The Value of Home Field Advantage in Football

CALCULATING THE TRUE VALUE OF HOME FIELD ADVANTAGE IN FOOTBALL

It's been a while since we've reviewed the value of home field advantage here in the NOTEBOOK. You'll often see us referencing the standard "three points" in our college and pro football preview articles. If you're not a longtime reader, you don't know where that came from. Let's take a midweek edition to review how that three came to be and when it should be tweaked.

First, let's point out that the market has used a fairly standard three points for decades. That was true back in the 1980's and 1990's. Maybe Jimmy the Greek talked about it on CBS back before then. In the days before computer simulations, algorithms, and that yellow line on TV that tells you what's needed for a third down, trial and error had already stuck the number at THREE.

Oddsmakers found that using two or less proved to be too low from practical purposes. And, using four proved to be too high except in the colleges for teams who really pounded people at home or who scheduled soft. Three WORKED even before computers.

When the information age finally hit football analysis, all the research generally showed the same thing. If you looked at what happened when relatively even teams played each other (most NFL games, and competitive college matchups), the result generally centered on a three-point victory for the host. Maybe not in the one game you were watching. Or, maybe not over two weeks of football. But, over large samplings in current seasons and in the history books, that magic number of three kept coming up. Even teams played close games, with the median result being the host winning by a field goal.

What was most important during the research back then was that a per-category analysis helped explain why that happened. Here were the two key factors that brought the math together:

  • Turnovers are generally worth 4 points apiece

  • Visitors usually make three-fourth's more of a turnover per game over the long haul (0.75 extra turnovers per game)

There was your three points! Turnovers are worth four points, and visitors make an extra three fourths of a turnover per game over a large sample of data points. In other words, over roughly a thousand games or so, you saw something like:

Visitors: 2.75 turnovers per game
Hosts: 2 turnovers per game

Home field advantage in football was worth three points because visitors made more turnovers.

Now, there are certainly circumstances that could add or subtract from that. The magic number of three worked great in general. You could squeeze out more accuracy by:

  • Adding anywhere from 1-5 points for top teams playing non-conference home games vs. cupcakes. It depends on the program and the head coach typically. But, there are always some teams that create the illusion of quality by running up the score vs. patsies in September home games. They make the most of their friendly environment early in the season, and offer true value to bettors backing them. But, when not playing cupcakes, that inflated part of home field advantage disappears, and it's back to the magic three (or even two for mediocrities who can only win when bullying).

  • Adding a point or two for home teams playing at altitude against visitors who weren't used to altitude.

  • Adding a point or two for home teams playing in their usual time zone against visitors who were playing either very early or very late on their body clocks.

  • Adding a point or two for home teams who played aggressive defense in front of very large crowds in a way that increased their turnover edge. Many home blowouts are triggered by turnover implosions. Recognizing when those were likely to happen gave smart bettors a reason to back home teams in those games.

  • Adding a point or two when other intangibles like "bounce backs" or "revenge" came into play. Those keys PLUS home field proved to be a nice elixir, and home field would grade out stronger when things lined up.

  • Subtracting a point or two for weak teams who played in front of small home crowds. Teams on the lower rungs often have trouble forcing turnovers, so they weren't doing the things that actually created home field advantage in the first place.

  • Subtracting a point or two for college teams who played in pro stadiums. Crowed noise is diffuse in this kind of locale unless a big time program is involved. The emotion of a game just isn't the same if the stadium is half or two-thirds empty.

  • Subtracting a point or two if the home team was coming off a huge performance the prior week, or was otherwise disinterested in a game. This was most valuable in conference action when many players on the visiting side had seen the stadium before.

So, as you handicap this weekend's games in college and pro football, use three as your base and then tweak based on any other analytical factors you can find that would apply directly to turnovers. What causes road teams to make them? What allows road teams to play relatively clean games? Remember that things get more extreme in the colleges than the pro's because NFL teams do this for a living and have standardized many execution elements. But, most college teams are jumping into conference action this week, which will create a more condensed landscape than what we've had for most of the month. There are fewer garbage games per week from this point forward.

If you'd like some help picking winners this week and beyond, BIG, JUICY WINNERS are always just a few clicks away! Test the waters here on this website when football returns Thursday with Cleveland-Baltimore in the NFL and Stanford-Washington in the colleges. We have great rates for the rest of the season. Complete details are available in the office at 1-800-323-4453.

The heavy-duty football schedule leaves little time to discuss baseball in the NOTEBOOK. We'll provide snippets of coverage once the playoffs arrive. Be aware that JIM HURLEY is still dealing diamond gems seven days a week. Games of interest for us tonight include: Oakland at Texas, Toronto at Baltimore, and any game with a chance to influence the Wildcard races. You don't have to take Tuesday and Wednesday off!

What is home field advantage worth in baseball or the other sports? Let's quickly review those before calling it a day:

Baseball: about 15 cents (using won-lost percentages and pro-rating them to moneyline equivalents)

Pro Basketball: about 3 points, though it's better to use 4 points for some of the Western teams if the visitor has jet lag or if you're talking about games at altitude in Denver and Utah. In most years, you're probably better off using only 2 for the worst of the Eastern teams.

College Basketball: about 4 points generally, though it's better to use 3 in geographically tight conferences. The same early season "cupcake" principals apply here as well, with some teams deserving five because they try to pad their records and stats against weak opposition.

Maybe the first few weeks of the 2012 football season haven't gone your way because you've been playing your own picks. You feel like the overmatched visitor who's always making turnovers. JIM HURLEY'S exclusive team handicapping approach has basically given him home field advantage over oddsmakers for more than 25 years! Learn the power of the NETWORK juggernaut first hand this week by signing up with JIM HURLEY!

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