Home Field Advantage and Sport: Does It Truly Exist?

Ben SpicerCorrespondent IOctober 12, 2008


Picture This: Temperatures are frigid, the endzones etched a chilling white with snow, and a cold so piercing it pops out of the television set and into the living room. Your down by a touchdown at the start of the fourth quarter, your hands are numb, and you take a look at the crowd from the huddle, a bad decision. Towels are flying, fans are greeting you with the wave, and signs are seen throughout the stadium.

Stepping under center, you notice a hole in the defense. Yelling an audible, your cadence is immediately disrupted by thousands of screaming, intense, and emotional pigskin faithful. People so immensely a part of the game that they're disrupting your game plan, your play calling, and your rhythm.

Now, what was just described above? It's home field advantage, of course, and according to many sports fans, analysts, and journalists, it's what drives many athletes to success - a chance to taste victory in front of thousands of shouting brothers and sisters that you've never met, or seen in your life. It takes a bit to grasp, but once the fans get under your skin it is smooth sailing from there.

And the numbers prove this. Emotionally fueled or not, only 6 Major League teams had winning records on the road this season, a clear cry that home field advantage truly does exist in sports today... or does it?

It's been rumored that in baseball, some stadiums give the home team certain advantages. Pitching mounds are adjusted specifically to the home starter's tendencies and desires, and sometimes doused with water just to get into the opposition's head. It's a smart tactic that's for certain, but does it prove the question of home field advantage to be correct?

One thing is for sure, and that is how home field advantage exists due to weather. For example, let's stick with MLB and the Chicago Cubs.

Chicago, Illinois, or the "Windy City" as it's been called, isn't the best of places for you to play on the road, especially when the wind is blowing in. Several Major League teams are used to playing indoors where weather isn’t a disruption, but coming to Wrigley Field certainly poses and advantage to the Cubs; especially since they're used to playing there and have adapted to certain wind patterns.

It's also uncanny how this can't go on the game plan.

Wind tendencies aren't something you plan in advance and that always has and always will be a friendly reward to the Northsiders. Another thing is that there are deeper foul territories and deeper walls in specific baseball ballparks. If you’re making a debut at McAffe Colliseum in Oakland you might not be used to the deep foul grounds, and might end up overrunning a foul ball or something of that sort.

The same goes for PETCO Park, which is clearly a pitcher's field. The walls are deep, limiting most home run hitters from going yard, and that might pose to be an advantage to the Padres.

Another big home field advantage in baseball that's probably an obvious one here, and a big one at that, is that the home team receives the final at-bat in the bottom of the ninth.

Home field advantage is seen beyond baseball too. In football, I've already painted a clear picture on how difficult it could be play on the road. But is it really that big of a factor if you're mentally prepared for a contest? Statistically speaking, home field advantage is tossed out the window come playoff time in the National Football League.

The numbers clearly throw signs of home field advantage out the window. From the span of 1999 through 2007, the home team has won 25 playoff meetings in the NFL, and the road team has won 31.

Why is it that home field advantage exists at times and doesn't exist at others?

In college football, there's no way that home field advantage doesn't exist. These fans are probably the loudest, and these environments might just be the most hostile. If a visit to The Swamp (Ben Hill Griffin Stadium) isn't home field advantage for the Florida Gators then I don't know what is. You've got temperatures in the high-90's, with humidity high, and 88,000+ screaming fans cheering their hearts out for the boys in blue.

The fact of the matter is that Florida is adapted to the climate, and that's the scary thing. When you bring teams in that aren't acclimated to the humidity you're screaming mercy as the Gators attack you mentally, and on the football field. The Gators were 68-5 at home under Steve Spurrier, and with the stadium seats pushed in, it feels as though you truly are "Gatorbait".

Climatically speaking, the Duke Blue Devils in college basketball are rumored to have a tactic that leads to their home court success. Reportedly, the Blue Devils practice in hot temperatures, and keep the temperatures up high during the game, throwing many teams off while the Blue Devils have adapted to the heat. However, this hasn't been confirmed.

With the examples specified above, I think that home field advantage is true. It is truly a figure of the mind as you become intimidated on the road. But there are certain advantages in sports that can truly be called advantages just because you’re playing at home.

Face it, you’re used to playing at that specific stadium, your used to the fans, and your used to your distinct feature like weather, per say. It might, and likely does, throw off the opposition, making home field advantage real and an amazing factor in sport today.