While football fans are abuzz about brothers Jim and John Harbaugh facing off in next week’s Super Bowl, one statistician has put the unique event into perspective.
Kathy Ensor, a member of the American Statistical Association (ASA) and the statistics department chair at Rice University, has calculated the odds of brothers coaching against each other in the season’s biggest game at 1 in 255 when the brothers are head coaches in different conferences of the National Football League.
The odds get longer when the field of candidates is expanded to encompass all NFL head coaches, the 64 offensive and defensive coordinators, six former NFL head coaches, 68 coaches at major college football programs who have the potential to become an NFL coach and 12 other position coaches who could become head coach of a team, says Ensor. With these factors at play and only one set of brothers in the pool, the odds jump to 1 in 11,175.
But that’s not the end of the story. The odds go off the charts when coaches at all skill levels and potential future coaches are factored into the calculations, she explains.
"Any way you calculate it, the odds are long and get longer as the pool expands," says Ensor. "This was a fun back-of-the-envelope exercise. No matter the odds, I am looking forward to Super Bowl Sunday and seeing which Harbaugh brother comes out the victor. The outcome of the game is not something for which I want to calculate odds."
About the American Statistical Association:
Headquartered in Alexandria, Virginia, the American Statistical Association is the world’s largest community of statisticians and the second-oldest continuously operating professional society in the United States. For more than 170 years, the ASA has supported excellence in the development, application and dissemination of statistical science through meetings, publications, membership services, education, accreditation and advocacy. Its members serve in industry, government and academia in more than 90 countries, advancing research and promoting sound statistical practice to inform public policy and improve human welfare. For additional information about the American Statistical Association, please visit the ASA website at www.amstat.org .