The Instigator
Pro (for)
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The Contender
Con (against)
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American football is the most complex and strategic of all popular sports.

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 2/24/2015 Category: Sports
Updated: 2 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 2,064 times Debate No: 70603
Debate Rounds (4)
Comments (10)
Votes (0)




I believe that American Football is the most complex and strategic of all popular sports. There are a few key words I used in this claim.

1. I specifically used the words complex and strategic. This means that football is the most layered and dynamic, and requires the highest levels of strategy and tactical execution to be successful. It does not mean it requires the most stamina or endurance, the toughest players, or the most athletically gifted players.

2. I also stated, "of all popular sports." This means that only popular sports can be used in counter arguments. Popular because I don't want you to bring up some exotic sport that no one has ever heard of or understands. I said sports because it can't be a game (e.g. chess, bar games).

I'm not big on debate rules, so use the rounds however you please. Good luck.


I accept and look forward to the debate.

Pro has set no rules and no specific definitions but they are fairly easily understood words that are open to interpretation but I assume that will be part of the debate. Since it is really a matter of opinion the win goes to the one who gives the most convincing argument in favor of their side and adheres to the other voting criteria.

I will try to convince the voters that football is not the most complex and strategic sport and or that there is another 'popular' sport that is more complex and strategic than football.

I look forward to a good fair debate. I will let you begin with your opening arguments. Good luck.
Debate Round No. 1


I would first like to thank Con for taking this debate.

My first argument will attempt to portray the complexity of American Football. Complexity is generally used to characterize something with many parts where those parts interact with each other in multiple ways (Wikipedia). In other words, complex means many interacting variables. I'd like to focus on four categories that can be used in any sport as an indication of complexity: variety of roles, variety of plays, variety of rules, and variety of ways to score. American Football dominates everyone of these categories.

In no other sport do we see the amount of roles, and especially the difference between those roles than we do in American Football. It is the only sport I can think of in which the offensive players don't transition to defensive players. There are 6 unique defensive roles, and 8 unique offensive roles. There are an additional 22 roles for special teams, for a total of about 36 totally different roles played by different players. These roles require completely different skill sets, play memorization, and physical ability. An offensive lineman has a completely different experience than a wide receiver, and a quarterback in no way mirrors a running back's role. It's almost as if they are all playing entirely different games simultaneously. This is not true for other sports. In soccer, or hockey, or basketball, you could swap two players roles and although the team would struggle, the game would still go on and remain somewhat competitive. A defensive soccer player could play as a forward if they had to. A first baseman in baseball could play as outfielder. But a wide receiver could never be an offensive lineman, nor could a quarterback ever be a running back. The team would be massacred. These roles don't just require completely different knowledge and skill sets, they require completely different body types. For these reasons, there is no sport on the planet that has as much diversity in roles than what we see in football.

This is simple. No other sport has as many play varieties as football. There are anywhere from 500-800 plays in an NFL offensive playbook. Not only is each play different from the other, but they fall into categories that are very different as well. You have passes (slant, deep, screen, fade, swing, flare), you have runs (power, dive, sweep, counter), you have fake run passes (play action), you have fake pass runs (draw), and a variety of trick plays. There are also hundreds of formations proceeding the play including special teams plays. I don't really see how this point is debatable. No other sport even compares to the variety of plays we see in football. The more plays the more complex the play calling and execution.

I'm not 100% on this one, but I think football has more rules than any other sport. If not, it is certainly amongst the top. A large rule book obviously adds to the complexity of a game, making it more difficult to understand, navigate and execute.

You can score 4 different amounts of points in football in 3 different ways. You can score 1, 2, 3, or 6 points. You can score by kicking the ball between two posts (field goal or extra point). You can score by tackling the opposing player in their own end zone (safety). And you can score by bringing the ball into the end zone (touchdown). A touchdown can be scored in two ways, running the ball into the end zone, or catching the ball in the end zone. I can't think of any other sport that has as many different scoring options as football. These variations in scoring add to the complexity of play calling and decision making in a game.

I believe I have clearly and objectively shown that American football is the most complex and layered of all sports. No other sport has more variety in roles, plays, rules, or scoring. In some of these categories, no other sport is even close.
I now turn it over to Con.


You make some very good arguments with many valid points. Yes football is a very complicated sport but I do not think it is the most complicated. I will make an attempt to rebut your statements and use examples of other sports to show that they have more complexity.

