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College Football Referee Bias and Sports Betting Impact

Rhett Brymer (), Ryan M. Rodenberg, Huimiao Zheng and Tim R. Holcomb
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Rhett Brymer: University of Cincinnati
Ryan M. Rodenberg: Florida State University
Huimiao Zheng: University of Cincinnati
Tim R. Holcomb: Miami University

Eastern Economic Journal, 2021, vol. 47, issue 1, No 5, 106 pages

Abstract: Abstract Conferences entrust college football referees to impartially officiate games. However, a growing body of research documents officiating biases in sports. We focus on bias among major college football referees. Following a natural experiment approach, we contrast in-conference games with a quasi-control group consisting of games involving teams from different conferences. Specifically, we find significant relationships between the betting line variables—expected game closeness and clear game favorite—and penalties among ACC and former Big East officials that suggests bias toward the underdog team during in-conference games. Additionally, we find home field bias in the ACC and Big XII and bias of game pace in the Big XII and former Big East. We also do a preliminary examination of the biases’ roots. Some biases we pinpoint are, counterintuitively, revenue-inhibiting for certain conferences. Our results show the potential impact on-field referees have on games and the underlying revenue streams for the conferences. They also highlight oft-discussed, but rarely researched, officiating biases at the intersection of game integrity and the commercial goals of the competing programs and the conferences they represent. To lessen such friction, we advocate for centralization of the management and oversight of college football referees. We conclude by explaining how such biases could impact expanded legalized sports betting after the US Supreme Court removed restrictions on state-by-state regulation in 2018.

Keywords: Implicit bias; Sports betting; Referees; Football (search for similar items in EconPapers)
JEL-codes: L83 Z2 (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Date: 2021
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DOI: 10.1057/s41302-020-00180-6

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