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Better Bowl Game Matchups Through Economics!

Today, millions of Americans (who, unlike your humble blogger, are still on vacation) are trading the champagne of December 31st for the six-packs of January 2nd. That’s right: It’s time for college football. Today, Houston and Penn State play in the TicketCity Bowl, Ohio State and Florida play in the Gator Bowl, Michigan State and Georgia play in the Outback Bowl, Nebraska and South Carolina play in the Capital One Bowl, Wisconsin and Oregon play in the Rose Bowl, and Stanford and Oklahoma State play in the Fiesta Bowl. Can academic research tell us what’s most exciting about these marquee matchups?

Of course it can! Leave this one to the economists (naturally): Today’s games represent relatively-higher levels of efficiency. A 2007 paper by three scholars considers the changed system of bowl-game scheduling, which used to rely on “early matching”—that is, setting up bowl games early in the season, before it was clear which teams were really the best. This poor “transaction timing” is actually a common problem in economics. It occurs when “information important for determining match quality evolves over time,” meaning that “transactions arranged before critical information […] becomes available will not be able to achieve matchings as efficient as could be made after the necessary information was available.” That was the case until college football teams began “matching up” for bowl games later in the season. Theoretically, that should have increased the efficiency of the matches. After reviewing the data, the authors report that, in fact, it has: “The chance of matching the best teams has increased, and the result is an increase in television viewership.” Feel free to share this interesting finding with your friends if you’re looking for a good conversation topic during halftime.