First off as no clear definition was first described I am assuming that the complexity in the sport, for which we are arguing, can come from many different angles and variables. Those variables include individual player, team work, coaching, and even scouting. As you stated the definition of complexity can include, but is not limited to, a variety of factors. I will explain how just because something has a variety of factors does not make it complex.

Although football does have a lot of positions and roles that need to be filled in order for the team to function this does not mean it is complex. I think I can even use your own argument against you in that there many roles. The players each have there own role and they don't even have to switch on defense. A lot of the roles are based on repetition. (wide receiver running a route they have ran hundreds of times or a running back running through a hole.) This makes it easier to play the game in that your role is a lot more simple when all you have to know are a few things and the others are irrelevant. This makes the game easier to play, coach, and manage. Drafting players is not as complicated when there are not as many factors that need to be decided on. Coaching players is also not as difficult as you don't need to teach one person too many things.

In rugby most players need to be able to fill certain roles when necessary and make the proper reaction. Every single player in rugby needs to play offense and can immediately need to react to the situation to play defense without stopping to take a drink break. Not only do they need to make a swift reaction but they need to know how to work together as a team on both sides without stopping or slowing down to draw up a play. In soccer, hockey, and basketball the players all need to be able to play both offense and defense while continually playing and working as a team with limited communication. The point guard in basketball must be able to play both defense and run an offense calling plays when needed and reacting quickly to situations. The point guard can't just throw the ball away and try again in another 40 seconds.

I would like to use a metaphor that might come across as absurd but I am just trying to get my point across. Now lets say you take 2 average not extremely educated high school kids and give them a team of average people. (Quantity not important) You give student A 20 tasks to complete but they are all things like cleaning, yard work, painting, etc... You give Student B 1 task. His only task that he can use his team in what ever way he wants is to solve a large Rubik's cube. All I intended to do with this example is show you that just because there are more roles and factors involved does not prove that something is more complicated. I'm sure most people would agree that the 1 task of solving a Rubik's cube is more complicated than the 20 tasks for student A.

While I can't argue that there is another sport with more plays or rules I can point out the a player only has to remember their job in that specific play and often that job can be repeatable.

Very good argument using scoring. I don't think I can name another sport that has as many scoring options as football does and you are right it does add to the complexity of the game but I do not think it is an important deciding factor.
Debate Round No. 2


Con made strong points regarding the complexity of roles in sports. Essentially, Con is stating that other sports are more complex because regardless of the number of roles, every player is required to be more dynamic. I am stating that football is more complex because the roles themselves are more dynamic. Truthfully, this could go either way depending on whether you feel more complexity lies within the variety of roles, or the variety of responsibilities within a role. I suppose both could be used as examples of complexity. The key difference I would point out, regarding this debate, is that I was claiming the sport was the most complex, not the individual player. If you are looking at the entire sport, I would think that the variety in roles takes precedence, as opposed to looking at an athlete where the complexity of their specific role would take precedence. A rugby player could have a more complex role without belonging to the more complex sport. Here an analogy: A microwave is more complex than a spark plug, but a jet engine (which could not function without the spark plug) is more complex than a microwave. You could also say that playing bag pipes is more complex than playing a trumpet. But that conducting an orchestra is more complex than playing bag pipes. In other words, the parts don't have to be complex in order to construct a complex mechanism. That being said, even if voters agree that Con is correct regarding complexity and roles; that's only 1 in 4 categories. I don't think there is any comparing the complexity of football regarding plays, rules, and scoring.

Another thing I wanted to address is Con's notion that a football player only has to memorize their job in a specific play and that it's repeatable, and basically easy. What Con didn't mention is that over 400 unique plays have to be memorized and executed perfectly by every player in order for that play to have chance. It's very different from the fluidity we see in other sports where there is much heavier emphasis on improvisation. In soccer or hockey things can fall apart and breakdown, but still be corrected on the fly successfully. There is far less emphasis on memorization. It's more of a go with the flow atmosphere in which everyone is trying to do the same thing on offense or defence. An example of the difference in difficulty level would be if I were called to go play an MLS game today, as opposed to being called up to play an NFL game. In the soccer match, I would basically know what to do, I just wouldn't do it well. In the football game, I wouldn't have clue. I wouldn't know where to line up, or any idea how to proceed once the ball was snapped. The average Joe playing football would look far more lost than the person playing soccer (although they would both look pretty foolish). Another similar example are the sports we play at my job. We play softball, soccer, and flag football year round. The softball and soccer games require no preparation. None whatsoever. We don't practice, we don't meet up before the games to refresh our game plan. Everyone just knows what to do, and the team with the most athletic players, or hardest hitting batter win the game. Football on the other hand does require preparation. We have to meet before the season to make a playbook. We have to practice once a week and before the game so that everyone is comfortable with the various plays and their roles. As opposed to the other sports, the best teams in the football league are the most organized teams. Simply put, when we start the football season it is much more involved. There are just more things that you have to know in order to move the ball one foot. Without even analyzing it, the football games just seem more complex. It's one of the reasons football is one of the only sports where you don't see pick-up games at parks. How would anybody know what to do without organizing and memorizing plays?

