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College Football's Crime Connection

THERE IS NOW proof of what many NCAA Division I football communities already suspected: Crime spikes on home game days. Assaults saw a 9 percent increase and vandalism rose 18 percent on days of home games. The most dramatic jumps in the crime rate were found in the cases of games that resulted in upsets. Upset losses led to a 112 percent increase in assaults, while upset wins yielded a 36 percent increase.

The real impact of the increase on an average home game day may be minimal, however, given that the increases translated to “modest” rises in terms of magnitude (an average of an additional 0.5 reports of assault and one additional report of vandalism on a Saturday).

The findings are from Associate Economics Professor Daniel I. Rees and former graduate student Kevin T. Schnepel, who looked at data from the FBI’s National Incident Based Reporting System for the 26 Division I cities that reported data. Their analysis is presented in a paper on the issue that is part of the Working Paper Series at the University of Colorado Department of Economics.

Upset wins are well known for leading to celebratory riots, but the findings for upset losses were a bit more surprising, according to sports sociologist Jerry M. Lewis, professor at Kent State University in Ohio and author of Sports Fan Violence in North America.

“That’s the pattern in Britain, where the losing [soccer] team fans try and find the winning team fans and beat them up or have what they call a ‘punch out,’” Lewis says. But that has not been the case in the United States, or at least it was not thought to be the case as most attention has been paid to rowdy celebrations after wins. Now this study suggests that some type of retaliation may be occurring. “And that’s the scary part of their research,” he says.

In addition to upsets leading to more crime, there was a difference in the nature of the offenses that increased with each type of upset. When there was an upset win, the greater increase was in drinking- related crimes, such as liquor-law violations. That finding falls in line with the idea of celebrating by hitting the streets and drinking, Schnepel says.

On the other hand, when an upset loss occurs, there’s a greater increase in more aggressive or violent crimes, such as assault and even vandalism. The upset loss/assault connection might be triggered by the mixing of a large number of frustrated home fans with a much smaller number of celebrating rival team fans that become targeted, says Schnepel. However, he adds that his study did not look into the specifics of who the victims and perpetrators were.

They don’t try to prove causality, but Schnepel and Rees do point out certain theories of fan violence that are not supported by their study. For example, there is the social learning theory, which posits that aggression mimics violence on the field and the outcome of the contest has no impact. The study found the opposite—that the outcome does matter.

Additionally, some experts have suggested that the increase in the local population on game days is the root of the crime jump, but that wouldn’t explain the added increases associated with upsets and the different outcomes of upsets.

“It is difficult to rule out the possibility that the relationship between college football games and aggressive behavior is entirely driven by alcohol consumption,” the report states. There is evidence that strongly points to a causal connection between alcohol and crimes, such as vandalism and disorderly conduct.

Although all of the schools in the study ban alcohol in their football stadiums, there is a well-known tailgating culture and drinking both before and after games.

Ohio State University (OSU) is one school that has made a concerted effort to crack down on drinking on game days, especially in the wake of multiple riots that broke out in 2002 after OSU defeated rival University of Michigan. In response to a directive from the university president, OSU Deputy Chief of Police Richard Morman says that the department shifted officers onto a dedicated alcohol enforcement team that enforces Ohio’s open container law around the stadium. Morman says that in his experience, games against Michigan have had much calmer aftermaths in recent years.

Knowing that crime spikes after an upset is useful for security. Although you can never predict an upset, security officials at several universities say that the type of game does influence the security plan and the number of officers deployed for a game. When there is a game against a major rival or when there is a lot riding on a certain game, security is stepped up.

Schnepel plans next to look at crime data from cities hosting March Madness NCAA basketball games, to determine whether college basketball has a similar effect on crime.