Freakonomics Applied or Why the SEC is Better than the Big Ten

Submitted by WanderingWolve on December 12th, 2009 at 10:51 PM
    I recently read Freakonomics by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner (and I recommend it).  The premise of the book is in the subtitle, "A rogue economist explores the hidden side of everything."  This is my own little attempt to do just that.  First my inspiration for this post: recruiting and statistics.  Both of these are hot topics in these parts.  I am sophomoric at best when it comes to statistics, I know just enough to be dangerous.  I am less than that when it comes to recruiting.  However, as I've started following it more closely the last year or so (like many of you, what else are we going to do in the absence of a bowl game?) I've noticed a few things.  Here's an observation I've made about what the recruits say about going to a game, "The atmosphere was amazing" or something to that effect when they really like a place.  I've also noticed that the SEC seems to have games later in the day than the Big Ten.  I thought it was just my imagination but then I thought I'd look into it.  So here are the average kick-off times for each of the SEC teams in alphabetical order (I limited it to each team's home games so as to not have duplicate numbers; all times are local):
  • Alabama: 2:39 p.m.  
  • Arkansas: 3:39 p.m.  
  • Auburn: 4:08 p.m.  
  • Florida: 3:38 p.m.  
  • Georgia: 5:15 p.m.  
  • Kentucky: 4:03 p.m.  
  • LSU: 6:30 p.m.  
  • Ole Miss: 3:11 p.m.  
  • Miss St: 2:45 p.m.  
  • South Carolina: 4:38 p.m.  
  • Tennessee: 5:09 p.m.  
  • Vanderbilt: 3:57 p.m.   

    The average kick-off time in the SEC was 4:07 p.m.
    Here's the average kick-off times for each of the Big Ten (again in alphabetical order and local times):
  • Illinois: 1:25 p.m.
  • Indiana: 3:15 p.m.
  • Iowa: 12:41 p.m.
  • Michigan: 1:18 p.m.
  • Michigan St: 1:30 p.m.
  • Minnesota: 1:08 p.m.
  • Northwestern: 12:08 p.m.
  • Ohio State: 2:38 p.m.
  • Penn St: 1:52 p.m.
  • Purdue: 12:08 p.m.
  • Wisconsin: 12:00 p.m.
    The average kick-off time in the Big Ten was 1:16 p.m.  
    That means that games in the SEC start an average of 2 hours and 51 minutes later than games in the Big Ten.  So what?  Well, in the words of Chris Fowler, that's almost 3 more hours for fans to get "well lubricated."  Fans with a few more hours of liquid self-confidence can make games that much more fun.  A better atmosphere would be more appealing to better athletes.
    I know there are other factors as to why the SEC is able to get better athletes.  If the best states to recruit are in the southeast, California, and Texas, then those schools are much closer to home (by mileage or climate).  However, this might be something to think about.
    I don't think unrelated to this is the positive correlation to higher stars being drafted and drafted higher in the NFL.  Perceived better players (real or not) are likely to receive more attention from better teams who have better coaches.  This increases their chances of getting drafted.  I don't have numbers to substantiate this, it's a thought to consider.
    I may be way off but it is interesting.  I know the climate could play into this, starting a game later in the day lets it cool off in the south.  Or playing closer to noon in the midwest during October and November.



December 12th, 2009 at 11:06 PM ^

M y thoughts, fuck osu and go blue. As for kickoff times i think climate has alot to do with it, the big ten doesn't allow games to start after 4 p.m. in november. That plus rednecks are alot more obnoxious when drunk then us civilised midwest folk.


December 13th, 2009 at 6:41 AM ^

Climate has an awful lot to do with start times. Early in the year, particularly during September, you wouldn't want to play an early afternoon day game at many of the SEC schools. It is way too hot to be comfortable baking in the sun.

We get an occasional hot Saturday afternoon in Ann Arbor, but even with that, it seems like more and more start times early in the season are at 3:30, which helps as the sun is well past its peak.

Along with the start time analysis, do a similar study of daily high temperatures and the times the highs are realized. I'd bet there is a correlation for making the case that it makes no sense, if you are talking about fan comfort, to play SEC games mid-day; similarly, Big Ten games, later in the year, are not terribly conducive to playing in the evening, assuming you are talking about fan comfort levels.