I'll save the strategic aspect of the game for later rounds.


"I am stating that football is more complex because the roles themselves are more dynamic"
I have already explained that the roles in football are not dynamic at all. They are in fact simplistic.

"I was claiming the sport was the most complex, not the individual player"
I am not psychoanalyzing the player. I am analyzing their role, duty, and goal while calculating the complexity.

"the variety in roles takes precedence"
This is like saying that quantity is always better than quality.

A micro wave and jet engine can not be compared to sports.
Conducting an orchestra of 11 people playing hot cross buns is easier than 5 people playing Beethoven. Your analogy's can be used against you if you aren't specific.

"A rugby player could have a more complex role without belonging to the more complex sport"
You can't have a complex sport without complex roles. I'm not saying football isn't complex but just that it isn't as complex as other sports.

"parts don't have to be complex in order to construct a complex mechanism"
It is not about the parts but the role the parts play. 1 basketball player=1 part. He has many different roles through the game he has to perform. A running back only has two possible roles. He can either block or run.

"over 400 unique plays have to be memorized"
I also argued that individually these plays are not that unique and not very difficult to execute.

"other sports where there is much heavier emphasis on improvisation"
This in no way makes the sport less complex.

"There is far less emphasis on memorization"
How many coaches in basketball do you think just tell their players to "go with the flow"? There are so many possible outcomes on a micro and macro level in sports that it is impossible for me to count them. The outcomes are calculated by the coaches and reactions must be memorized and executed instantly when said outcome occurs. This level of memorization happens at more of a micro level than football and is less understood which make it more complex. Also because of the lack of stoppage in play more information must be memorized than in football.

About your argument of being placed into the NFL or MLS I completely disagree. You would be equally useless in both sports. For example on defense you might be a gap on both teams almost like a missing player but that gap could be filled even though there would be a small consequence on both teams. But unfortunately for both of us this argument is unverifiable and should be disregarded.

About your example using pick up games, I find it difficult to really use pick up games in an argument because there are no refs and less rules no matter what sport you are playing. But as for the argument itself, since you used a personal example as an argument I will use a personal example as a counter argument. I have played a lot of pick up games of football and there have been times where people who don't really know how to play join in and it only really takes 60 seconds to explain what they need to do for a specific role. In fact when playing with inexperienced people I notice people make a lot more mistakes in basketball then they do in football. In a football game if someone is over 6 feet tall, fast, can jump high, and knows how to catch a ball they are immediately great wide receivers. In basketball after a quick explanation the person tends to foul a lot on defense and commit a lot of violations on offense. They also fail to have the ability to understand and execute seemingly simple concepts such as boxing out or switching on picks. This is not considering lack of ability like handling the ball but lack of understanding.
If you look at ANA, (analytic aptitude) Football is ranked 5th. While this does not prove anything it shows that the ability to think and use strategy is more important in other sports than football.
Debate Round No. 3



"I have already explained that the roles in football are not dynamic at all."
I should have clarified. I meant that your argument was that the roles themselves were more dynamic in other sports, whereas I was stating the variety of roles in football is what makes it dynamic. Furthermore, regarding complex roles, it could be easily argued that the single most complex and dynamic role in all of sports is the quarterback.

"I am not psychoanalyzing the player."
I wasn't referring to the player, I was referring to the role. I claimed that the sport of football is more complex, whereas you seem to be claiming that the roles in other sports are more complex.

"This is like saying that quantity is always better than quality."
Regarding complexity, quantity is absolutely one of the defining characteristics. The more variables the more complex. A complex mechanism is one that has many different moving parts, regardless of how simple each part (role) may be. Even you stated that the specific roles in other sports are more complex because they require the player to take on more responsibilities. More being the operative word.

"You can't have a complex sport without complex roles."
Of course you can. That's like saying you can't have a complex watch without complex gears. Let's say that hockey has 3 roles, A, B, C, and football has 11 roles, D - N. Even if roles A, B, C are more complex than D-N, the fact that 11 different roles in football have to execute in concert with one another makes it a more complex entity as a whole. At the very least it makes them equally complex, just in different ways. It's like comparing doing one hard thing versus doing many different easy things at the same time.

