Flagging Seminole Media for Criticizing Penalties, Part 1

The Noles were called for 12 penalties against Wake Forest.

FSU committed 12 penalties against Colorado.

Florida State got caught 12 times against Miami.

According to no less than 7 writers, FSU is suffering from a penalty epidemic.

Guess what?  As many people who are a lot smarter than me have already shown, penalties are not a big deal.  Read on... after the jump


Note:  Huge credit to SMQ and Saurian Sagacity for their work in this area.  Most of this stuff was not done by me.  All I did was bring it to light for more people to discover.

"This team is SO undisciplined!"  "Why do we always do stupid stuff like that!"   "I can't believe this, we have to be the dumbest team in America!!"

Good news for your blood pressure and your marriage:

Penalties do not matter.  The team who commits fewer penalties or penalty yards is not more likely to lose the ballgame than its less culpable opponent.  I am not sure what coach began drilling this into player's heads, but as some very smart men have shown, penalties are not a big deal.  My guess is that penalties frustrated coaches to no end and thus a huge number of coaches began to stress the need to eliminate penalties at all cost. 

Let's give Mickey Andrews credit here, as he was on top of this idea years and years ago.  


Photo Credit:  Tallahassee Democrat

I think Mickey just pays lip service to the media about reducing penalties.  This man knows about penalties.

This article will come as a shock to about 80% of readers.  The other 20% probably already read the following information:

'Fewest Penalty Yards,' which never showed the slightest indication of being important to victory. The complete irrelevance of penalty yardage again comes with the caveat that penalties are situational killers (see Louisville jumping offsides on Rutgers' first ill-fated field goal attempt to win in November or any number of questionable flags - like LSU "holding" to negate a critical early touchdown at Florida, perhaps, or the same call against Missouri late in the Tigers' loss to Iowa State - for a similar example of defeat somehow via flag), but cumulatively, there's no reason whatsoever to sweat a lot of penalties. It's when flags are thrown, not how many.  http://www.sundaymorningqb.com/story/2007/2/12/112212/823#5964872

This chart shows a breakdown of every game in college football, from last year, and isolates what really helps teams win games.

Rank Category Win %
1. Yards Per Pass .785 (241-66)
2. Total Offense .740 (231-81)
3. 3rd Down Efficiency .709 (212-87)
4. Turnover Margin .681 (156-73)
5. Rush Offense .678 (213-101)
6. First to Score .674 (213-103)
7. Yards Per Carry .673 (206-100)
8. Time of Possession .624 (179-108)
9. Pass Offense .556 (173-138)
10. Home Team .539 (126-108)


Fewest Penalty Yards

.405 (119-175)


There are a ton of things Florida State can do to improve its chances of winning, but, that's right, having fewer penalty yards than your opponent does NOT correlate with winning.  If you have fewer penalty yards than your opponent, you will actually lose the game more often than not.  Clearly, I am not arguing that a team gains an advantage from having penalties called on them. 

Why these surprising results then?

Here is a comment that followed  that original article:

That the reason for the negative correlation between  winning and penalty yards is actually pretty simple.  Given that doing the sort of things that draw penalties (holding, blocking in the back, pass interference) help the offending team, and that penalties are called only some of the time and mostly on the more blatant violations (such as holding), then frequent cheating results in two things: 1) winning and 2) getting penalized. 

The team derives a benefit from offending acts that are NOT called.  Essentially, unless referees are determined to throw penalty flags on almost every play, flag-worthy on-field conduct is probably beneficial to the offending team.

The best example of this is the 2003 AFC Championship game, where the Patriots illegally hit and clutched the Colt's wide receivers to such an extreme level that the NFL changed their rules in response.

Here is another chart that illustrates the point quite well (again from above link). 

Winning Percentage of Top 20 Teams Per Statistical Category

1 Pass Efficiency Defense .770 (188-56)
2 Rushing Defense .766 (187-57)

3 Total Defense .736 (178-64)
4 Total Offense .730 (178-66)

5 Third Down Efficiency Defense .725 (177-67)
6 Third Down Efficiency Offense .719 (174-68)

7 Fourth Down Efficiency Offense .682 (185-77)
8 Rushing Offense .664 (160-81)

9 Fourth Down Efficiency Defense .650 (167-90)
10 Turnover Margin .644 (179-99)

11 Passing Offense .641 (157-88)
12 Time of Possession .632 (153-89)

13 Fewest Yards Penalized .522 (126-115)

Draw your own conclusions.

