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Football, Mathematics, and Science

It is fall...school is back in session...and for some, all weekend thoughts drift to football. Yet, as math teachers, there must be a way to make some connections of mathematics to football.

The obvious connections are...wait, what are they? A good resource is Timothy Gay, a physics professor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln...and a former tackle for Cal Tech. First, he has produced a series of 21 three-to-five-minute video segments on the physics of football...unfortunately, the NFL-sponsored series will be shown only overseas as part of an international sports program called "Blast!"

Also, Gay has written the text The Physics of Football." Though physics supplants mathematics in the title, mathematics is present throughout the book both as a language and as a modeling tool.

Consider these ideas covered in the book:

  • Newton's Laws relative to tackling and blocking
  • The relation between the growing size of linemen and average kinetic energy in the "pit"
  • Modeling the West Coast offense
  • The football in flight--parabolic punts, hang time vs. range, and spiral passes vs. lame ducks
  • Field goal kicking strategies...when, where, angles, and how
  • Modeling a fumbled or bouncing football
Now, when used with students (along with the suggested web sites), the book will have more success if the students are able to explore both the mathematics and the physics. You might even get a coach or two involved!