YODA was here...
(post for BVOF Halloween Feast Blogging Brawl)
(posted 31 October 2008 - 23:59 Eastern)
"Tonight we got our fans with us! They spent their own dough to get here, and they came here to see US! All right, let's show 'em what we got, guys! Get out there on the ice and let 'em know you're there. Get that f***in' stick in their side. Let 'em know you're there! Get that lumber in his teeth. Let 'em know you're there!" - Paul Newman, locker-room pep-talk, Slap Shot
The home-field (or home-court, or home-ice) advantage exists in every team sport. Common sense and observation is backed up by thousands of university studies on the subject. Teams DO win by a larger margin at home (or lose by a smaller margin at home) compared to their records against the very same competition on the road. So, while coaches and athletes like to put '110% effort' into spewing cliches, this is NOT one of them. When an NBA coach tells drones on about the importance of 'gaining home-court advantage', there is legitimate reason.
Not only does homefield advantage exist, it is a significant advantage. For example, in English Premiership soccer, teams score 36% more goals on their home field. An even MORE important statistic is that 97.2% of FanNation members DO NOT care one iota about soccer stats - so I will stay away from soccer references for the rest of this blog (and I know what you're thinking here - 97.2% seems way too low.) The fact is though, it's a significant factor in every team sport - even the good ones. Anyone that closely follows the NFL will confirm this (especially anyone that bets on the games regularly). NBA and NHL fans also know that much of the importance of the long regular season lies in securing home court (or home-ice) for those crucial Game 7s. And in MLB, perhaps more than any other sport, the actual rules of the game play a huge factor.
So again, we know that a home-field advantage exists - and we know it makes a significant difference. The only real question that remains is, "WHY does it exist?"
Here are the five major reasons:
- Rules of the Sport - The easiest factor to measure.
- Cities/Stadiums - Often the most extreme factor.
- The Fans - Wait a minute, that's us! Power to the people!
- Travel - A reality in modern sports.
- Psychology - Perhaps, the most interesting factor.
The most obvious example is MLB's game-structure where the home team bats last. Depending on the specific point in the game (late innings, extra innings, etc.), the last-bat gives the home team the strategic advantage when it comes to deciding when it may be worth stealing a base, engineering a sacrifice play, or making a certain pitching decision. That one extra run brings the game to an immediate and victorious end.
Home-field advantage also comes into effect during inter-league play. AL pitchers are not used to hitting. NL teams don't carry a designated hitter in their line-ups.
There is also a home-ice advantage built directly into the NHL rules. During stoppages of play, the home team always gets 'last line change'. They get to see which specific players the other team is putting on the ice before choosing which players to match up against them. As a result, the visiting team often gets caught with unfavorable match-ups. Another small advantage is built into face-offs. The visiting center must touch his stick to the ice first giving the home center an advantage in timing the puck drop.
2) CITIES AND STADIUMS
While a basketball court is always the same size, a baseball field is not. Some stadiums have unique configurations or MUCH shorter home-run 'fences' than others. A clever manager can load his team up with power hitters than bat either left or right based on the advantages the specific park provides.
The Boston Bruins had the smallest NHL ice-surface for years. This made it more difficult for opposing players who were used to skating with more room. To compound the advantage, the notorious Bruins would also load up their team with bigger players.
With outdoor sports, weather plays a crucial role. The more repetitions an athlete has under certain weather conditions, the better they are able to perform. The Green Bay Packers have an advantage over the Arizona Cardinals if it's snowing. In Florida, the 'Swamp' provides a setting that combines unbearable heat and humidity (and chlamidia!) that opposing teams are rarely prepared for. And Denver's 'mile-high' thin air and arid climate is perhaps the best example of the 'climate effect'. Visiting players become more easily winded. A hit baseball travels 10% further. And a breaking ball simply won't break as much, leaving opposing pitchers baffled and exposed.
In the Minnesota Twins' Metrodome, visiting MLB outfielders have a tough time catching routine fly balls since the inside color of the dome happens to match the color of a baseball exactly. Allegations of stadium lights purposely pointed directly at outfielders are also routine.
3) FAN BEHAVIOR
Here's the area that gets the most press. Usually it's the obnoxious Yankee fans berating opposing players with their 'colorful' language and classy antics that grabs the headlines - but there are situations that are indeed more tangible in terms of affecting results.
