Does College Football Cause Higher Crime? A Guest Post

A few days ago, Levitt blogged about an interesting study finding that violent movies reduce crime (at least in the short run). The reason, according to the study’s authors, Gordon Dahl and Stefano DellaVigna, is simply that more violent movies means fewer drunken louts on the streets. It is simply an incapacitation effect.

One way of testing this hypothesis would be to look for the opposite type of experiment: What puts more drunken louts on the streets?

Two words: college football. Or, at least, that is the focus of a new study by Daniel Rees and Kevin Schnepel linking crime and sporting events. They analyze daily crime data, but instead of analyzing the changes around the release of new movies, they look to see what happens on game day. Their findings are quite striking, and they report large rises in assaults, vandalism, and disorderly conduct on game days. As might be expected, this effect is large in the city of the home team, but basically non-existent in the city of the visitors.

You might be worried that this rise in arrests reflects more police on the street on game day (and hence more arrests per crime), rather than simply more crime. But the authors provide a clever response, noting that upset losses by the home team have a particularly large effect on violent assaults, while expected losses have little effect. Unless police chiefs are also successfully forecasting football outcomes, it seems that this alternative explanation doesn’t hold water.

The effects here are pretty large, and the study is quite convincing. It is worth noting that these results occur despite the fact that the football programs they analyze ban the sale of alcohol in the stadium.

There’s a nice back story here, too. Schnepel is an undergraduate student, who got to thinking about this question while sitting in Rees’ class on the economics of crime. Soon enough, an idea became some explanatory regressions, and then a co-authorship, and now, an interesting paper. And all this happened in time for Schnepel to boast about it on his grad school application (which I look forward to reading!). [Correction: Schnepel is in fact a current graduate student in economics at the University of Colorado, Denver. Though we’d still love to get a look at his application.]

Putting the Rees-Schnepel and the Dahl-DellaVigna studies together, the policy implications seem pretty obvious: we want to engage aggressive young men in activities that amuse them (like movies), but don’t provide an outlet for violence (like a football game). This seems pretty obvious, but then it got me wondering: why do violent movies lead us to sit quietly and stare at the screen, while football leads us to get out of our seats and begin the biffo? A general theory here may well suggest broader policy implications from these sorts of studies.

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  1. John Doe says:

    A football game is live with an uncertain outcome.
    A movie is pre-recorded and the outcome has already taken place. There no upsets at movies.

    Maybe we should just reenact old football games instead of playing new ones?

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  2. Doug says:

    “we want to engage aggressive young men in activities that amuse them”

    Wow, where do we take this?

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  3. check your pants says:

    check your facts buddy–

    “Daniel I. Rees is an Associate Professor of Economics at the University of Colorado Denver. Kevin T.
    Schnepel is a graduate student in the economics program at the University of Colorado Denver.”

    Don’t think you’ll get to read his app unless its for a phd program.

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  4. Wes says:

    I think the crime potential in going to a movie and going to a ball game are pretty obvious.

    Ball games usually involve tailgating or hitting the local pub before and after the game. Usually with very large crowds (mostly young men). Most of the crowd is identified with the home team or the away team which can lead to a natural us/them attitude and lots of cheering and booing and the accompaning aggresion that probably brings. Having your team lose to an underdog also leads to some frustration and probably drinking that also leads to anti social behavior.

    Movies on the other hand are much more sedate (not much audience participation even at action films). There are no large crowds that hang out before or after the film, no us/them identification and no frustration (unless the film was really bad).

    I’m guessing any event that brings out very large crowds would spike the crime rate – state fairs, outdoor music festivals, etc.. I wouldn’t think it’s not restricted to football.

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  5. Justin James says:

    Doug –

    I think the answer there is fairly obvious… let’s just say that it is legal in Nevada *and* the Netherlands. After all, these aggressive young men can’t be violent while being amused, now can they? 😉


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  6. Avis II says:

    Wow. Could this also mean that more Barbies will affect the incidence of obesity among preteen girls?

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  7. Roger says:

    I think it could be the group behavior. Most movies don’t invite this behavior and then combine it with a dissatisfactory outcome.

    I could see that watching the dissatisfatory outcome of “The Sopranos” with my friends may have been be dangerous if the writers were in the room

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  8. Damon says:

    If people 50- 100,000 people were tailgating for movies and sneaking large quantities of alcohol in then I doubt people would sit quietly and watch the screen.

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