Home field advantage?

A very interesting chart from Brian Fremeau:

Sure, home field advantage is at one of its lowest points this season.  But it’s not an outlier as much as it appears to be the continuation of a trend.

Home-field advantage in conference games in 2020 by this calculation is only +1.9 points per game, a full 0.9 points less than the +2.8 points per game average over the 14-year span. This could be the indicator of the impact of crowds on home-field advantage that we hypothesized, but there are other recent seasons with comparably small home-field advantages drawn from the data. In 2018, the conference game home-field advantage was only +2.0 points per game, and in 2014 the conference game home-field advantage was at an “all-time” (since 2007) low, at only +1.8 points per game. Neither of those two seasons, nor any of the other games in the span, had any obvious systemic factors such as COVID to suggest home-field advantage should be dramatically impacted. And the relatively steady betting line trend over the last seven seasons suggests that the wisdom of crowds has been picking up not on a precipitous change in home-field advantage, but on something more like a year-over-year trend.

The question, of course, is why that may be the case.

This is just the start of a deeper dive I’d like to take on the subject in the offseason. For one thing, I may be using these overall trends to make subtle changes in the manner in which I apply home-field advantage to FEI ratings and FEI game projections. There are also sample-size variations to consider, but it would be well worth exploring the degree to which these changes are or are not consistent across individual conferences — perhaps especially in the wake of conference realignment shake-ups that have happened over the span.

Are there any other hypotheses to consider? We’ve been conditioned to treat the packed and electric atmosphere of an 80,000-seat stadium as an intimidating environment that can be a difference-maker in a big game. But I’ve been skeptical over the years of how much the crowd itself really matters in comparison to the other factors in play related to home versus road scenarios — the travel, disruptions to routines, familiarity with the facilities, weather, etc. BYU and Coastal Carolina played in front of only 5,000 fans. Would a full house of 20,000 or more have made a bigger difference, were the unique travel circumstances of this game a bigger factor, or was home field not actually much of a factor in Conrad, South Carolina, at all?

I also wonder — and perhaps the conference realignment issues Brian mentions are part of it — if there is less parity within conferences now than there was, say, a decade ago.  I’ll be curious to see what, if anything, he finds along these lines before next season.

10 Comments

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10 responses to “Home field advantage?

  1. Holiday Inn Bagman

    I suspect a lot of factors are in play here. My non-evidence based hypothesis:

    Travel is easier. With all the money in the system direct charter flying is standard in almost all situations. It wasn’t that long ago that UGA would get on a bus and drive to ATL to get on a plane. Should that impact the team in most cases? Probably not but we’re talking about the margins here.
    QB play is better across the board and teams huddle less removing some of the communication issues of playing on the road.
    Fans are less engaged. Turn on an old classic game and the first thing you notice is how wild the fans are.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I think the in door practice fields have enabled teams to better replicate the crowd noise and do so more often. Do so to the point it is less of a factor.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. godawgs1701

    There are undoubtedly many factors working together here to create this trend. I think one of the bigger factors might be the better pedigree of incoming quarterbacks from high school systems and also private coaching. The main thing that a home crowd can impact is communication, and that primarily impacts the quarterback and the offensive line and it’s probably most glaring when you’ve got a younger quarterback trying to deal with Neyland or Tiger Stadium, etc. These high school kids coming in now have been working longer on silent counts and mental preparation as well as running more complex offenses in their prep days so that there’s less thought involved as they get into their college offense.

    The evolution of college offenses themselves also probably plays a role. Most of the teams that have gone to RPOs and these fast twitch offenses that rely a lot less on complex checks and changes pre-snap like a pro style offense and that is easier to accomplish in front of a hostile crowd.

    I’d also be very interested to see this graph if it’s plotted only among the power five teams or among teams ranked in the top 20. When you include all of FBS, you’re including a lot of stadiums that are less intimidating and you’re including a lot of midweek football games played for the purpose of filling ESPN air time in front of half-empty stadiums. I wonder if SEC, ACC, Big Ten, etc. stadiums and fan bases have more of an impact on things than they do in the MAC.

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  4. SoCalDawg

    Where in the hell is “Conrad, SC?” C’mon Brian if you can finagle a sophisticated algorithm to rate thousands of factors relating to all 130 FBS CFB teams, you can look at a map. Or at least type Coastal Carolina in a search engine. ConWAY, SC.

    (That being said, I too will be interested to see if he unearths anything of significance to explain the home spread reductions.)

    Liked by 1 person

  5. paulwesterdawg

    As power 5 budgets have ballooned so has travel budgets. We even fly to Knoxville and Tuscaloosa. I think the only schools we drive to now are GT, Clemson and Auburn. Do we even drive to Columbia anymore?

    That’s a factor, too.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. 69Dawg

    Mizzou And Ark with there 11am starts are tough. Hope Kirby has these guys awake for the first half.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. DawgFlan

    Agree with most of the factors above, but I think another is the way the game is officiated these days.

    Rules changes that disproportionately benefit the offense can mean that the expected team still loses, but can turn it into a track meet and stay close.

    Rule changes that have led to activist refereeing. The more complex and subjective the rules have gotten (targeting, defenseless player, roughing the passer, PI, etc.) the more flags in general get thrown to both sides.

    Replay. Not just replay on the field, but now with central command watching over the on-field referees’ shoulders.

    There is less willingness to “let the boys play” and at the same time less room for hometown calls.

    Of course “Playing while Georgia” is the exception that proves my point.

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