Optimism: home field advantage and the Houston game

I have been thinking about this one since listening to the first quarter of the game on Houston radio (the feed was cut after that).  The Houston announcers kept talking about how Houston plays so much better at home, how loud the crowd is, and how the 12th man really makes a difference for the Cougars. 

Here, I identify the main variables in home field advantage and do a rough analysis of how many points home field was worth to Houston yesterday.  Initially I was going to put some pessimistic thoughts about our defense in here too, but I ran out of time.  So, don't accuse me of being a starry-eyed optimist!  I just ran out of time.

More after the jump.

So, it turns out there are a lot of people who have studied home field advantage and information is relatively easily available.  In college football, on average, HFA (home field advantage) is worth about 3 points a game, and in college football the home team wins 59% of games.  This makes HFA in college football one of the biggest of any major sport.  Why HFA exists is more difficult to say.  One of the main factors in HFA, for example, is how far the visiting team travels, which suggests that it shouldn't be thought of as home-field advantage but actually as away-field disadvantage.

But while traveling distance of the visiting team is one of the key factors, it's not the only one.  Crowd effects (noise mostly) seems to have an important impact.  This impact is also relative to how big the crowd is and bigger crowds have bigger impacts.  Some attribute this to friendly refereeing (again suggesting that it's not 'home-field advantage' as much as 'home-field prejudicing of refs'), others to concentration of the visiting team, while yet other argue that having supporters rooting and cheering for the home team can actually help them perform better.  My guess is that all three exist to some extent but their effects are difficult to separate out.

Interestingly, HFA is usually bigger for teams outside of the major conferences.  In college football, for example, it was highest for the WAC and Conference USA (see  I'm not sure why HFA is higher in these conferences but my guess is that in all sports mid-level teams are going to benefit more from HFA.  At home, the crowd, the noise, the energy, will help even out differences in talent level when they play better teams.  Indeed, studies of HFA generally use a metric that measures home versus away performance (totally reasonable) but what this means is that good road teams are hurt by the measurement process just because they are good on the road, when in fact, they may indeed be benefiting from just as much HFA as middling teams.  Indeed, winning on the road is one of the characteristics of truly great teams.  Moreover, this ability to perform on the road seems to be derived from experience.

What does this have to do with our loss at Houston yesterday?  Well, if these studies are right it suggests that HFA was worth MORE than the usual 3 points in college football.  Traveling distance doesn't seem to be as much of an issue, but Conference USA averaged almost 4 points of HFA, the crowd was only about 32,000 but LOUD, and both UCLA and Houston are good but not great teams. 

So, in my analysis HFA might have been worth as many as seven points in yesterday's game.  In just a REALLY rough analysis we can start with a base of 4 (Conf. USA's average HFA) and then just add or subtract 1 point for each of these other factors.  If it's an 'average' factor then it is a hold meaning we neither add or subtract.

First, travel.  Did UCLA have an usually long travel to get to UH?  No.  Hold.  No additional points awarded.

Second, was the crowd large and loud?  The answer is yes.  Although it was only 32,000 according to UHouston website ( it was also one of the ten largest in U Houston history.  I'm going to say that this gave them an additional advantage due to crowd size.  +1 to UH.

Third, are UCLA or Houston mid-level teams?  The answer is yes.  I'm awarding this one TWO points, one for each team.  The truth is with the missed PAT ad FG, UCLA penalties, and Houston's efficiency of offense it might have been worth more. A +2 to Houston in this case is also justified by UCLA's inexperience, esp. with our kicker and defense.

So, I rate the home field advantage for the game yesterday at well above normal.  Quibble with my final take on trying to quantify this (and for you stats studs out there, go run some #'s and do some real quantifying) but the whole point is to try to clarify the intuition that home field advantage made a big difference in yesterday's game. 

Play at the Rose Bowl and we win (probably) by 3. 

For more information on HFA see:

There is also a genuine academic literature on HFA, some of which are referenced in the blogs I used to put this together.  Enjoy!

<em>This is a FanPost and does not necessarily reflect the views of BruinsNation's (BN) editors. It does reflect the views of this particular fan though, which is as important as the views of BN's editors.</em>

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