The Heisman trophy annually recognizes “the outstanding college football player whose performance best exhibits the pursuit of excellence with integrity”. It is annually voted on by every living previous Heisman winner and 870 members of the media scattered about the country. Votes are distributed evenly across six districts (Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, Midwest, Far West, South, Southwest. This allows us to put together a neat little test. If you watch football long enough, it’s easy to catch the regional bias of the so-called “national media”. (If you have ever listened to Paul Finebaum then you know exactly what I am talking about.) So the question that I ask is how bad is this bias?
I took the results from the last five Heisman trophy winners and tallied up the first place votes. Taking the average across the six districts, we can then tell how far above or below the average each district votes for the different Heisman candidates. The results are below.
In 2009, we had one of the closer Heisman races between Mark Ingram, Toby Gerhart and Colt McCoy and it’s also the year that we see the highest amount of bias. The south leaned toward Tim Tebow and Mark Ingram while the west heavily pushed Toby Gerhart of Stanford. We also see a significant amount of votes going to Ndamukong Suh from the Southwest.
There really isn’t much to see in 2010. Cam Newton was the clear winner, but you still see a slight bias coming from the south.
2011 is another year where we had a pretty close race. This time it was between Andrew Luck of Stanford, and eventual winner, Robert Griffin III of Baylor. Trent Richardson was somewhat in the mix, but this was mostly a two horse race. Again, we can clearly see regional favoritism in the voting for the first four candidates.
Johnny Manziel and Manti Te’o both had a legitimate shot and it should come as no shock by now that the Northeast and Midwest pulled for Teo while the South pulled more for Manziel. The Southwest (which is heavily Big 12 territory) had a bias of 6.9% versus the average toward Collin Klein.
In years that we have a clear favorite, it appears that it is much harder to see partiality in the voting. Jameis Winston won the Heisman trophy running away. You still see the Northeast lean toward Andre Williams of Boston College.
Which Media Market is the Worst?
To figure out total bias, we took the relatively unscientific approach of summing up the absolute values for bias by district and multiplying by 100. The results show that there is a very heavy bias in the Far West and in the South regions. In fact, the bias in those regions were roughly three times worse than in the Mid-Atlantic region.
There are two theories as to why we are seeing these results. One, is that the media is more myopic in the South and West versus the rest of the country. Two, because the Mid-Atlantic, Northeast, and Midwest have had a lower proportion of candidates, they have had less reason to be partial.
Our thoughts are that the answer is a mixture of both theories. So, speaking to you national media, get out of your comfortable little regional bubble and watch more football.