December 12th, 2009 at 11:11 PM ^

Interesting idea, especially with the idea of "getting ready for the game." The fans probably do have extra juice and while this is probably a contributing factor, the crowd demographics and stadium structure (to keep in sound) probably play just as big of a role.

On an Alabama blog, I read that the SEC is as good as it is because they play their "athletes" - great high school players who play well both ways - on defense. It's hard to argue with that, because SEC defenses are typically very good while the offenses are mediocre. The defensive line speed up and down the line is remarkable in particular and the rest of the defenses are very good. Defense wins championships and success begets success on the recruiting trail which begets more success.

Recruiting in states with far more high school talent is a massive advantage for the PAC-10 (with California) and the Big XII (with Texas), which are arguably the two top talent producing states, and the SEC with hotbeds in Florida, Georgia, and Louisiana. The Big Ten has Ohio in its region which helps, but with Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State, and Notre Dame, the talent is hard to come by for middling schools without much of a national recruiting pull who are forced to recruit less highly rated players closer to home (MSU, congrats, you win talent-sparse Michigan).

A lot of factors contribute to the SEC "advantage" over other conferences (in my opinion, ESPN hype is the biggest), and your freakonomics theory is an intriguing and probably legitimate factor also.

Michigan needs night games (nah, just kidding.)


December 12th, 2009 at 11:38 PM ^

Interesting theory, very interesting. The time for 'extra lubrication' could be a detriment as well, however. If a team plays poorly, don't you think that the extra lubricated fans would be a little chippier and more likely to boo extensively and at times unnecessarily?

Just playing devil's advocate.


December 13th, 2009 at 2:43 AM ^

I just spent a semester doing a research study on home field advantage in relation to night and day games.

To sum it up:

- I used only BCS conference teams + ND so 66 teams total
- Only counted games against other BCS conf. teams (2091 games total
- Only counted home games that were at the teams main stadium. no "neutral" sites like the Cotton Bowl or bowl games
- I measured home field advantage in terms of winning %
- 2002-2008 seasons
- Games that started after 7 p.m. were considered night games

Now the reason I chose this study is because like most Michigan fans, I want(ed) night games but I'm not so sure anymore.

(I don't know how to make a fancy html table so if that's too difficult to read and you know how to make a table then please let me know)

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

Key points:
- Only 2 conf had higher win % of night than day, Pac 10 and Big East
- Big 10 had the worst night game win %
- As a whole, the home team wins more day (58.13%) games than night games (53.86)

Now there are many factors that can lead to this but a trend I noticed while collecting the data was that night games were generally important or bigger games (ranked teams, rivals, "bigger" teams)which can explain why the win % is lower. With that being said, my next study will be focused on the effect of maize uniforms and rawk music.

Just thought I'd share my findings with the board.

EDIT: One interesting thing to look at is the fact that WVU won 11 out of their 12 night games and the 1 game they lost was last year (when RR wasn't their coach).


December 13th, 2009 at 7:17 PM ^

expected win percentage going into the game? if there is a systematic bias in setting up more evenly matched teams in night games, then that would be a serious problem with your findings.

personally, i would expect nearly zero difference between the two.


December 13th, 2009 at 2:56 AM ^

but I would love to wrestle the Penn State volleyball team naked and see who wins. I'm sure it would be me - but only because I like it rough and tumble. 100 straight wins!!! Hot!

Mark Ingram is the most boring Heisman winner ever! How lame was that. If you disagree... Gino Toretta is number 2.



December 13th, 2009 at 4:52 AM ^

How the F did Wisconsin not play a single mid afternoon/night game this season?

I think this may be another case of correlation vs. causation. Yes, SEC teams have great fans, and yes, SEC footbawl is currently better than Big Ten football, but its probably not because of the later start times.

Football is a different beast in the south. From Ole Miss sundresses to LSU tailgating to open student seating, its just not quite the charm of "let's huddle around in a circle and see who can drink the most" that Big Ten schools provide.

