,” added Palmquist, although the trio is hopeful their research can persuade coaches that going for it, while difficult, might actually be the best decision.

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“Maybe it’ll shift the focus on coaches on why are you being so conservative? It’s already started that shift. It’s probably going up from there.”

Michael Spencer