File under “Not Surprising But Still Interesting.” A new working paper by Matthew Kotchen and Matthew Potoski makes these claims:
Using individual coach ballots between 2005 and 2010, we find that coaches distort their rankings to reflect their own team’s reputation and financial interests. On average, coaches rank teams from their own athletic conference nearly a full position more favorably and boost their own team’s ranking more than two full positions. Coaches also rank teams they defeated more favorably, thereby making their own team look better. When it comes to ranking teams contending for one of the high-profile Bowl Championship Series (BCS) games, coaches favor those teams that generate higher financial payoffs for their own team. Reflecting the structure of payoff disbursements, coaches from non-BCS conferences band together, while those from BCS conferences more narrowly favor teams in their own conference. Among all coaches an additional payoff between $3.3 and $5 million induces a more favorable ranking of one position. Moreover, for each increase in a contending team’s payoff equal to 10 percent of a coach’s football budget, coaches respond with more favorable rankings of half a position, and this effect is more than twice as large when coaches rank teams outside the top 10.
I don’t mean to belittle Kotchen and Potoski’s research — it looks to be very good. But the more one learns about incentives and bias (and self-delusion), the more one is unsurprised by this sort of behavior.