Here is more from Gator Blog Saurian Sagacity:

... the incontrovertible statistical proof indicates that penalty yards do not hurt the team, and that the team with more yards penalized wins more often than not.  http://sauriansagacity.blogspot.com/2007/01/penalties-nearly-irrelevant.html

One other thing to note about your point on penalties.  Pass interference in college results only in a fifteen yard penalty when it's called, so on a long pass where the defender can't make the stop, it's still a better strategy to commit the penalty than give up an even bigger gain...

It is this final comment that I want to address in detail during this series.  Criticizing penalty yards on the whole isn't just imprecise and misguided; it is now proven to be an exercise in futility.

Let's take a look at FSU's penalties in their last 3 games.  I'm going to submit this to you, our readers, and ask that you please leave your thoughts in the comment section.  My Observations, along with the best user takes will follow later in the week in Part 2.  My review will not only attempt to figure out just how much benefit FSU derives from conduct that can lead to penalties, but also what penalties should be encouraged and shunned.  Let's make this a great reader project.  Enjoy!


GM O/ D / ST Penalty Yards Offender
UM O False Start 5 Datko
UM O False Start 5 Datko
UM O False Start 5 Furlong
UM S Kick OOB 5 Esco
UM D DPI 15 Mangum
UM D PF Rough Pass 11 Bradham
UM D DPI 0 (declined)
UM O Holding 10 Sanders
UM S BITB 10 Carr, N
UM S Illegal Kick 6 Powell
UM O False Start 5 # 69 cited
UM D DPI 15 Robinson, J
UC D PF Rough Pass 15 Watson
UC O Delay 5 Team
UC O False Start 5 Reed
UC O Delay 5 Team
UC O False Start 5 Parker
UC O Delay 5 Team
UC O Delay 5 Team
UC D PF (OFF) 15 Carr, Gr
UC D Facemask 15 Watson
UC D DPI 9 Rolle
UC D PF Rough Pass 15 Brown
UC D DPI 11 Rolle
WF S PF 0 ?  Offset
WF D PF Rough Pass 15 Brown
WF O Block 15 Surrency
WF O False Start 5 Greenlee
WF O Block 15 Surrency
WF O PF   15 Parker
WF D SUB D 5 Team
WF D PF (late hit OOB) 15 Rolle
WF O Holding 10 Furlong
WF D Facemask 15 White
WF D Offsides 5 Brown
WF D DPI 15 Garvin
WF O Holding 10 Datko


Log In Sign Up

Log In Sign Up

Please choose a new SB Nation username and password

As part of the new SB Nation launch, prior users will need to choose a permanent username, along with a new password.

Your username will be used to login to SB Nation going forward.

I already have a Vox Media account!

Verify Vox Media account

Please login to your Vox Media account. This account will be linked to your previously existing Eater account.

Please choose a new SB Nation username and password

As part of the new SB Nation launch, prior MT authors will need to choose a new username and password.

Your username will be used to login to SB Nation going forward.

Forgot password?

We'll email you a reset link.

If you signed up using a 3rd party account like Facebook or Twitter, please login with it instead.

Forgot password?

Try another email?

Almost done,

By becoming a registered user, you are also agreeing to our Terms and confirming that you have read our Privacy Policy.

Join Tomahawk Nation

You must be a member of Tomahawk Nation to participate.

We have our own Community Guidelines at Tomahawk Nation. You should read them.

Join Tomahawk Nation

You must be a member of Tomahawk Nation to participate.

We have our own Community Guidelines at Tomahawk Nation. You should read them.




Choose an available username to complete sign up.

In order to provide our users with a better overall experience, we ask for more information from Facebook when using it to login so that we can learn more about our audience and provide you with the best possible experience. We do not store specific user data and the sharing of it is not required to login with Facebook.