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Saturday, July 19, 2008

Home Field Advantage-Initials

For some time now I've been planning a major project to quantify home field advantage. It is turning to be a little more difficult than I had hoped.

I know, on average, HFA is worth about 3.5 points, but history and tradition tell us that this value varies across teams and even seasonally ("The Frozen Tundra of Lambeau Field" isn't frozen in September). Getting at these values, though, is methodologically much more difficult. To do it, I have to make the huge assumption that HFA is relatively stable over time, for at least a decade or so, or else the sample size is not sufficiently large to generate robust results. I also have to assume that HFA is independent of the opposition, the distance they have traveled, etc. I am less comfortable with this assumption because I've been at several big rivalry games and seen the underdog take on the big dog at home and seen how the crowd reacts to that. But that kind of analysis requires too many variables to be done statistically and we'll just have to judge that with our gut.

I've also run into some serious technical issues--primarily that my statistical package can only analyze matrices with 800 variables. This limits me to about five years at a time-and this, in my mind, is not enough. So I present, as a bit of a teaser, my initial results (from 2002-2005) that you can chomp on while I work out some of these technical limitations.

(Click the images to see a larger version. On the left teams are listed in alpha order and on the right in order by HFA.)

Now to the results. The number to the right of the team name represents the point value of HFA. It shouldn't surprise anyone to see Hawaii at number one. This has nothing to do with the rabidity of Hawaii fans but the distance to Hawaii, both going to and leaving the islands.

At number two is Texas Tech. My experience is that going into Lubbock can be a very dangerous journey, especially if you give Leach a chance to run up the score in front of the Raider faithful (if you think Norman or Lincoln are dull, try west Texas). Also in the top 25 or so are the traditional hot houses of LSU, Tennessee, Penn State, and Texas A&M.

One interesting result is West Virginia coming in at -3.56. Part of this, I'm sure, is a result of a smaller sample size than I would like. But if you've ever witnessed a WVU road game, there is usually as much yellow in the stands as the color of the home team and it gets louder when West Virginia is trying to make the goal line stand than when they are trying to score on the goal line. Consequently, West Virginia might not be getting all that much advantage from playing at home, because the road atmosphere is every bit as pleasant.

On a side note, I've added some new links that I think are worth checking out:

2 comments:

  1. I've always enjoyed your approach to the many shadings of football. However, on this one I'm going to have to disagree with your ratings.

    I've been to games at 61 Division I (or whatever we're calling it now) stadiums. In the vast majority of them, I've been at field level at least once. I can tell you without hesitation that the rabidity of fans, over the course of three hours, is far more brutal to defend than the toll mileage to Hawaii takes on a team.

    The utter ear-splitting noise at field level in places like the Swamp, Death Valley (LSU), Neyland Stadium, Autzen Stadium and Husky Stadium is something to behold...while holding your ears.

    Two other factors in all of this are the team itself and the stadium. A home field advantage is a fusion between team, crowd and a stadium's architecture. The latter cannot be overstated.

    Neyland goes straight up from the field and is completely enclosed; half of the Swamp is underground; Husky Stadium has those massive steel roofs that hold in the sound and amplify it. You simply can't match up places like Nevada, Hawaii, Toledo, and more, when you combine team, crowd and stadium.

    So, factoring in my fusion concept, these are my HFA top ten:
    1. LSU
    2. Florida
    3. Tennessee
    4. Oregon
    5. Ohio State
    6. Penn State
    7: Auburn
    8. Washington
    9. Clemson
    10. Wisconsin

    The argument to be made against my list is how many of these teams have not fared as well at home recently as one would expect of a program I believe possesses a great HFA. My list is weighed far more heavily on what immediately jumps out at a team when they walk on the field: The structure and the fans.

    Over the past 30 years, my 10 have changed spots many times. For that matter, they'll probably change again by the end of this season.

    Isn't college football great?

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  2. cgabriel-I grew up in and went to games across the South, and have since lived in MWC/WAC territory and now live out East, and I agree that the atmosphere in the South is on a completely different level than elsewhere (I can't say anything about the Big 10 or northern Pac 10, though, and I'm definitely anxious to try out those experiences as well). I remember watching the Aggies play in pink uniforms because they had punch dropped on them while they were trying to slip past the cage in the tunnel--if that doesn't distract a team, nothing will.

    My first response to your comment is that these results are not complete--I'm still working on an approach to increase the sample so I can be more confident about the results. I can now include 4 years and I will need about 15 if I want to extract the effect of teams playing well or poorly on the road. I should have those up in a month or so, and I would be interested in what you think then--I bet they will match up much better with your list (which is a good list but I'd throw in Kyle Field and throw out Clemson Memorial).

    Second, I'm defining home field advantage in terms of the affect it has on the scoreboard. If it doesn't show up in the point margin, its not really an advantage. The Swamp might be crazy, but have you ever tried to play a football game after flying for 10 hours--you're dehydrated by the flight (by the very nature of flying), the biological clock is thrown off, muscles are cramped, etc. I understand that sport is full of intangibles and unmeasurables, but, in the end, if they don't show up on the scoreboard, they don't really matter--even if they make it funner for the fans.

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