Who has a real home-field advantage?

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Fans love rankings. Just love them. They gobble them up when there’s games being played, and savor them even more when games aren’t being played. And while their prevalence has led to the proliferation of a rather simple-minded genre in my line of work – List Journalism – rankings remain popular in part because of the arguments they stoke/stimulate/embolden discussion.

And such was the case when the Official Dot-Com Diva produced a list of the toughest ACC stadiums and soon followed up with Version 2.0. Fans howled, newspaper bloggers (like the Orlando Sentinel’s Florida State beat writer, Andrew Carter) offered their takes and a good time was had by all.

This, of course, was all subjective. But what fun is tossing out an opinion when there’s a good way to figure out which teams get helped the most by playing in their home stadium? Actually, it’s plenty fun, unless you consider devoting a couple hours to research on a Sunday morning to be fun.

(There’s also the fact it would be pretty silly on my part to rank each of these stadiums before actually watching one game of some kind in each of them. Maryland’s trip to Virginia Tech in November will complete the 12-stadium tour for me, and by season’s end I will have seen at least two games in every stadium except Lane Stadium, Wallace Wade Stadium (a forgettable game in 2000) and Dolphin Stadium (the 2002 Orange Bowl)).

But in part to satiate my own curiosity and in part to to fulfull a promise to the Raleigh News & Observer’s J.P. Giglio (the primary voice of the N&O’s fine ACC Now blog) to break down each ACC school’s home-field record, I indeed spent a couple hours this morning burrowing through media guides to come up with an answer.

It would be only too easy to base this entire endeavor solely on home winning percentage; Florida State’s Doak Campbell Stadium, Virginia Tech’s Lane Stadium and Clemson’s Memorial Stadium rank 1-2-3 in the league in that regard. And in terms of the purely toughest places to play, those probably are the top three.

But that just tells you that Florida State and Clemson in the long-term, and Virginia Tech in the last 15 years, have been really, really good. In short, it tells you nothing you don’t already know.

A better way to look at this is to figure out just which teams are vastly better at home than on the road. And so mix a quick look through history, a little HTML know-how and a decent time interval to come up with an appropriate judgment (say, 20 years) and – ta-da! – here’s a better view of things.

This chart covers every season from 1988 to 2007, with the schools ranked in order of the greatest difference in winning percentage between home games and road/neutral games:

School Overall Home Pct. Road/Neutral Pct.Difference
Virginia152-90-194-28.77058-62-1.483.287
Maryland107-122-267-48-1.58240-74-1.352.230
N.C. State135-103-284-41-1.67151-62-1.452.219
Virginia Tech165-76-298-26-1.78867-50-1.572.215
Clemson152-87-193-34-1.73059-53.527.203
Georgia Tech137-102-182-40.67255-62-1.470.202
Florida State199-50-1106-13-1.88893-37.715.173
North Carolina117-117-169-52-1.57048-65.425.145
Duke58-166-236-75.32422-91-2.200.124
Miami190-52106-20.84184-32.724.117
Boston College133-103-272-43-1.62061-60-1.504.116
Wake Forest94-134-150-65-2.43644-69.389.047

Now, before going any further, it’s fair to point out the things this attempt at learning something is a bit flawed in regard to. It does not account for strength of schedule. It also is a difficult metric for an elite team to fare well in, simply because a national title contender is winning anywhere it plays.

It in no way accounts for stadium atmosphere, fear factor, etc. Although Miami ranks 10th on this list, a humid night in a dangerous neighborhood at the late, great Orange Bowl was no opponents’ idea of a fun time.

But besides those shortcomings, the one other thing that could be flawed is the timeframe. Although 20 years makes for a nice, round number, there are some things it just barely includes.

It includes Steve Spurrier’s last two years at Duke. It includes Mack Brown’s back-to-back 1-10s to start his career at North Carolina. It includes a time when the ACC had only eight schools. A lot has changed since then, and the late 1980s accounting for 10 percent of the data might not reflect current reality

So with that in mind, I crunched the numbers for the last 10 years (1998-2007) to see how they came out:

School Overall Home Pct. Road/Neutral Pct.Difference
Virginia73-5146-15.75427-36.429.325
Maryland69-5143-19.69426-32.448.246
Clemson72-5045-20.69227-30.474.218
Florida State92-3650-11.82042-25.627.193
N.C. State67-5541-23.64126-32.448.193
Boston College83-4146-15.75437-26.587.167
Miami94-3352-12.81342-21.667.146
Georgia Tech79-4743-19.69436-28.563.131
Virginia Tech99-2956-11.83643-18.705.131
North Carolina47-7127-33.45020-38.345.105
Duke17-9710-48.1727-49.125.047
Wake Forest58-6130-31.49228-30.483.009

Well, how about them apples? Maybe the most fascinating number in the whole chart is the last one – statistically, Wake Forest has enjoyed virtually no home-field advantage in last decade.

That’s maybe further proof Jim Grobe is a miracle worker. Grobe is 24-19 (.558) at home and 22-20 (.524) away from The Facility Formerly Known As Groves Stadium in his seven seasons; that’s a difference, but not a substantial one.

Both charts place Virginia and Maryland at the top. That doesn’t mean Scott Stadium or Byrd Stadium are necessarily “tough.” It does, however, mean the Cavaliers and Terrapins are vastly more difficult to play over the years when they enjoy the comforts of their own locker room and a friendly crowd.

And if a significant wins-and-losses imbalance doesn’t constitute a home-field advantage – which, after all, is what players and coaches love to boast about and does factor into the whole “toughness” argument – I don’t know what does.

Patrick Stevens

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