Home Sweet Home?

Given the layout and size of Stanford stadium, there have been ongoing questions of how much a "home field" advantage it levies on game day. Relative to Autzen or Husky Stadium, it seldom if ever can match the noise, so are the boys any better off playing at home? terry has put together the data and analysis from the last 30 years to answer that very question!

Last week, there was some discussion on the BootBoard about Stanford's home field advantage.  Some people questioned whether Stanford really has a home field advantage.  It got me curious, so I looked into it.

A comparison of Stanford's home and away records over the long term shows that Stanford does considerably better at home than on the road.  Since 1963 (John Ralston's first season as Stanford's coach), Stanford's winning percentage at home is .589 (126-87-5), while Stanford's winning percentage on the road is .451 (84-103-6).  Obviously, that's a significant difference.

The same difference between home and away records shows up in the more recent past.  In fact, Stanford's home and away winning percentages under Tyrone Willingham are uncannily similar to the long term percentages noted above.  Since Willingham took over in 1995, Stanford's home winning percentage is .597 (21-14-1), while Stanford's road winning percentage is .452 (14-17).

Every one of Stanford's last nine coaches had a significantly better record at home than on the road.  Here are their records (bowl games and neutral field games are excluded):

    Home Road
Willingham (1995-2001) 21-14-1 (.597) 14-17 (.452)
Walsh II (1992-1994) 10-8 (.556) 6-8-1 (.433)
Green (1989-1991) 10-8 (.556) 6-9 (.400)
Elway (1984-1988) 14-13-1 (.518) 10-15-1 (.404)
Wiggin (1980-1983) 9-13 (.409) 7-15 (.318)
Dowhower (1979) 4-3 (.571) 1-2-1 (.375)
Walsh I (1977-1978) 9-2 (.818) 6-5 (.545)
Christiansen (1972-1976) 16-10-1 (.611) 14-12-2 (.536)
Ralston (1963-1971) 33-16-2 (.667) 20-20-1 (.500)
Total   126-87-5 (.589) 84-103-6 (.451)


Over the years, the difference between Stanford's home and away records has been more significant in non-conference games than in conference games.  In conference games since 1963, Stanford's winning percentage is .550 at home and .461 on the road.  In non-conference games over that period, Stanford's winning percentage is .660 at home and .423 on the road.  That makes sense. The home field advantage would tend to be more important in non-conference games, because the visiting team often must travel through several time zones and often is unfamiliar with the venue.  In conference games, the home field advantage is less significant because travel within the conference is easier.  Also, the visiting team in a conference game often brings more fans because they live closer to the game site, and the visiting coaches and players usually are more familiar with the surroundings at a conference site.

Willingham's conference vs. non-conference breakdown shows the same trend. In conference games, he has a home winning percentage of .583 (14-10) and a road winning percentage of .500 (12-12).  In non-conference games, Willingham has a home winning percentage of .625 (7-4-1) and a road winning percentage of .286 (2-5).  The disparity is especially stark when looking at games against non-conference opponents from east of the Rockies.  Against those teams, Willingham has a home record of 5-0-1 and a road record of 0-5.

You might wonder whether the disparity between home and away records can be explained by a difference in the quality of the teams Stanford plays at home and on the road.  In general, Stanford plays home-and-home series with both conference opponents and non-conference opponents, so Stanford faces largely the same teams at home and on the road.  Over the long run, therefore, there should not be a significant difference in the quality of home opponents and road opponents.  The obvious exception, of course, is San Jose State, which Stanford almost always plays at home.  Is Stanford's record against San Jose State responsible for Stanford's high winning percentage at home?  No. Stanford's winning percentage at home against San Jose State since 1963 is roughly similar to Stanford's winning percentage at home against other non-conference opponents.  In recent years, Stanford actually has a better winning percentage at home against other non-conference opponents than against San Jose State.  So the fact that San Jose State usually plays at Stanford does not explain the disparity between Stanford's home and away winning percentages.

It appears that Stanford does indeed have a home field advantage.  I suppose somebody might argue that when Stanford plays at home, Stanford doesn't really have a home field advantage so much as the absence of a road disadvantage.  I'm not sure that's a meaningful distinction.  Whatever you want to call it, there is a significant benefit to Stanford in playing at home.  Whether that benefit is as significant at Stanford as at some other schools is a different question, which I will leave for somebody who has a lot more time on his hands...


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