Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

01 Sep 2016

Home Field Advantage Is Vanishing

Dirk Chatelain writing for the Omaha World-Herald presents potential reasons for an apparent decline in home field advantage in college football -- specifically highlighted in the Big Ten and Big 12. Among the hypotheses for why? More balanced officiating due to instant replay booth reviews starting in 2014.

Posted by: Brian Fremeau on 01 Sep 2016

19 comments, Last at 05 Feb 2018, 8:59am by steve7876


by Will Allen :: Thu, 09/01/2016 - 12:38pm

I like the explanation of all the conferences, except the SEC, running more plays. If the home underdog can't shorten the game, the more talented visitor is going to win more often than was the case previously.

by Dennis :: Tue, 09/06/2016 - 11:25pm

But conversely, it makes it harder for the visiting underdog to win than was the case previously.

by Chappy :: Thu, 09/01/2016 - 3:25pm

I didn't get this argument at all. Sometimes the favorite is at home and sometimes they are on the road, I don't understand how the pace of play reduces the differential affect for being on the road versus at home. My sense is that it has to do something with scheduling. My guess is that it is some combination of realignment and the playoff system penalizing scheduling FBS games. The rest seems like noise.

by Dennis :: Tue, 09/06/2016 - 11:32pm

I agree that it feels like realignment and the scheduling has something to do with it, but I can't figure out what difference that would make because the schedules are different on the road and at home.

by JIPanick :: Thu, 09/01/2016 - 6:51pm

The first question we need to answer is: Is this trend limited to college football or do we see it in other sports?

If it's also happening in other sports, narrowly targeted explanations like more plays/game or realignments would lose a lot of their appeal.

I'll wait for someone who knows more than me to answer that one.

In any event, my guess is that travel fatigue is a significant factor in HFA. Given that, it's logical that as travel over long distances becomes easier/faster, HFA drops.

by Noah Arkadia :: Thu, 09/01/2016 - 7:38pm

This. This more of a sports-related subject than football-related. Makes more sense to look at it more broadly. If it does happen to be a football-only thing, then we can look at football specific changes for the cause. If not... who knows. Sports science or sports psychology, most likely.

by SandyRiver :: Fri, 09/02/2016 - 9:41am

Without delving into the actual numbers, my impression among the four "major" (or long-time) professional sports is that HFA is much the greatest in the NBA, and least in MLB.

by dryheat :: Fri, 09/02/2016 - 9:57am

To my knowledge, the NHL is the only one where there is significant tactical advantage to being the home team. Although there is a definite HFA provided by crowd noise in football.

There is also an argument to be made for city-specific HFA (Denver, Coastal teams hosting teams from the other coast) or even stadium-specific HFA (Smaller rinks in Boston and Buffalo, dead spots on NBA floors)

I sort of agree with the notion of improved travel and travel plans have a lot to do with the lessened HFA, if indeed there is one.

by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Fri, 09/02/2016 - 10:46am

In baseball, home field advantage is literally that -- baseball fields don't have standardized dimensions, beyond a set of minima which have never been reached.

by SandyRiver :: Fri, 09/02/2016 - 2:09pm

Back in the 1970s Fenway was strongly a hitters' park (park factors in the 115+ range), and the Bosox usually did much better at home than away. I think it was when press boxes were installed above the grandstand that Fenway "regressed" to being only slightly hitter-friendly (factors 100-105) and slightly homerun-unfriendly, and the Sox now usually play only slightly better at home. They hit better there, but so do opponents.

And despite batting last plus non-standard playing fields, the HFA in MLB is relatively modest. The reason for the NBA's much larger HFA is murkier, at least since Boston Garden with its quirky parquet bit the dust.

by Travis :: Fri, 09/02/2016 - 12:20pm

Baseball has at least one tactical advantage to being the home team - batting last. This mostly affects late inning strategy, but it's been suggested recently that road pitchers do worse than home pitchers in the 1st inning because road pitchers don't know exactly what time they'll be throwing their first pitch.

by dryheat :: Sat, 09/03/2016 - 12:50pm

Right, that's why I threw in "significant". The baseball advantage for the home team isn't very significant, because with the exception of the 9th, the visitors are going to bat after them, so there's no advantage to be had by knowing the number of runs they'll need to score (as opposed to something like football OT). And because the home team won't bat in the ninth if winning, the only time the strategy kicks in is in ninth inning tactics during a tie game or down by one, since the home team can maximize strategy to bring in a single run.

by Brian Fremeau :: Fri, 09/02/2016 - 5:37pm

I've read research on this topic that draws the same conclusion ("Scorecasting" by Moskowitz and Wertheim) and proposes that the reason for the NBA effect is the proximity of the crowds to the referees.

by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Tue, 09/06/2016 - 8:54am

Hockey has the same proximity.

But it also has fewer scoring opportunities and the goalie effect probably clouds most outcomes stemming from referee incompetence.

also, the NBA has some shiat officiating.

by Dennis :: Tue, 09/06/2016 - 11:34pm

Hockey doesn't have the same proximity as basketball. There is a barrier separating the fans from the refs. That's a significant difference.

by Dan :: Sat, 09/03/2016 - 12:56am

Most of the difference between MLB and NBA is just that baseball is a more random sport. In any single game, the outcome is closer to a tossup - the road team is more likely win (compared to the NBA), but the less skilled team is also less likely to win.

Over the past 4 completed seasons, 65.4% of MLB teams have ended up with a winning home record vs. 69.2% of NBA teams. 65.4% of MLB teams have ended up with a losing road record vs. 67.5% of NBA teams. By those numbers, HFA is a bit under 1.2x as strong in the NBA as it is in MLB, since it shifts about 18.3% of NBA teams across the .500 mark (pushing them above it at home or below it on the road), compared with 15.4% of MLB teams.

by Red :: Sat, 09/03/2016 - 9:22pm

HFA among the four major sports has been 1)NBA, 2)NFL, 3)NHL, 4)MLB since pretty much forever. The NBA has by far the most possessions and scoring, so it makes sense that a small advantage would have more opportunities to show up than in other sports. Baseball's slow pace, lack of teammate interaction, lack of crowd noise, and general randomness all contribute to its relative lack of HFA.

by Mr Shush :: Sat, 09/03/2016 - 7:26am

In international cricket, where I'm fairly confident the park effects are even stronger (and more complex) than baseball due to balls bouncing before they are hit, a lot of home field advantage stems from players growing up playing in similar conditions and developing appropriate play-styles accordingly. England produces fast-medium outswing bowlers who exploit cold, cloudy weather and batsmen who know how to leave and defend around their off stump with a straight bat; India produces spinners who can turn the ball on crumbling, dusty wickets and batsmen with wristy technique to play the turning ball as late as possible. Move one group to the other place and their life becomes much more difficult. I don't know of any serious effort to quantify this; my guess would be that top level pitches have become more homogeneous over time, but that fewer young players now play club or first class cricket overseas to learn how to cope with different conditions. Which of these factors dominates I don't know.

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