October 10, 1998. I called in to work, put on my best sick voice, and explained to my boss I wouldn't be able to make it in. I was needed in Kyle Field.
#18 Texas A&M jumped out to a 21-7 lead against #2 Nebraska, but Nebraska made a 4th quarter run and cut the lead to 7. With time running out, the Huskers had the ball and the momentum, but the Aggies' Sedrick Curry cut in front of a receiver and picked off the Bobby Newcombe pass.
Rarely has a college football stadium been louder. Aggies take pride in a tradition that hearkens back to E King Gill and Centre College. Where King was prepared to be the 11th man on the field, Aggie fans today are supposed to be a 12th Man, influencing the outcome of the game from the sidelines. Sedrick Curry was the beneficiary of a miscommunication between Newcombe and an inexperienced receiver - the 12th Man had done its job. Or so I thought.
It turns out that crowd size, and with that, crowd noise, do not affect the outcome of games on average. Of course, a game here or there might have ended differently in a vacuum, but home fans are as hurtful as helpful. For every interception "caused" by crowd noise, there is an interception thrown because the quarterback tries to impress the home fans. Crowds may encourage the home team, but silencing a hostile stadium can be just as inspiring for some athletes. Every 1,000 fans in your stadium is worth .02 points, or 18 inches of field position.
This means that the stadiums that get the most attention for being big and rowdy are not necessarily the most helpful to their teams. And we can test this. Using only conference games, we can look at the average difference between how teams did on the road versus at home. Because their home and road opponents are equal on average, most of the difference between teams performance at home and on the road should be driven by home field advantage.
We begin with the Big 12. Since it was formed in 1994, 1,453 Big 12 conference games have been played in non-neutral sites. (Most significantly, this excludes Texas/OU games, but that will not affect the final results). In those games, home teams have won 58% of the time, outscoring their opponents by almost 9 points per game. Few conferences exceed a home/road difference of 7, so home field is a very big deal in the Big 12.
The team with the largest differential is Texas Tech. When looking at this subject a couple of years ago, I then concluded that Jones Stadium is the toughest place in the country to play. Tech is, on average, two touchdowns better at home than on the road. They've won 73.3% of their 60 home games, but only 41.7% of 60 road games when playing Big 12 opponents.
And the easiest place to play? That would be Darrell K Royal - Texas Memorial Stadium. Apparently, giving your stadium a very long name does not help you win football games. The Longhorns are less than 5 points better at home than on the road. In terms of win/loss record, Missouri and Oklahoma St. are at the bottom of the barrel. By playing at home, these two schools only improve their odds of winning by 1.7 (or odds of winning on road*1.7 = odds of winning at home). The conference as a whole averages an odds ratio of about 2. Baylor and Texas Tech top the list with odds ratios over 3.5.
Ranking the teams from top to bottom in home field advantage based on point differential and winning odds ratio, we come up with the following list. Going back to an earlier argument that home field advantage is primarily about travel, we see that the teams with the biggest HFA are not the power programs with large stadiums, but the programs in isolated locations. Because the Big 12 has more isolated destinations than the other major conferences, home field is more important.