The practice of calling a timeout a split-second before an opponent snaps the ball for a crucial field-goal attempt has always struck this grouch as a bush league tactic, but the New York Times’ Judy Battista prefers to calls it, “one of the oldest bits of gamesmanship in football.”  And according to a September study by University Of San Diego adjunct professor of psychology Nadav Goldschmied, Ph. D., it’s very effective. So much so, there’s not much argument for not trying it whenever there are time outs available.  From Battista in Christmas Day’s Times :

Goldschmied (above) examined field goals over six seasons, 2002 to 2007. He identified 273 attempts that he considered œpressure kicks, those attempted in overtime, or with one minute or less remaining in regulation when the kicking team was tied or trailing by 3 points or fewer.

Of the 163 field-goals attempted when a timeout was not called before the kick, 80.4 percent were successful. But in the 110 cases when the kicker was iced, the success rate dropped to 66.4 percent, a 14 percent difference that Goldschmied ” and probably every coach in the N.F.L. ” considers significant.

Not surprisingly, kickers were more successful when their team called the timeout (83.3 percent), than they were when the opposing team did (64.4 percent). That is an indication that it is the element of surprise and disruption to the routine, not merely the extra time to think about the stakes, that causes the difficulty for kickers. The study found the success rate after icing was not affected by home-field advantage or the kicker™s years of experience.

œI was very surprised at the effect, Goldschmied said. œTwo things made a difference in successful field goals: distance of kick, which we expected, and the icing variable. The one thing is that there is rumination; it gives you enough to think about what is going to happen if you miss. I think maybe an additional mechanism is that you have a kicker about to kick, he™s ready and then they wait until the end and then ask for a timeout. Maybe the preparation itself is taxing.