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Whoa, Nellie! Empirical Tests of College Football's Conventional Wisdom

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  • Trevon D. Logan

Abstract

College football fans, coaches, and observers have adopted a set of beliefs about how college football poll voters behave. I document three pieces of conventional wisdom in college football regarding the timing of wins and losses, the value of playing strong opponents, and the value of winning by wide margins. Using a unique data set with 25 years of AP poll results, I test college football's conventional wisdom. In particular, I test (1) whether it is better to lose early or late in the season, (2) whether teams benefit from playing stronger opponents, and (3) whether teams are rewarded for winning by large margins. Contrary to conventional wisdom, I find that (1) it is better to lose later in the season than earlier, (2) AP voters do not pay attention to the strength of a defeated opponent, and (3) the benefit of winning by a large margin is negligible. I conclude by noting how these results inform debates about a potential playoff in college football.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 13596.

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Date of creation: Nov 2007
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Publication status: published as “Econometric Tests of American College Football’s Conventional Wisdom” (2011) Applied Economics 43 (20): 2493-2518.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:13596

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  1. M.Utku Unver, 2004. "Unraveling Yields Inefficient Matching: Evidence from Post-Season College Football Bowls," Working Papers 259, University of Pittsburgh, Department of Economics, revised Jan 2004.
  2. Matthew Rabin, 2002. "Inference By Believers In The Law Of Small Numbers," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 117(3), pages 775-816, August.
  3. Joel L. Schrag, 1999. "First Impressions Matter: A Model Of Confirmatory Bias," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 114(1), pages 37-82, February.
  4. George Loewenstein, Ted O'Donoghue and Matthew Rabin., 2000. "Projection Bias in Predicting Future Utility," Economics Working Papers E00-284, University of California at Berkeley.
  5. Ray C. Fair & John F. Oster, 2002. "College Football Rankings and Market Efficiency," Cowles Foundation Discussion Papers 1381, Cowles Foundation for Research in Economics, Yale University, revised Mar 2005.
  6. Lebovic, James H. & Sigelman, Lee, 2001. "The forecasting accuracy and determinants of football rankings," International Journal of Forecasting, Elsevier, vol. 17(1), pages 105-120.
  7. James Buchanan & Yong Yoon, 2006. "All voting is strategic," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 129(1), pages 159-167, October.
  8. Ray Fair & John Oster, 2002. "College Football Rankings and Market Efficiency," Yale School of Management Working Papers amz2377, Yale School of Management, revised 01 Aug 2007.
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