Ready for football? Remembering the first game between Princeton and Rutgers

It’s that time of year again! The air is saturated with the promise of cooler days ahead, the leaves are holding their breath, and school is nearly back in session. And that means one thing. Football season will soon be here. More specifically, college football. Princeton, as I’m sure you know, has quite the legacy in this area—dating back almost a century and a half.

To be precise, that legacy dates back all the way to November 6th, 1869: The day of the first official collegiate football game played between Rutgers and Princeton (then called The College of New Jersey).

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Back then, the game was really a hybrid combining elements of rugby and modern-day soccer. Each team consisted of 25 players struggling to kick the ball into the opposing team’s territory. Reportedly, a mere 100 spectators gathered to watch the game, many of them sitting on a wooden fence. The players took the field, removing their hats, coats and vests in preparation for play. Speaking of attire, some believe that the “Scarlet Knights” nickname for Rutgers came to be at this game. To differentiate themselves from Princeton, some players sported scarlet-colored scarves, worn as turbans. Thus, the Scarlet Knights were born. Alas, Rutgers defeated Princeton that day, 6-4. Six to four you ask? That’s right. Even the score-keeping method was different back then.

What a far cry from college athletics today, especially football. If you’ve ever been to a college football game (especially a Division 1 game), you know what I’m talking about. In 2011, many colleges including Michigan, Ohio State, Alabama, and Texas, had over 100,000 fans in attendance at their games. Stadiums practically ooze their team’s colors and the roar of the crowd is deafening. Music pumps through unseen speakers and there are always a few dedicated fans that choose to doff their shirts in favor of painting their team’s colors and/or letters onto their bodies. Who's #1? The Science of Rating and Ranking

People take their college football very seriously these days. There are all different types of divisions, championships, and rankings that decide when and where they get to play. The ratings of the NCAA determine which schools get to play for all the marbles in postseason bowl games. Amy N. Langville and Carl D. Meyer discuss these types of ranking systems in their book Who’s #1?
The Science of Rating and Ranking.

The major differences between college sports in the 19th century and college sports today are significant. College athletics have become an integral part of the community of higher education and of society as a whole.

Gaming the World But the nature of college sports today are troubling to some. On the one hand, college athletic programs serve to bring communities together and unite people who otherwise wouldn’t share any common ground.  In Gaming the World  Andrei Markovits and Lars Rensmann reflect on and explain how sports influence our daily lives and help to confirm a certain local, regional, and national identity. These programs also promote health and wellness at colleges nationwide, which benefits students.

But on the other hand, many colleges and universities, in their constant need to compete with other institutions, sometimes redirect funds and other resources toward football or basketball while the academic side of the institution is forced to manage without those funds.

In addition to the funding problem, there is also an “underperformance” problem. In Reclaiming the Game, William Bowen and Sarah Levin explore the academic experiences of college athletes and oReclaiming the Gamether students. In one of their studies they’ve found that recruited athletes at some schools are four times more likely to achieve admission than are other students (non-athletes) with similar academic qualifications. They also show that the typical recruit is more likely to end up in the bottom third of the college class than are other students and non-athletes.

It’s safe to say that the feverish fandom of college athletics can either boost or take away from the institution itself and the college experience. What’s your opinion on the matter?

Beautiful Game Theory: How Soccer can Help EconomicsIf the impact of sports is a topic that interests you, and you’re intrigued by unusual applications, also check out Ignacio Palacios-Huerta’s Beautiful Game Theory. Palacios-Huerta uses soccer as a lens to study game theory and microeconomics, covering such topics as mixed strategies, discrimination, incentives, and human preferences. Palacios-Huerta makes the case that soccer provides “rich data sets and environments that shed light on universal economic principles in interesting and useful ways.”

PS: Not to worry, Princetonians – we didn’t make a habit of losing to our northern neighbor. On May 2nd, 1866, in the first intercollegiate athletic event in Rutgers history, the Rutgers baseball team lost to Princeton, 40-2. Quite the slaughter! And Rutgers may have ended up winning the first football game 6 to 4, but a week later Princeton won the next match at home, 8 to 0.

A rematch is also on the horizon! If you’ve done your math right (and I’m sure you have) the 150th anniversary of the historic football game takes place in 2019. There have been talks of a rematch for this upcoming anniversary. Read more here.

