Big Ten Wonk
Wednesday, November 01, 2006
Mammalian theory of extreme home-court advantage
The original post from March 2, 2006, is here. The theoretical part went like this:

BONUS hack theorizing!
Indefatigable Badger observer Mark Stewart of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has compiled numbers on how advantageous home-court advantage has been in the alleged "power" conferences this season. (I say alleged. We need to start adding the Missouri Valley to these lists, at least this season. Let's revisit this topic in 11 days, after we see how many bids the Valley gets respective to certain other "power" conferences.) Big Ten teams top the home-court-advantage list, winning at home 72 percent of the time. At the other extreme, Pac-10 teams win at home only 57 percent of the time. Remember this variance the next time there's a discussion of home-court advantage. Many of the usual explanations for why it's tough to win on the road--travel, unfamiliar surroundings, etc.--hold constant, of course, across conferences and even on up into the NBA (except when the Clippers play the Lakers).

True, Ken Pomeroy has looked into the numbers (duh) and concluded, persuasively, that these constants do indeed have the largest impact. (In other words, teams do poorly on the road, period. They even do poorly on the road in conferences--and such conferences of course comprise a large majority--where home crowds are customarily tepid and even sparse.) But on top of that mountain of preexisting systemic home-court advantage, it appears there is on occasion a couple flights of stairs of additional idiosyncratic advantage. There is home-court advantage (Pac-10 most years). And then there's extreme home-court advantage (Big Ten this year).

And so I offer up for discussion a mammalian theory of extreme home-court advantage (paging Robert Wright!) which holds that a few thousand years of natural selection have trained we mammals--both players and referees--not to like being in enclosed spaces where thousands of people are openly and vocally hostile towards us. So, in the most extreme instances (of which the Big Ten has more than its share), the visiting players do perform less effectively. And the refs do bend their calls. It's a self-reinforcing dynamic. (How Hegelian!)

Backfill! Stewart's piece cites that cherished warhorse of home-court-advantage discussions, parity, to wit: "the parity of the conference" is one reason for "the success of Big Ten home teams." Not so, say Pomeroy's numbers.

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