College Homefield (6/25/12)

By Paul Bessire

Monday, June 25 at 11:45 PM ET

Today's blog will revisit college football homefield advantages.

College Football Homefield  Advantage:
In February, we unveiled the results of our research into college basketball homecourt (a lot of this article will read like that article) advantages. Part of the reason that we started digging into those numbers to the degree that we did stemmed from observations that we had seen with betting patterns and performance in both college basketball and college football. Naturally, as we have worked diligently on analyzing and improving the college football engine, one of the first places that we started was with unique homefield advantages. While we will outline all of the modifications that we have put in place for the college football season at a date closer to the launch of our college football preview, which will come out on August 13 (you can see some early observations on likely national champions and dark horse teams in the recent Handicapper's Hot Seat on the must-visit site, we can disclose the rankings of our homefield findings on all 120 teams that played FBS last season (four teams - Texas State, UT-San Antonio, South Alabama and UMass - will make FBS debuts this season). (Note: The NFL Preview will launch on July 30.)

Homefield advantage in college football is typically presumed to mean "about three points" (the average right now is actually closer to 3.8) difference in the final score. This means that if two teams are identical, neither team should be favored on a neutral field, while the home team would be favored by about three if they played at one of the team's stadium. This can lead to essentially a six point swing from one venue to the next. The truth is that some stadiums could actually mean up to nine points, while some do not help much at all. This research has been directly applied to the college football engine for the upcoming season.

The chart below ranks every FBS college football team in order of the strength of its homefield (as ranked by expected points homefield adds based on data). Fans, particularly of SEC and other elite teams will inevitably be disappointed at their apparent lack of impact (most will likely jump to the chart, react and never read this part). However, it's not necessarily a good thing to top this list. In fact, the best teams should be closer to the bottom than the top because they should be more consistent, dominate regularly and not be subject to the large swings in performance that is seen in other teams (making them more like professional teams - Alabama is 106th). While traditionally elite FBS teams should not fare well in this exercise, the same can be said (and noted in the chart) about teams that are traditionally really bad. Where homefield means most is with the next tier of teams behind the absolute elite - mostly BCS conference teams that can usually compete for conference titles, but who do not have four star recruits filling the two-deep and are not always legitimate BCS Championship contenders. That's when the raw value of homefield matters most; when the talent is strong but not elite and players are more susceptible to the impact of crowd noise, tradition and atmosphere. 

Personally, as someone who grew up with season tickets to Camp Randall in Madison, Wisconsin, I'm proud of number two - yet I also understand that Wisconsin is not an elite team with an elite recruiting class every season and a team likely to contend for a national championship. Given my explanation, I wonder if Oklahoma fans would feel the same way. 

I focused on players in the general explanation of the homefield advantage results, but, one of the main reasons that homefield advantage exists to some degree in every sport that we project relates to an inherent bias by officials to support the home team (fair or not - I would say not, yet it appears to be human nature). Reviewing these rankings and considering that conference games are officiated by conference-affiliated crews, a reasonable argument could be made that officiating in some conferences (like the SEC and MAC) has been more neutral than others (like the Big Ten and Big 12). 

Another obvious element behind this is that teams from conferences lower on this list score fewer points than most at the top of this list. We have always believed in viewing homefield advantage as a modifier to per-play statistics and not a flat value so this is good to see and will continue to be incorporated.

One major factor that dominated the college basketball chart - elevation - is not as prevalent in these numbers. While football (22 players rotating on field, pausing between plays, etc.) is a different game than basketball (10 players on a court playing offense and defense, continuous play), the main reason that I think elevation looks like more of an obvious advantage in basketball than football (in addition to the other theories above), is that conferences are more regionally constructed in football than in basketball, thus minimizing the opportunities for a high elevation team to host low elevation teams. Does that mean that the advantage should be greater than we have calculated for Wyoming if FAU, which plays in the same conference as "mile-high" Denver in basketball, has to travel to Laramie for a football game? I'm not sure yet (fortunately, that exact situation does not happen until 2014... FYI, I totally made up that example before I realized they are actually playing in Wyoming soon), but that will be another situation to monitor closely.

Whatever the reasons behind the numbers, we have more accurate data on the true homefield advantages for each team. Remember that homefield advantage compares performance against expected scores at home AND on the road to quantify the value of playing at home. The advantage a team gains at home (relative to opponent) is applied in the opposite direction on the road (data independence is treated similarly for inputs).

All data goes back to 2000. For teams that have new stadiums, seasons in new stadiums are given stronger consideration.

College Football Homefield Advantage by Team:

Rank Team
1 Oklahoma
2 Wisconsin
4 Missouri
5 Nevada
6 Arkansas State
7 Houston
8 Hawaii
9 California
10 Troy
11 Clemson
12 Michigan State
13 Texas A&M
14 Kansas
15 Arizona State
16 Marshall
17 Oklahoma State
18 Cincinnati
19 Colorado
21 Toledo
22 Michigan
23 Oregon
24 Texas Tech
25 Iowa State
27 Kansas State
28 Georgia Tech
29 UNC
30 Rice
31 South Carolina
32 Arkansas
33 Iowa
34 UConn
35 UCF
36 Utah State
37 Indiana
38 Colorado State
39 Wyoming
40 Western Michigan
41 Arizona
42 Baylor
43 San Jose State
44 Washington
45 Northern Illinois
46 ECU
47 Boise State
48 Ohio
49 NC State
50 Minnesota
51 Air Force
52 San Diego State
53 Penn State
54 New Mexico
55 TCU
56 Purdue
57 Maryland
58 Rutgers
59 Temple
60 Tulsa
61 Illinois
62 Louisville
63 Ohio State
64 Virginia
65 Northwestern
66 Tennessee
67 New Mexico State
68 Southern Mississippi
69 Mississippi State
70 BYU
71 USC
72 North Texas
73 Central Michigan
74 Louisiana Tech
75 Middle Tennessee
76 Auburn
77 SMU
78 Akron
79 Idaho
80 Miami (OH)
81 Syracuse
82 Oregon State
83 Miami (FL)
84 Kentucky
85 Pittsburgh
86 Mississippi
87 Ball State
88 FIU
89 Fresno State
90 Army
91 Wake Forest
92 UAB
93 USF
94 Boston College
95 Kent State
96 Florida
97 Stanford
98 Buffalo
99 Eastern Michigan
100 Texas
101 Georgia
102 Nebraska
103 Florida Atlantic
104 Tulane
105 Notre Dame
106 Alabama
107 Virginia Tech
108 LSU
109 Memphis
110 Washington State
111 West Virginia
112 Utah
113 Western Kentucky
114 Louisiana
115 Vanderbilt
116 Duke
117 Louisiana Monroe
118 Bowling Green
119 Florida State
120 Navy

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