College Football Season and Mathematics

By Cindy Ivanac-Lillig

The start of every new college football season always holds so much promise. My undergrad alma mater, Boston College, is usually good but just not good enough to stick it out in the top ten for more than a couple of weeks — that’s in a good year. This week, the Wall Street Journal published a graph of college football teams, where the x-axis represents the strength of the team as measured by on-field performance and the y-axis represents a measure of ethical behavior (from embarrassing to admirable). It is really neat, albeit somewhat disappointing that BC is marked as highly admirable ethically and a weakling competitively. But, remember, anything is possible.

So, you are wondering what does this have to do with economics or economic education. Behind all the tongue and cheek analyses, there is an impressive amount of mathematics behind this graph that I think many students would find interesting. How about if we asked students to create the mathematical equation that would plot these teams on the graph? All of a sudden the concept of data analysis would seem like lunch conversation and scrutinizing data sources would seem necessary. I am not suggesting that sports statistics hold the answer to classroom mathematics, because first and foremost, these interests would skew male, but just that statistics and mathematical analyses can be applied to a lot of things that are interesting. Please post any and all ideas you might have for the community as to how to bring interesting math problems back to the classroom.

And for now, here’s to hoping that the equation they used to plot my alma mater is flawed. Go Eagles! And to support all my big and little fans at home, Go Irish!