NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH

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

Trevon D. Logan

NBER Working Paper No. 13596
Issued in November 2007
NBER Program(s):   DAE

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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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w13596

Published: ā€œEconometric Tests of American College Footballā€™s Conventional Wisdomā€ (2011) Applied Economics 43 (20): 2493-2518.

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