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It's a common strategy in most levels of football to call a time out shortly before the ball is snapped prior to a field goal. This is called icing the kicker (as it makes the kicker wait through the time out to kick the field goal) and the idea is to cause the kicker to have to wait longer and either over think about the kick or damage his warmup in some way so he is less prepared to kick the field goal.

Does this strategy actually work?

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According to NFL.com's Freakonomics series, no.

In their book Scorecasting, Tobias J. Moskowitz and L. Jon Wertheim marshal the most compelling evidence to date on the subject, analyzing "pressure" kicks from 2001 through 2009 while controlling for distance of the field-goal attempt. They found that icing the kicker certainly doesn't produce the desired effect, and in some cases might even backfire.

Icing seems to give a slim advantage when there are less than 2 minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, but not less than 15 seconds.

Here's their data:

Field goal success whether opponent calls a timeout or not

(Percentage of kicks made)

Situation                                       All kicks  Iced   Not iced
Less than 2 min. left in fourth quarter or OT   76.2%      74.2%  77.6%
Less than 1 min. left in fourth quarter or OT   75.5%      74.3%  76.4%
Less than 30 sec. left in fourth quarter or OT  76.5%      76.0%  76.9%
Less than 15 sec. left in fourth quarter or OT  76.4%      77.5%  75.4%

A recent Grantland article suggests that the only reason coaches still try icing is that from their standpoint, it's low-risk and high-reward. Everybody "knows" icing the kicker is what to do, so if they try and fail, it's no big deal, while if they try and succeed, they're "geniuses" – even though the data points more towards luck.

The NFL has banned calling two or more consecutive timeouts; I don't know if that would be more effective or not, but it would certainly be annoying to fans.

  • Maybe it's time to start duking them out. Make them think you're going to ice them, but don't? :) – corsiKa Feb 9 '12 at 17:50
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    Do you know if there are there any actual statistical tests associated with those percentages? – kmm Feb 9 '12 at 23:49
  • @Kevin: You're wondering how significant the results are? I don't know for certain, but I do know that there are 267 games per year counting playoffs, so the study should cover 2403 games. That should be enough to at least give a fair level of certainty that icing does not help. – Michael Myers Feb 10 '12 at 0:02
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    Isn't this data saying the exact opposite? If iced you make more of the time when not iced, unless there's 15sec or less left?? – ACD Sep 18 '14 at 16:55
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    @MichaelMyers How are you missing this. You said this: "The one situation in which icing might confer a slim advantage: When there are fewer than 15 seconds left in the game." The data says the exact opposite and that there's actually a higher chance of making it in that scenario. – ACD Sep 19 '14 at 12:30

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