If we gave our fanbase 3-6 hours more before a game, the students would get much drunker, but I doubt the majority of the other fans would drink more to contribute to a much more intimidating atmosphere.

I will say that I enjoy night games much more than day games, even if I do freeze my ass off in October. Iowa, I'm looking at you.


December 13th, 2009 at 7:56 AM ^

I would guess that the SEC average kickoff time would give them more national coverage. In California at 12 noon EST game is 9AM and a 4PM EST game is 1PM.

More national coverage equals more media attention and more attention from HS prospects.


December 13th, 2009 at 9:08 AM ^

I'm with you except for the effect of drunk fans. I just can't see a recruit thinking 'I like school A but school B's fans just drink so much more!' I hope I am not wrong on this.


December 13th, 2009 at 2:42 PM ^

It was a nice article, but the only takeaway is that southern kids dream of playing football in far greater numbers than in the North. That might be societal, it may be a focus on athletics over academics, or a myriad of other reasons, but it does seem like football is a bigger deal farther south than in the midwest. I will also add that in places like Florida and Texas, the weather is significantly warmer all year, meaning more time to practice outdoors and more opportunities to hone a player's skills than in the cold.


December 13th, 2009 at 10:15 AM ^

1)Money. Whatever it takes to get the best coaches, paying the assistants, paying the players they are all for it.
2) Ncaa. Isn't any coincidence that the SEC has had their best decade, at a time when Ncaa enforcement has been lax (see reggie bush)? I talk to SEC fans all the time, their programs are just as bad as always
3) Black athletes. Many of the Big Ten states just don't have many black athletes. In the states that do, they are in large/medium large cities. In the south, they are all over, rural, city, suburbs etc.....and
4) General population shifts in general have brought a lot more people into the south over the last 25 years
5) Alumni...big SEC alumni are VERY involved the programs down here and breath down the neck of the administrations.
6) Academics. Not only are the sec schools academics, for their general student populations, low (compared to the big ten), the grauation rates for the athletes is mostly horrible. In addition, the SEC schools do whatever it takes to get any transcript in...(juco's)
7) Oversignage. While Big ten schools are limited, the SEC schools have had no such restrictions. This has allowed them to take a lot more chances on academically shaky players. Now, that being said, the SEC just puts some limits in on this stuff, so we will see how that works out. But, they just did it prior to theis year.
8) Bowl game sites. hey, they just dont have far to go for bowl games....nearly all are in region.


December 13th, 2009 at 11:36 AM ^

I would agree with the following reasons listed above for the SEC’s strength

1) Money
2) Poor Academic Standards
3) Weak NCAA enforcement

If I was going to come up with an alternative reason along the lines of the things pointed out in Freakonomics I would think about what may motivate 18 and 19 year old males to make a decision. I would go with this.

Top 50 schools - Best looking women
Conference Average Rank
SEC 12.1
Pac 10 20.2
Acc 27.3
Big 12 30.3
Big 10 34.7

I searched “university with best looking women”. After my firewall blocked 14 different viruses I found a list that ranked the top 50 schools. The SEC had spots 4,5,6,8,9 and 10. Michigan ranked 32. Of course the validity of this data is suspect but it does seem to agree with commonly held perceptions.

I now need to go run a full virus sweep on my computer.

Senator Bluetarsky

December 14th, 2009 at 7:50 PM ^

I honestly do not see how racial demographics have appreciable bearing on this question. Athletes are free to move and play in regions other than their home territories if motivated. They may choose not to but last I checked the Chicago-Gary, Muskegon-Benton Harbor, Flint-Detroit and Toledo-Cleveland regions contain diverse demographics rich for recruitment by Michigan. (And Jake Long, Chad Henne, Zoltan Space Emporer, Craig Roh etc. would need very little costumery to pass for Caspar The Friendly Ghost on Halloween night for whatever that is worth.) I am not being PC, just claiming that local demographics have very little influence on the disparate results. Other factors, like weather conditions, history and conference governance, are vastly more significant IMO.


December 15th, 2009 at 3:36 AM ^

African Americans are less inclined to move into colder regions. It's statistically true. The migration is almost always southwards. Also, the weather advantage is that in the south, players can work out outside all months of the year without destroying their lungs.


