Whoa, Nellie! Empirical Tests of College Football's Conventional Wisdom
NBER Working Paper No. 13596
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.
Published: “Econometric Tests of American College Football’s Conventional Wisdom” (2011) Applied Economics 43 (20): 2493-2518.