By the numbers: Home-field advantage in college football over the last decade

By Amy Daughters -

While it’s a widely held belief that teams are more likely to win when playing at home, what’s less available is actual mathematical data to support the claim.

The most accurate way to quantify “advantage” is to calculate how much better a team performed at home vs. their record on the road. The method is superior to simply identifying which teams are the most successful at home because it tells us more.

To illustrate, no team has had more success at home since 2006 than Boise State. The Broncos went 65-4 (94.2%) at Albertson’s Stadium – better than Ohio State (72-7 or 91.1%) and Oklahoma (60-7 or 89.6%).

The rest of the story is that Boise State went 51-13 (79.7%) on the road during the same span. It means it was only 14.5% better at home than away.  Or – the Broncos numerical home-field advantage is 14.5%.

It earns BSU a No. 101 rank among the 119 programs that played at the FBS level each season between 2006-16.  It amounts to 100 FBS teams enjoying a bigger advantage at home than the Broncos.

Compare that to BYU, which ranks No. 6 nationally at home since 2006. The Cougars were 58-9 (86.6%) at Lavell Edwards vs. 36-25 (59%) on the road. That’s a home field advantage of 27.6% – almost double Boise State’s and No. 29 in the nation.

Even though they shared similar success at home as did the Broncos, BYU was 13.1% more likely to win on their own field vs. away than Boise State.

The Numbers

Across the entire FBS, on average, teams had a 20.3% better record at home (62.8%) than on the road (42.5%) from 2006-16.

The school with the biggest gap between performance at home vs. away was Arkansas State. The Red Wolves went 48-14 (77.4%) at Centennial Bank Stadium vs. 27-44 (38%) on the road. It amounts to a 39.4% home-field advantage.

The school with the smallest gap between home/road performance is Duke. The Blue Devils went 29-44 (39.7%) at Wallace Wade vs. 23-27 (38.3%) away. They were only 1.4% more successful at home.

Take a look at the results by conference.

Power 5

ACC

Conference Average:  16.3% advantage at home

Biggest Advantage:  Virginia – 24.7% advantage at home

37-38 (49.3%) at home vs. 14-43 (24.6%) away

Smallest Advantage:  Duke – 1.4% advantage at home

29-44 (39.7%) vs. 23-27 (38.3%)

BIG 12

Conference Average:  19.6% advantage at home

Biggest Advantage:  Kansas – 35.9%

35-37 (48.6%) at home vs. 7-48 (12.7%) away

Smallest Advantage:  Texas – 4.8%

47-22 (68.1%) home vs. 31-18 (63.3%) away

BIG TEN

Conference Average:  18.2% advantage at home

Biggest Advantage:  Michigan – 26.8%

59-21 (73.8%) home vs. 24-27 (47%) away

Smallest Advantage:  Northwestern – 2.1%

42-31 (57.5%) home vs. 31-25 (55.4%) away

PAC-12

Conference Average:  20.9% advantage at home

Biggest Advantage:  California – 32.4%

44-26 (62.9%) home vs. 18-41 (30.5%) away

Smallest Advantage:  Washington State – 11.3%

29-40 (42%) home vs. 19-43 (30.7%) away

SEC

Conference Average:  21.7% advantage at home

Biggest Advantage:  Tennessee – 36.4%

54-25 (68.4%) home vs. 16-34 (32%) away

Smallest Advantage:  Georgia – 9%

56-16 (77.8%) home vs. 33-15 (68.8%) away

Non-Power Conferences

AMERICAN

Conference Average:  19.8% advantage at home

Biggest Advantage:  Connecticut – 29.4%

42-30 (58.3%) home vs. 17-42 (28.9%) away

Smallest Advantage:  USF – 10.3%

41-30 (57.8%) home vs. 29-32 (47.5%) away

C-USA

Conference Average:  23.5% advantage at home

Biggest Advantage:  Marshall – 38.8%

46-20 (69.7%) home vs. 21-47 (30.9%) away

Smallest Advantage:  Florida International – 11.1%

23-40 (36.5%) home vs. 17-50 (25.4%) away

MAC

Conference Average:  16.9% advantage at home

Biggest Advantage:  Akron – 17.1%

25-37 (40.3%) home vs. 16-53 (23.2%) away

Smallest Advantage:  Bowling Green – 2.8%

32-27 (54.2%) home vs. 36-34 (51.4%) away

MOUNTAIN WEST

Conference Average:  23.7% advantage at home

Biggest Advantage:  Utah State – 34.9%

38-24 (61.3%) home vs. 19-53 (26.4%) away

Smallest Advantage:  Boise State – 14.5%

65-4 (94.2%) home vs. 51-13 (79.7%) away

SUN BELT

Conference Average:  26% advantage at home

Biggest Advantage:  Arkansas State – 39.4%

48-14 (77.4%) home vs. 27-44 (38%) away

Smallest Advantage:  Louisiana-Lafayette – 17.4%

37-25 (59.7%) home vs. 30-41 (42.3%) away

Overall, the Sun Belt members combined to enjoy the biggest average home field advantage at 26%. Among the Power conferences the top dog is the SEC (21.7%), followed by the Pac-12 (20.9%) and the Big 12 (19.6%).

The league with the least advantage is the ACC at 16.3%, edging the MAC at 16.9%.

In case you’re wondering about independent schools other than BYU – Notre Dame was 18.9% more successful in South Bend over the last decade (No. 77 in the FBS) while Army posted a 20.4% advantage (No. 68) at West Point.

The most convincing number is 100. That’s the percentage of the 119 FBS schools that posted a better record at home from 2006-16 than they did on the road.

Historical data courtesy of Sports Reference-College Football

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Comments (8)

This is pretty flawed. A calculation like this might work for pro leagues with balanced schedules, but the FBS routinely schedules more home teams for power conferences than for the lower-level conferences. Teams like Arkansas State are going to play mostly winnable conference games at home, while playing as huge underdogs against top teams on the road in non-conference play.

You might have more success restricting this to conference games only, and eliminating heavily non-conference games because so many of them are played with the huge favorites at home.

To quote the 19th century British Prime Minister, “there are lies ((Trump), damn lies (Trump), and statistics. These certainly are statistics.

THis is a good place to start. What needs to be done next is normalize the data based on strength of opponent. For example looking at expected wins or losses based on team strength. If teams at home win more often when they are expected to lose (when discounting playing location) than homefield advantage is a real thing.

Let’s use BYU as an example here. They routinely play much tougher road games than home games, I am not at all surprised that they are more likely to win at home because they play weak opponents at home at-least twice as often strong opponents. But, does BYU win when they are expected to more often on the road or at home, vs do they lose more often than they are expected to on the road or at home.

Instead of ridiculing this study and not offering any constructive criticism, I would say maybe look at conference games only. That way you get teams of similar pedigree (Sun Belt vs Sun Belt) and a more even split in number of home and road games. Nice work though.

I like the article better than the comments, thanks Amy. If we wanted a balanced sport or symmetrical or equitable scheduling we would all have stopped watching college football decades ago. BYU can get NMSU in for a bodybag game, Alabama can get better – Colorado State. That’s NCAA football.

I like this, but you should make one that just shows P5 vs P5(but also include BYU, ND, the AAC, & respectable teams that have a high win percentage or that are successful or something like that, for teams like Boise State/SDSU/WKU/MTSU that aren’t in the AAC but other group of five conferences that can be considered.