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Anomalies in Tournament Design: The Madness of March Madness

  • Robert Baumann

    ()

    (Department of Economics, College of the Holy Cross)

  • Victor Matheson

    ()

    (Department of Economics, College of the Holy Cross)

  • Cara Howe

    (Department of Economics, College of the Holy Cross)

Tournament design is of crucial importance in competitive sports. The primary goal of effective tournament design is to provide incentives for the participants to maximize their performance both during the tournament and in the time period leading up to the tournament. In spectator sports, a secondary goal of tournament design is to also promote interesting match ups that generate fan interest. Seeded tournaments, in general, promote both goals. Teams or individuals with strong performances leading up to a tournament receive higher seeds which increase their chances of progressing further in the tournament. Furthermore, seeding ensures that the strongest teams or players are most likely to meet in the final rounds of the tournament when fan interest is at its peak. Under some distributions of team or player skill, however, a seeding system can introduce anomalies that could affect incentives. Our analysis of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament uncovers such an anomaly. The seeding system in this tournament gives teams with better success in the regular season more favorable first round match ups, but the tournament is not reseeded as the games progress. Therefore, while higher seeds progress to the 2nd round of the tournament at uniformly higher rates than lower seeds, this relationship breaks down in later rounds. We find that 10th and 11th seeds average more wins and typically progress farther in the tournament than 8th and 9th seeds. This finding violates the intended incentive structure of seeded tournaments.

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File URL: http://college.holycross.edu/RePEc/spe/BaumannMathesonHowe_MarchMadness.pdf
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Paper provided by International Association of Sports Economists & North American Association of Sports Economists in its series Working Papers with number 0910.

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Length: 16 pages
Date of creation: Oct 2009
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:spe:wpaper:0910
Contact details of provider: Web page: http://www.cdes.fr/index.php?id=fr69

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  1. TA. Rhoads & S. Gerking, 2000. "Educational contributions, academic quality, and athletic success," Contemporary Economic Policy, Western Economic Association International, vol. 18(2), pages 248-258, 04.
  2. Stefan Szymanski, 2003. "The Economic Design of Sporting Contests," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 41(4), pages 1137-1187, December.
  3. Tucker, Irvin III & Amato, Louis, 1993. "Does big-time success in football or basketball affect SAT scores?," Economics of Education Review, Elsevier, vol. 12(2), pages 177-181, June.
  4. McCormick, Robert E & Tensley, Maurice, 1987. "Athletics versus Academics? Evidence from SAT Scores," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 95(5), pages 1103-16, October.
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