Tag Archive for: college football

Justification and Fanatical Fans

The college football season is now behind us and the last national champion of the BCS (Bowl Championship Series) era has been crowned. Congratulations to the Florida State Seminoles. While the BCS format was better than relying on multiple human polls (AP, UPI, coaches, etc.) each crowning it’s own national champion, the BCS was not without controversy. Continual controversy about which teams were the top two at year-end is a big reason fans are eagerly awaiting next season because the national champion will be determined in a four-team playoff system.
While a playoff might be better than the current format, you can imagine the 5th, 6th and perhaps 7th teams will all believe they have a strong case for being one of the top four. Perhaps the controversy will only expand and maybe the additional intrigue will make the season even more exciting.
What’s interesting about fans is their fanaticism. If you watch a game with diehard fans from opposing teams, a game where you have no stake in the outcome, you’ll see and hear interesting things.
Each fan will believe the referees are against their team and favoring the opposing team. They’ll be quick to point out every infraction the referees missed that would have benefitted their team and they’ll argue most of the calls made against their team. Each fan will also think the television commentators are pulling for the other team and you might even hear them say ESPN or other media outlets are against their team. It’s almost an “us against the world” mentality.
Fans are also an interesting bunch when it comes to admitting defeat or when another team might just be better. This came to light more than a month ago when my favorite college team (not my alma mater) – The Ohio State Buckeyes – lost their conference championship game. After 24 straight wins, that one loss dashed their hopes of playing for the national championship. A relative who is a big Michigan Wolverines (OSU’s big rival) fan took particular joy in telling me how Ohio State just can’t run with “the big dogs.” It didn’t matter to him that Ohio State had beaten his team 10 of 12 years, won the Big 10 championship six years in a row during one recent stretch, had won 24 straight games, made more BSC bowl game appearances than any other team, won as many BSC bowl games as any other team, played in three national championships and won the big game once. Pretty compelling resume for someone to conclude Ohio State has been much better than Michigan for the past 10-12 years.
If it sounds like I’m bragging, I am a bit, but truthfully it was to point out how irrational fans can be. Under no circumstance would my relative ever admit the Buckeyes are better than the Wolverines, even over the past dozen years despite the clear evidence.
Why do we irrationally hold on to certain beliefs in spite of the evidence against us, and continue to justify our beliefs? I believe it has to do with the principle of consistency. This principle of influence alerts us to the reality that people feel internal psychological pressure and external social pressure to remain consistent with what they’ve said, done or believed in the past.
In his book Influence Science and Practice, Robert Cialdini shares a story about people going to a transcendental meditation workshop that promoted flying and walking through walls among other things. Despite the clear evidence against these practices people desperate for change went to the introductory session then justified their investment of time and money.
It’s psychologically hard on us to admit that perhaps we were wrong about something and to stop justifying it. We see this phenomenon in more than sports. Take politics for example. We were led to believe if Obama was re-elected over Romney that our economy would suffer immensely. A gauge that’s often used to see how the economy is doing is the Dow Jones Industrial average. The Dow was around 13,000 before the election and despite a 300-point drop in the days immediately after the election it now hovers at record levels between 16,400 and 16,500. Democrats will say it is evidence their policies work while Republicans will give reasons for the rise other than government policy.
Had the scenario been reversed and it was Romney that was elected, Republicans would gloat and Democrats would say the Dow increase is due to unethical business practices that really hurt most Americans.
One thing is for sure; neither side would ever concede and say, “Perhaps we were wrong and they were right.” They will come up with reasons to justify their position.
When my team lost that conference championship, as hard as it was, I acknowledged Michigan State deserved to win. Then Michigan State showed more metal beating a very good Stanford team in The Rose Bowl. Meanwhile my team was again outplayed in The Orange Bowl and lost, despite having opportunities to win. Ohio State was very good but not one of the elite teams this year and I’m okay admitting that.
So what does all this mean for you in terms of influence? The next time you get into a debate about which people have a very personal stake – sports, politics, religion, certain social issues, etc. – recognize first of all, no matter what you say or do some people will refuse to change their point of view. But at least you know that now and perhaps it will lessen your frustration. If you want to dislodge people from irrational consistency here are five tips that might help:
  1. Don’t allow your emotions to get the best of you.
  2. Don’t argue your point because that will cause defensiveness.
  3. Ask questions that might get the other person to acknowledge small points where you might be correct.
  4. When the other person has a valid point acknowledge it.
  5. Exhibit patience because it might take several communications to gain ground.


Brian Ahearn, CMCT®
Chief Influence Officer
Helping You Learn to Hear “Yes”.