Image credit: State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory, https://floridamemory.com/items/show/11389

Quick Questions for Ignacio Palacios-Huerta, author of Beautiful Game Theory: How Soccer Can Help Economics

5-28 Palacios-HuertaIgnacio Palacios-Huerta is professor of management, economics, and strategy at the London School of Economics and Political Science. He received a B.Sc. in Economics from the University of the Basque Country in Bilbao, Spain, and an M.A. in Economics from the University of Chicago, where he also completed his Ph.D. in Economics. Palacios-Huerta is also the Head of Talent Identification at the Athletic Club de Bilbao and is a Senior Fellow at the Ikerbasque-Basque Foundation for Science at UPV/EVU.

Dr. Palacios-Huerta is a contributing editor of In 100 Years (MIT), an engaging text that draws on the expertise and imagination of ten prominent economists to “present their ideas about the world of the twenty-second century,” considering topics like “the transformation of work and wages, the continuing increase in inequality, and the economic rise of China and India,” among others. He continues to produce scholarship on economic theory and has several articles, like “Consumer Inertia, Choice Dependence and Learning from Experience in a Repeated Decision Problem” (Review of Economics and Statistics), up for publication in 2014.

Now, on to the questions!

PUP: What do you think is the book’s most important contribution?
Ignacio Palacios-Huerta: In recent decades, economics has extended across many fields and areas previously considered to belong to sociology, political science, psychology, and several other sciences. What distinguishes this book is that its basic idea is just the opposite: it is not what economics can do for area or field X, but what X can do for economics. And so it takes exactly the opposite route. In the book X is, of course, soccer. And the idea is to attempt to obtain and present novel insights into human behavior using data and settings from soccer. This is what distinguishes this book from other economics books and from other books on the study of sports, and I think it is its most important contribution. After all, if the economic approach is applicable to all human behavior, then any type of data about human activity is useful to evaluate economic theories.

What is the biggest misunderstanding that people have about what you do? (I.e., is it anthropology? Economics? etc.)
I think this picture (taken from N. Gregory Mankiw’s blog) captures quite well a number of misunderstandings:

What+Economits+Do[1]

What are you reading right now?
A novel by Ramiro Pinilla, Aquella Edad Inolvidable, a biography of British graffiti artist Banksy by Will Ellsworth-Jones, and Seven Deadly Sins: My Pursuit of Lance Armstrong by David Walsh.

What was the most influential book you’ve read?
I would say, for different reasons, these three books are tied in first place:

Economic Theory by Gary S. Becker; A Treatise of Human Nature by David Hume; and The Passions and the Interests by Albert Hirschman (Princeton).

Describe your writing process. How long did it take you to finish your book? Where do you write?
The actual writing took me around 4-5 months, but I was thinking about it for a long time, probably around 3-4 years, collecting data, developing experiments, running the different empirical tests, and reading and keeping relevant stories and anecdotes in my mind to make the book as engaging as possible.

What was the biggest challenge involved with bringing this book to life?
Lack of time: time to think, and time to work and write.


“The idea is to attempt to obtain and present novel insights into human behavior and data settings from soccer. […] I am interested in pushing the economic approach to human behavior.”


Why did you write this book?
Two reasons. First, as indicated in the first question, there is a clear aspect that distinguishes this book from other economics books and from other books on the study of sports. To the best of my knowledge this is the first book that takes this novel approach, and so I felt that, from this perspective, there was a genuine chance to present a unique contribution. Second, I am interested in pushing the economic approach to human behavior. And so, if any type of data about human activity is useful to evaluate economic theories, what could possibly be most appealing to a wide audience than data from sports, and in particular data from the world’s most popular sport?

Who do you see as the audience for this book?
Anyone interested in economics, anyone interested in sports, and anyone who thinks that he or she might perhaps become interested in economics and/or in sports, especially if he or she has a curious or scientific mind.

How did you come up with the title or jacket?
The title was a suggestion by the initial editor of the book at Princeton University Press, Richard Baggaley, and by my colleague at the London School of Economics, David De Meza. They both, independently of each other, had the same suggestion. And as soon as they suggested this title, I thought it was great. I really liked it and instinctively knew that it would be the title of the book.

With respect to the jacket, it was a suggestion by an excellent designer at Princeton University Press. I suggested some ideas, and one of them was distantly related to the one in the final jacket since it contained a “bicycle kick.” But the jacket is more striking and spectacular than anything I could have come up with. I really like it.

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Ignacio is the author of:

5-28 Palacios-Huerta BGT Beautiful Game Theory: How Soccer Can Help Economics by Ignacio Palacios-Huerta
Hardcover | 2014 | $35.00 / £24.95 | ISBN: 9780691144023
224 pp. | 6 x 9 | 30 line illus.| eBook | ISBN: 9781400850310 |Reviews Table of Contents Introduction[PDF]