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Saturday, August 29, 2009

The Myth of Home Field Advantage

Complete Home Field Advantage Statistics

About a year ago, in my most widely read and discussed post to date, I detailed the hard facts of home field advantage. I showed that it was small, isolated stadiums that gave their teams the most boost on the scoreboard and not the rocking behemoths that we love so much. But some people just couldn't handle the truth. I now return to the topic to show how I was right and they were wrong (so suck it Trebek) . . . but also how I was wrong and they were right, as Yoda would say, from a certain point of view.

First, we need to cover some facts. Since 1994, when playing FBS opponents, home teams have won 60% of the time and have outscored their opponents by an average of about 10.5 points. In part, this is because lesser programs often take paychecks to travel and play bigger programs, home teams are more often better teams and therefore win more often.

Home field advantage, though, is very real. On average, home field advantage is about 3.5 points. Specifically, from 1994 to 2008 it was 3.500949. In other words, the home team could expect to do 3.5 points better on average playing at home than at a neutral site against the same team. There is a 7 point swing between playing at home versus playing at someone else's home-exactly 2/3 of the average margin of victory for home teams (10.5). The other 1/3 is because Louisiana-Monroe goes to Alabama and not vice-versa (oh, wait, bad example--suck it Saban).

To understand HFA, we first look at the point differentials (PD) or the difference in the average margin of victory at home versus on the road. Again, this is not my opinion, this is data. Over this period, Arkansas State has lost home games by an average of 1 point, but they have lost road games by an average of 20 for a differential of 19. The highest ranked BCS team is Texas A&M at 10, and there are only 7 in the top 25.

This, of course, does not actually measure HFA because it does not account for the strength of schedule. For example, Arkansas State's average home opponent was about 12.4 points worse than its average road opponent, so when we take that into account we see that Arkansas State had a 6.8 point HFA, or 13th best in the country.

After accounting for strength of schedule, Boise State and Hawaii come out on top. Oklahoma State is at 4, Texas A&M and Texas Tech at 8 and 9. Beaver Stadium comes in just a hair below Arkansas State at 14. You have to go to 39 with Florida before you find an SEC team.

These are facts-hard, undeniable facts--but there is more to football than point margins. Arkansas State has a real home field advantage, but getting less plastered at home is not anything to write home about.

So I decided to measure HFA as the oomph that helps a team win at home when they would lose on the road. This measure is a bit more technical, but the results are also a bit more satisfying. Interpreting the numbers is just about impossible, but the most important thing to remember is that teams with a larger number have been able to win more games at home that they would have lost on the road than are teams with smaller numbers.

Texas Tech is number 1, as Longhorn fans know all too well. Texas is 12, which might come in handy when they are looking for revenge against the Red Raiders this year. Florida State is at 3, showing the superiority of the tomahawk chop over the gator chomp, which comes in at 14. Despite the long home winning streak at Kyle Field in the 90's, Texas A&M drops to 26.

In summary, home field advantage means different things at different times. It helps almost all teams put more points on the board than their opponents (with the exception of Navy), and this characteristics of home field advantage seems to have less to do with big stadiums and raucous crowds than we might think. On the other hand, home field advantage helps some teams win when they might otherwise have lost. It might not show up in gaudy numbers, but Nebraska is able to win games in Lincoln that they would have lost somewhere else. And at the end of the day, that's what really matters. And Georgia plays better and is more likely to win on the road-go figure.


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