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2011 MAC Blogger Roundtable, week 4

September 22, 2011

This week’s MAC Blogger Roundtable is hosted by Falcon Blog. I’ll be hosting the roundtable next week, so if you have any questions for the other MAC bloggers, share them in the comments.

1. Here’s something I wonder a lot. Everyone knows about home court advantage in basketball. Over the past 5 years, in MAC conference games, 66% of the men’s hoops games have been won by the home team. In football, the number is normally in the mid 50s, or pretty even. People still talk about home field advantage? What do you think? How big is it?

There are a few issues to consider when we talk about home field/court advantage.

The first issue is why home field/court advantage exists. Contributing elements include relaxation with familiar surroundings and normal routines, fan support during the game (which has both a psychological element and a practical element, the latter coming in the form of strategic noise), environmental/weather conditions (providing minimal advantage in MAC games, since the climate is similar throughout the area), travel fatigue/time zone adjustment (also relatively small in the compact MAC), and possibly a degree of self-fulfillment (teams expect to do better at home and worse on the road, and so they do). There’s also a fair degree of evidence suggesting that most of home field advantage derives from referee bias, inadvertently but consistently found to result from crowd noise; according to the Boston Globe, “A 2002 experiment showed professional soccer referees a videotaped match and had them make officiating decisions. Half of the referees watched the game without sound, while the other half were exposed to simulated crowd noise. These cheers significantly biased the calls of the referees: On average, they called 2.3 fewer fouls against the home team when listening to the sound of the crowd.” When the elements creating the advantage are missing, home field/court advantage may be reduced or eliminated. For example, many MAC football teams struggle with low attendance, minimizing the impact of in-game fan support. MAC football teams are also probably more likely than teams from more prestigious conferences to schedule “home” games at irregular sites — witness Ball State hosting Indiana at Lucas Oil Stadium, Northern Illinois hosting Wisconsin at Soldier Field, and EMU’s thankfully-ended series at Ford Field — which significantly reduces or eliminates the familiarity element. So the level of home field advantage in MAC football may be low.

The second issue is the translation of home field advantage into measurable results. Home field advantage doesn’t mean that the home team will win, it simply means that the home team will perform better than they otherwise would. The number of games won due to home field advantage should be positively correlated with competitive parity. To illustrate that, consider two scenarios:

1. Two teams play a ten-game series, five games each way. The teams are perfectly matched. Home field advantage is the only difference, and the home team should win 100% of the games.

2. Two teams play a ten-game series, five games each way. One team is significantly better than the other (let’s say, on the scale of Alabama versus Akron). No home field advantage will give the lesser team a win; the better team wins all ten games, which means that the home team has won 50% of the games.

Obviously reality within any conference is usually between these extremes, but if 50% home wins represents perfect inequality while 100% home wins represents perfect parity, the percent of home team wins in a conference can give an approximate measure of competitive balance. All of which is a long-winded way of saying that, in general, MAC basketball may be closer to parity than MAC football is.

There are also some rule differences that come in to play. If you accept the evidence that most or all of a home field/court advantage derives from induced bias in referees, any rule change that will counter that bias (e.g. instant replay) should reduce home field/court advantage.

For more on the causes of home field/court advantage, I recommend Jeremy Jamieson’s recent (2010) paper, “The Home Field Advantage in Athletics: A Meta-Analysis“, published in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology.

2. The MAC has started to run advertisements in games touting the conference’s integrity, saying that the league is “showing the way.” What do you think of this approach? Playing on a great thing in our conference, or asking for trouble?

Both. The MAC probably leads the nation in NCAA compliance; 16 FBS schools have never (since 1953, when the NCAA started tracking it) had a major violation in any sport, and five of them are in the MAC (Bowling Green, Central Michigan, Kent State, Ohio, and Western Michigan).

It helps if the conference sets a good example. The Mid-American Conference, which produced the most schools (five) of any conference on the list, has its own infractions committee that reviews every violation, no matter how minor, by its member schools. The committee meets in person twice a year, with a representative from each MAC school presenting the institution’s infractions for the previous half year. Several conferences, including the Big 12 and Big East, don’t do this.

“When you see the violations all at once, you can see them as trends,” said Jackie Mynarski, the MAC’s associate commissioner for institutional services. The group asks questions about the infractions, then the school’s representative leaves the room while the committee decides whether additional penalties are appropriate.

The downside is that, as Northwestern athletic director Jim Phillips pointed out, “With 500 18- to 22-year-olds, anything could happen at any time”.

3. The MAC has been working pretty hard to step up its digital game of late, with a mobile app and more video content. What grade do you give the MAC for its online presence and why?

I’ll assign a fairly uninformed B-. I haven’t bothered with the mobile app, although it looks nice. But the only time I’d want that is when I’m at a game, and the wireless coverage at Rynearson Stadium is just about useless for data. I also haven’t watched any of the live streaming video broadcasts (yet), because I’ve been at EMU’s game each week. The after-the-fact video highlights are nice, but the resolution is pretty low.

4. So far, the MAC has only one win over BCS opposition and a handful of FBS wins, but a few close calls in big games. How satisfied are you with the MAC’s out-of-conference performance?

Not satisfied at all. Toledo had a shot to beat Ohio State and blew it. Northern Illinois had a shot to beat Kansas and blew it, then they embarrassed themselves against Wisconsin. Miami had a shot to beat Minnesota, and blew it. Temple had a shot to beat Penn State and end the nation’s longest active losing streak to one team, and blew it. Bowling Green had a shot to beat Wyoming and blew it. As of now, the only quality non-conference wins are Northern Illinois over Army, and possibly Bowling Green over Idaho and Ball State over Indiana, all in Week 1.

5. Rank ’em.

1. Toledo (1-2; lost to Boise State 40-15)
4. Ohio (3-0; defeated Marshall 44-7)
5. Western Michigan (2-1; defeated Central Michigan 44-14)
2. Northern Illinois (1-2; lost to Wisconsin 49-7)
3. Miami (0-2; lost at Minnesota 29-23)
6. Temple (2-1; lost to Penn State 14-10)
7. Bowling Green (2-1; lost to Wyoming 28-27)
9. Ball State (2-1; defeated Buffalo 28-25)
8. Eastern Michigan (2-1; lost at Michigan 31-3)
10. Central Michigan (1-2; lost at Western Michigan 44-14)
11. Buffalo (1-2; lost to Ball State 28-25)
12. Kent State (0-3; lost at Kansas State 37-0)
13. Akron (0-3; lost at Cincinnati 59-14)

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Kenneth Barna permalink
    September 22, 2011 9:20 am

    Dear cmadler,
    I agree with your bottom five, although Eastern and Ball State, could easily flip. My biggest disagreement, is the placing of Toledo, at the top. I realize they have played stiffer competition, in the last two weeks, but if Toledo is the class of the league, then they need to show it. Yes, I agree they should have beaten Ohio State, but look at the score with Boise State. If they are that good, even with the loss, it should have been closer, score wise. Maybe, 40-28. Now, on the other hand, (I’m arguing against myself now) Boise State is head and shoulders better than Toledo, or Ohio State, and that’s the explanation.

  2. September 22, 2011 3:07 pm

    Ask them what their opinions on the re-alignment and how they think that will affect conferences like the MAC?

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