Arkansas vs. LSU (No man, it’s Arkansas vs. Texas!)
Sometimes the idea for a research project – or the circumstances leading up to it – is as interesting as the findings. Take Cary Deck and Javier Reyes’ study of college football rivalries, which we will publish a news release about tomorrow. (Advance news: According to the study, which had some limitations based on the dataset, Boise State was the most hated team in 2009. You’ll have to read the release to find out which were the most intense rivalries, but I think you’ll be surprised.)
Several years ago, Deck and Reyes, both U of A economics professors (Reyes is also vice-provost of distance education), attended the Southern Economic Association conference, which that year occurred the same weekend as the annual Arkansas/LSU game. The two teams were competing for the coveted Golden Boot, a pretty trophy and symbol of the game’s most recent victor. The U of A economists were watching the game with colleagues from Louisiana State University. Deck’s observation was that LSU was one of the games that Arkansas badly wanted to win, but a colleague and PhD student (and eventual co-author) at LSU thought fans at her university cared less about the Arkansas game and more about beating other teams.
I and thousands, if not millions, of other American sports fans have had the same conversation in bars and living rooms and workplaces all over the United States. (“It’s Florida/Florida State! No man, USC vs. Notre Dame! Are you crazy, it has to be Michigan vs. Ohio State!”) On this issue, the only difference between the average American sports fan and economists who happen to be football fans is that average Americans agree to disagree – or not and argue about it until the bar closes – while the economists discover their next research project.
“We thought people would be interested in knowing how strong different rivalries are, by an objective measure,” Deck says.
They might. But, when it comes down to hating a rival, they might rather cling to the emotional than accept the objective.
Incidentally, Deck and his colleague were right; their research showed that Arkansas fans have stronger rivalrous feelings toward LSU than LSU fans have toward Arkansas.