Home field advantage in the bowl season

One of the great allures of the bowl season is being able to see evenly-matched teams duke it out on a neutral site. However, is that perception or reality? Of course, the teams aren’t always evenly matched (see USC v. Illinois), nor is the site ever truly neutral (see USC v. Illinois). Fans of the SEC are always quick to cite their good record in bowl games (and any other stat that perpetuates the OMG SEC AWESOMEZ myth). What they are failing to mention is that the SEC has a de facto home game for many of their games. What other conferences are favored? Let’s take a look.

2008 bowl season winning percentage by conference:

Conference Teams Avg. Distance Delta Distance Win %
Independent 1 1867 -1240 0
Big Ten 8 1084 -859 .375
Big East 5 995 -587 .6
Sun Belt 2 653 -302 0
WAC 4 2081 -284 .25
C-USA 6 1115 -275 .333
ACC 8 920 -124 .25
Big 12 8 881 -99 .625
MAC 2 253 -39 0
MWC 5 359 506 1
PAC-10 6 617 661 .667
SEC 9 253 1130 .778

Average Distance from Bowl Site (in miles as the crow flies) tells us, on average, how far each conference team had to travel to get to their game. However, this doesn’t tell us the whole story. If two teams are both very far from the bowl in which they will be playing, there is no real home field advantage ceded for either one. To give a better idea of home-field advantage, it would be better to look at how much location may favor one team over the other. Delta distance measures how much closer to bowl site a team is over their opponent. The conference numbers are sums of all of these (in miles as the crow flies). As you can see, the PAC-10 and SEC are heavily favored by this, as is the Mountain West conference. Perhaps not coincidentally, these have the highest win percentages of any conference. Of note is the fact that every single SEC team had a positive Delta distance. That is, they were all closer to their bowl site than the opponent.

Of course, the sample sizes are very small, so it is hard to draw any definite conclusions, but it is apparent that some conferences are favored rather heavily by the locations of their bowls. If anyone would like this data to work with the numbers a bit more, drop your contact information in the comments.

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3 Comments so far

  1. kowisja says...

    how was the Moutain West so positive? Did they play the independent in Hawaii giving them a +600 or so?

    Why does this always cause problems when I try to post under Name/URL?

  2. Tim says...

    It comes mostly from only playing on the west coast in their bowl games. Utah played Navy in San Diego (+1240), New Mexico played Nevada in their home stadium (+782), BYU played UCLA in Vegas (-111), TCU played Houston in Houston (-239), Air Force played Cal in Fort Worth (+858).

    The biggest thing was indeed playing the independent (east coast Navy) on the West Coast. However, the rest of their games give a pretty big positive delta overall as well.

  3. Ben says...

    Great information. Though there is a huge difference between SEC country and PAC10 country, this year the PAC10 was very ‘south’ heavy, which contributed to the large delta. Also Hawaii played in the suger bowl when they would usually play the PAC10 in the Hawaii bowl.

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