May 20, 2024
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Root, Root, Root For The Home Team

The home advantage in sports is obvious and well documented, but what gives the home team its edge?

Sports fans for years have argued about the relative importance of the home crowd, the familiar surroundings, the lack of travel and the support of family and friends. 2020, while a disaster movie of a year, gave us an interesting social experiment that would not have been possible. What if we played the entire season with no fans? What would happen to the home field advantage?
What we discovered was dramatic if not surprising. The home field advantage disappeared almost entirely worldwide. For the 2020 season in the NFL, the home team was 127-128-1. In English Premier League soccer, 2019 European Champions Liverpool struggled to a third place finish, as their 64-game home unbeaten streak ended with six consecutive home losses at one point, the worst home losing streak in the 129-year history of the club.
Only in Major League Baseball did the home advantage continue uninterrupted by the absence of spectators. Over the past century, the home team in baseball has won 54% of the time. In 2020, the home team won 55.7% of games. Maybe the fans were distracting the home team.
But, why is baseball different? The home advantage in baseball is cooked into rules. First, the home team gets to bat last. That has to account for something, however, in the limited number of neutral site baseball games played in past quarter century, the "home" team, batting last, has LOST about 55% of the games.
The factor that may make baseball's home advantage more indelible is the rule that permits every team to design their own ballpark. In baseball, only distances between the bases and between home plate and the pitcher's rubber are defined. There are minimum distances for the placement of the outfield fence, but very few other limits. The "fence" can be a wall, covered with ivy, a "Green Monster" like in Boston and Plainsman Park, or a hillside, with rapidly rising ground. Each park can have dozens of other peculiarities that makes each unique. A few years ago, Auburn scored an inside-the-park home run with the help of a strategically placed bench in foul territory. Baseball teams are constructed with the home park in mind.
While the Braves may win or lose just fine with or without fan support, a full house at Jordan-Hare Stadium should give the Tiger a real home field advantage this Fall.