How Does Football Relate to Math?

By Susan Lundman

Typically the numbers and words a quarterback calls before the center snaps the ball are random and meaningless, but plenty of numbers do matter in football. Not only do numbers appear on the field itself, but each mark on the field has rules for size and placement; field markings, for example, must be 4 inches wide with no more than 1/4 inch of error. That one rule regarding numbers barely scratches the surface when it comes to football and math.

Numbers on the Field

Simple addition and subtraction occur on every football play. Given that a first down takes 10 yards to reach, each play provides a subtraction-countdown toward that goal, subtracting yards from that magic number of 10. If the quarterback gets sacked behind the line of scrimmage, you need to add additional yards toward the first down onto what the team already needed. What's more, when referees call defensive penalties on successful plays, coaches must decide whether to accept the penalties or turn them down, depending on which choice adds the most yards to the play.

Numbers on the Clock

Fractions come into play when you consider the time segments of a football game, which is divided into four, 15-minute quarters, broken up with two minutes between the quarters, also called periods, and 12 minutes for halftime. But the actual time for each quarter varies with timeouts, clock stoppages for different plays and strategies to conserve time. What's more, halftime actually lasts longer than 12 minutes because the league allows delay times for teams to travel to and from their locker rooms.

Scoring and Strategies

Scoring appears as a straightforward matter of addition. A touchdown garners 6 points; field goals are worth 3; a safety, or an extra point try from scrimmage, earns a team 2; and a kicked extra point is worth 1. Logic and probabilities come into play though when a coach determines how to add those scores together. Trying for 1 extra point instead of going for 2 may be worth it if plenty of game-time remains to score more points -- the strategy is statistically more often successful than not.

Fantasy Odds and Statistics

Both Las Vegas gamblers and fantasy football fans use statistical analysis and simple math to determine the odds that one team will win over another and for the spread, or the distance between the winning team and losing teams' score. Some fantasy fans also use problem-solving algorithms to transform the numbers and statistics of actual players into ratings that the fans use to draft players for their teams.

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