December 13th, 2009 at 5:30 PM ^

Let me start with this: "That plus rednecks are alot more obnoxious when drunk then us civilised midwest folk." Not trying to pull the English teacher card, but you spelled civilized wrong and should have replaced then with than. (This coming from an Arkansas native which you would immediately stereotype as a redneck. "civilised midwest folk" = afraid to be themselves because of what other people will think of them. Good, good stuff.

Obviously the two best teams in the Big 10 are Ohio State and Michigan. OSU is going through a little better time than Michigan right now, but they still got embarassed by Florida and LSU in the National Championship. Imagine if they would have had to compete against as high of competition as any SEC team throughout the entire year? Haaaaa


December 14th, 2009 at 5:08 PM ^

Yea my grammer sucks I was drunk and posting on my ps3, I used the word prediction bar on the side should have paid more attention to the spelling. My whole family is from arkansas I don't really believe my stereotypical statements, I was being a drunk smartass sorry if I offended. I do think the average fan in the south is more passionite then the average fan in the north, maybe a lack of pro sports in alot of those states has something to do with that.


December 14th, 2009 at 11:03 AM ^

The more interesting statistic is the amount of money being spent on coaches and staffs. My guess is that it isn't even close between the Big Ten and SEC.

The other issue (which has been closed somewhat) is the allowance of oversigning. The SEC's willingness to allow coaches to sign far more players than there are scholarships for was a massive advantage. The 15 open scholarships Michigan has this year would not have happened. The recruit who doesn't pan out is far less damaging when there are a surplus of new guys coming in behind him.

If recruits are analyzed as lottery tickets with various likelihoods of becoming successful, just having more tickets will almost certainly make you more successful.

The geography is somewhat beneficial for southern schools, but there is still more than enough talent in Ohio, Pennsylvania and other parts of the midwest to field dominant programs at M, OSU, PSU and ND. It's just that three of those programs have suffered from being under coached for serious stretches of times in the last 10-12 years.


December 14th, 2009 at 11:13 AM ^

The irony of comparing this facile analysis, based entirely on conjecture and correlation with absolutely no rational basis for asserting causation, with that of freakonomics should be obvious. Start times are not the reason SEC teams beast us all the time: money, superior recruiting bases, and better coaches would be a good place to start.

Avg. start time at USC (adjusted for their time zone) is likely similar to that of many Big Ten teams. They seem to consistently whip our asses, across the board, even in down years.

Super J

December 15th, 2009 at 6:46 AM ^

A select few have a losing record against the SEC. Ans USC never has a game that starts before 3:30 eastern time. The big ten is wrong in not playing later games. ABC wants primetime games and the Michigan loss at Iowa was a great showcase game for the big ten. Michigan can vault with a few wins beyond the SEC teams in ratings. Lets face it the SEC is over rated. I know the recent titles should say other wise but some of those teams should never been in those games. Kudos to them for winning but they need to thank the system that favors the SEC. Argue with je and I will site this fact Ingram ran against 1 top 40 rush defense and Gerhart ran against 5.


December 14th, 2009 at 11:26 AM ^

have an unfair bowl advantage over the Big Ten.

1) Bowl game is usually almost always a home game
2) Far less travel
3) No time zone changes
4) Their teams are used to the heat where the Big Ten teams have been in cool to cold conditions for 2 or more months.

In a playoff system, I think Georgia Tech would have big problems in Iowa in December as would LSU up at Penn State.

Zone Left

December 14th, 2009 at 12:35 PM ^

I like the economics tilt there, but there is a much more obvious correlation than time for the Big 10's weakness. The Big 10 footprint has been losing population for years to the South and Southwest.

Air conditioning has made those states comfortable enough to live in during the summer months, so therefore this is air conditioning's fault! Seriously, there are a lot of economists who think that air conditioning has changed how and where America lives.



December 14th, 2009 at 12:42 PM ^

You could also add increased exposure as a result of the later start times to your argument since people on the west coast usually have to wake up pretty early to catch the Big 10 games.