Fan noise and activity can have positive effects on the home-team and negative effects on the visitors. During the LSU victory over Auburn in 1988, the noise reached such a crescendo that it registered on the university's seismographic equipment (yes, the equipment that measures earthquakes). It became known as "The Night the Tigers Moved the Earth", a night that the ever-present LSU homers will unfortunately not let us the rest of us forget about, even 20 years later.
Visiting QBs have a difficult time in the loudest stadiums. Texas A&M's Kyle Field is (semi-arrogantly) nicknamed the '12th man' due to the decibel level it regularly generates. The opposing offense has difficulty with the snap-count and hearing QB audibles. This results in an increase in illegal procudure penalties and the need to rely on a reduced playbook.
And when it comes to basketball, let's just say that the trend of attempting to distract the visiting team's free-throw attempts with noise-makers and obnoxious Thunderstix will not be going away soon.
A team's home-field advantage becomes greater based on the distance the visiting team had to travel. Jumping time-zones affects both the duration and the quality of sleep - leading to increased fatigue later in the game. Going through one's regular routine (sleeping in one's own bed, breakfast with the wife and kids) allows one to be more mentally relaxed and thus able to concentrate at key times in the game. I'm sure it goes without saying that staying up all night banging groupies, sipping Cristal, and 'making it rain' for strippers on the road can be counterproductive. And yet, I said it anyway.
One of the most creative management manipulation's of the 'travel effect' is carried out by the Vancouver-based, BC Lions of the CFL (Canadian Football League). For the last 7 years, they have purposely scheduled their home games against Eastern teams to take place at 8 p.m. rather than during the afternoon. This means that games are ending at close to 2 a.m. eastern time. Quite a toll on the visitors from Eastern Canada, eh? The result - Even though the Lions are a mediocre team at best, they have not lost a home game to a team east of Winnipeg for the past 7 years.
Virtually every player in every team sport prefers to play in front of their home crowd. And in general, they perform better. (A notable exception to the rule, was the Vancouver Canuck's superstar Pavel Bure. While he did prefer to play at home, perhaps he preferred it too much. He was prone to 'trying to give the home crowd their money's worth'. Rather than just make the safe play, he'd often attempt the highlight reel deke or the between the legs pass that would result in a give-away). For most players though, the home crowd makes a positive impact. The additional adreneline boost provides additional energy when one is tiring. The endorphins that are released help numb pain - very important in contact sports. And the newest studies even show that testoterone levels measure higher for the home team - helping in sports like football and hockey where aggressive play is rewarded on the scoreboard.
There is also an 'intimidation factor' that negatively affects visiting teams that enter certain stadiums or arenas. Not only do opponents that play Notre Dame have to deal with Touchdown Jesus watching their every move from above, they also have to make sure that the don't inadvertantly glance at the distracting disgusting distended belly of Charlie Weis on the side-line - enough to instill instant waves of nausea in even the toughest and most jaded players on the planet. (LeSean McCoy is said to dreading tomorrow's game for this very reason.)
"Kill the ref!!!" Unfortunately, there IS also an officiating bias. Home-teams are penalized less than away teams. While every refereeing union will tell you that the disparity is due to the visiting team being more 'nervous' and thus prone to commit fouls, common sense dictates otherwise. The refs are likely to let home teams escape certain borderline calls so that the ref, in turn, can escape a portion of the inevitable wrath from the biased and drunken fans. While we'd ideally like all refs to be 100% unbiased, we'd ALSO like them to give every close call to the team we happen to be supporting! Refs are in a no-win position - and it is only human for them to psychologically want to avoid pain.
While there is absolutely no doubt that the home-field advantage exists (and no doubt that it IS significant), there is still plenty to debate regarding which of these aforementioned factors affects which teams to the greatest degree. Each team has a unique history and fanbase with its own traditions - and while many of the traditions reflect and inspire a sense of community, many of these traditions CAN, in fact, influence the actual outcome of the game. So whether you are an aspiring sportswriter, a sports gambler, a fantasy-league participant, or quite simply like most of us - a FAN, remember Toto, there is no place like home.
YODA is a NOT a freelance journalist, but has been a member of FanNation since May 2007. YODA is the founder of the Throwdown Zingers Group which can be found here. Like all Canadians, he is a die-hard NHL fan, however he has chosen to leave his homeland and is currently a personal trainer in San Diego. Got something to say to YODA -- questions, comments, suggestions, derision to sling, vengeance to exact, commendations to render, accusations of byline plagiarism (BigAlke only), or contracts to offer? You can reach YODA through FanMail, the comments box below or in a galaxy far far away.