Recency Bias, Weather, And The Snubbing Of Florida State Football


I am writing this opinion piece from the perspective of a jilted college football fan. I have three degrees from Florida State University. This weekend the College Football Playoff selection committee omitted my alma mater from the four-team playoffs. During the 2023 season, they went undefeated and secured the Atlantic Coast Conference Championship. Yet, the late season injury to star FSU quarterback Jordan Travis shaped the narrative more so than the stated outcome of competitive sports – winning. The rationale of the selection committee and many “keyboard” experts seemed to be anchored in recency bias, which is something very familiar to meteorologists. Here’s why.

Weather risk communication is already challenging. Forecasts or warnings are often delivered with probabilistic language or representations of uncertainty. As good as contemporary weather forecasting is, there are unrealistic expectations on current skill with pinpoint forecasting or periods beyond two weeks. People assume that surviving previous bad storms will guarantee similar outcomes with the next one. Such optimism bias is often coupled with normalcy bias. For example, a person in Houston might feel well-prepared for flooding because it happens all of the time. Unfortunately, Hurricane Harvey (2017) was an event beyond the experiences of people in the region.

Recency bias also rears its head in weather risk communication. A bad rainfall forecast might affect a family cookout or soccer game. It also may prompt claims that all forecasts are bad. That’s certainly a ridiculous assertion anchored in a recent, impactful event. In reality, such narratives overlook the overwhelming number of good forecasts which go unnoticed because there was no negative impact. A 2020 study examined how recency affects decisionmaking with climate events.

Now, let’s get to the Florida State scenario. I actually saw social media posts saying that the Seminoles were not the same team post-Jordan Travis and that their performance in those games disqualified them. By the way, they won their final two games. Other teams (Washington, Oregon, Alabama, and Michigan) that made it into the playoffs struggled or even lost games but earlier in the season.

Darryl Rice is an associate professor of management at Miami University and an alumni of Florida State University. He told me that several management bias and flaws were exhibited. Rice wrote on his Linkedin page, “As a professor who studies and teaches biases in decision-making/selection processes at Miami University Farmer School of Business, hearing the CFP Chair’s rationale it was relatively easy to (1) detect the prevalence of the committee’s selective perception and recency effect, two of the most common biases that occur decision/making/selection processes (2) determine the lack of procedural fairness.”

Concerning recency bias, Rice points to the commitee rationale that the two most recent FSU games (that they won) negated the previous eleven games (that they won). Rice went on to say, “The CFP Chair said FSU is a different team without Jordan Travis which is true and they struggled to win their final games.” He pointed out that FSU actually had wider margins of victory than Alabama. He concluded, “However, given the CFP Committee’s selective perception, they trivialized Alabama’s miracle win against Auburn, which also occurred in the last two weeks.”

To be fair, I certainly acknowledge this opinion editorial is written from a biased perspective too, but there were some teachable moments. Luckily, next year the twelve-team playoff format will help remove perceived or real biases.


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