"I also argued that individually these plays are not that unique and not very difficult to execute."
You could not be more wrong in this regard. The plays are incredibly unique, many showing no resemblance to the others at all. There is far, FAR more variety of plays in football than in any other sport. And because of the amount of moving parts in every play (all the different roles) many plays are very difficult to execute properly. This is why 5 year old's play soccer and baseball, but they don't even start incorporating passing plays into football games until high school.

This will have to be much briefer than I hoped. In short, because of the complexity in football (amount of roles, plays, rules, scoring), we see the highest levels of strategy in football. In no other sport are the coaches more involved with every play than in football. You have the head coach, O-coordinator, D-coordinator, and they are all responsible for choosing every play in the game. The play depends entirely on the situation (score, field position, time, down and distance). In any other sport plays are only drawn up during time outs, and they are very basic in nature (pass to this guy, pick 'n roll, and shoot), then the rest of the game is mostly improvisation, not strategy. In football, the set plays allow the game to proceed like a chess match. Each team has a chance to stop and think about the situation, pick the best play out of hundreds, line up and see who made the better call. Think about how much talk there was about Pete Carrol's passing call in the Super Bowl. I can't think of any other sport in which the coaches decision regarding a specific play is so impactful and scrutinized.

In summary, football is the most complex sport because no other sport has as much variety in roles, plays, rules, and scoring. Even if you agree with Con regarding the roles, that's still 3 of 4 in favor of football. Football is the most strategic of sports for two primary reasons:
1. A large variety of roles and plays allows for a larger variety of strategies, which puts a higher emphasis on strategy.
2. The set plays allow the teams to contemplate and execute their strategy more clearly and effectively.

I would like to thank Con for a solid debate.


"That's like saying you can't have a complex watch without complex gears"
A watch is not a sport. Your example below does not prove anything and only expresses a possibility of something being true which has already been done.

"The plays are incredibly unique" ... "they don't even start incorporating passing plays into football games until high school."
You have claimed simply that they are unique without explaining how or why they are unique. This statement is false while as when I started playing when I was 5 we were running pass plays (even if they were rare). This is not due to complexity but simply arm strength. The same argument can be incorporated into baseball in that 5 year olds only play tea ball instead of pitching. Meaning that your argument shows baseball is more complex.

"In no other sport are the coaches more involved with every play than in football"
Baseball coaches are more involved in every play than in football. They have a decision on what pitch must be thrown and how fast and in what direction. The have a decision on where the players in the field must stand. They coach and advise the batters on where they should look for pitches, where they should swing, where they should aim the ball, and if he should do certain things like hit and run or bunt. They advise the base runners on how far away from the base they should stand, if they should steal or hit and run, and they also make in game decisions on whether the base runner should continue to run home or stop at third. A football coach simply has a pre set play to tell the players what they should do while the complexity of baseball would make it too hard if there were pre set plays.

To conclude I would like to mention that I have argued that basketball, baseball, ice hockey, and soccer are all more complicated than football. If I have done a better job at explaining any one of these is more complicated than football I win this debate. I would like to point out that when rebutting my arguments pro failed to explain why he was right properly instead only stating that he was. He also failed to rebut many of my arguments including an important piece of information that I have provided,

I would also like to point out that Pro accepted BOP in the beginning of the debate and while this is more of an opinion debate it is up to the voters to decide whether Pro was able to show that his sport was more complex beyond a reasonable doubt.

Thank you for this interesting debate.
Debate Round No. 4
10 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 10 records.
Posted by WarDebator 2 years ago
I'll accept.
Posted by WarDebator 2 years ago
I'll accept.
Posted by captmurk 2 years ago
I changed it. Try again.
Posted by footballchris561 2 years ago
I am 19
Posted by captmurk 2 years ago
It should be open, but I did set 2 requirements. You must be at least 20, and have completed 3 debates. Do you meet that criteria?
Posted by footballchris561 2 years ago
go? I still can't accept.
Posted by captmurk 2 years ago
Yes, but the opinion is rooted in facts relating to the various dynamics of the sport. "Football is the best sport" would be more of an opinion piece. But things like complexity and strategic preparation can be measured to a degree.
Posted by TheSymbiote 2 years ago
This is an opinion
Posted by captmurk 2 years ago
Posted by footballchris561 2 years ago
I'll accept. BOP is on you.
No votes have been placed for this debate.