How I calculate home-field advantage in college football

By Adam Burke  (VSiN.com) 

August 2, 2022 09:40 PM
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In the 2022 VSiN College Football Betting Guide, I wrote about my process for creating team power ratings and called it an “inexact science.” The same can be said for figuring out home-field advantage.

Home-field advantage is variable. A noon ET kickoff against a nonconference opponent doesn’t have the same juice as a primetime rivalry game on ABC. Rivalry games feel different. The road team has a little more pep in its step as well, though. There is no right or wrong way to look at home-field advantage, unless you overvalue what it actually means.

Travel is more convenient and comfortable than ever. Most players have been traveling for a while, including showcases, national high school games or recruiting visits. Programs are paying more attention to sleep studies and player fitness, including diet and nutrition. 

My baseline for home-field advantage this season is 2 points. The baseline in the NFL is even lower than that at this point, but college travel, while better than it used to be, is still different. Accommodations aren’t quite as good and sometimes teams are still forced to bus to hard-to-reach locales. Two points seems like a fair average number to slap on HFA.

How to determine which teams deserve more and which teams deserve less is not easy. Stadiums that fit 100,000 people are going to be a lot louder than those that hold 25,000, but conference opponents going into those raucous atmospheres are also going to be more accustomed to it. 

So we do the best we can. We try to come up with something that makes sense. 

The Process

What made sense in my mind was to look at a five-year sample size of SU and ATS records in home games.

Why five years? The 2020 COVID-19 season threw a wrench into so many things and 2021 wasn’t smooth sailing either, so while five years is an eternity in college football, it also feels like a significant enough sample size to make a determination.

What I did then was group teams into buckets by adding their SU home record to their ATS home record to get a SU/ATS winning percentage. Essentially, it’s the average of a team’s SU and ATS winning percentages:

70% or greater: 3.5

65-69.99%: 3

60-64.99%: 2.5

Between 40 and 60%: 2

35.01-40%: 1.5

35% or less: 1

Again, it’s not perfect, but it’s better than something completely made up. I realize that a white-out in Happy Valley or a night game in Death Valley are going to be different. I also realize that playing in elevation or extreme heat is a factor. I don’t account for those things when I make my game spreads, but I do consider them as part of the handicap.

Home-Field Advantage Numbers for 2022

Based on the buckets above, here are the teams that qualified for higher or lower HFA. If a team is not listed, it means their home-field advantage this season is 2 points. Just because it was conveniently displayed, I used the records from Phil Steele’s season preview magazine to calculate these.

3.5 (70% or greater)

— Alabama

— Texas A&M

— Georgia

— Ohio State

— Clemson

— Oklahoma

— Utah

— Oregon

— Cincinnati

— UCF

— Memphis

— SMU

— Notre Dame

— Liberty

— Appalachian State

— UAB

— Buffalo

3 (65-69.99%)

— Ole Miss

— Florida

— Michigan

— Iowa

— NC State

— Virginia

— Oklahoma State

— Washington State

— Tulane

— Army

— Nevada

— Louisiana

— FAU

— Miami (Ohio)

— Auburn

2.5 (60-64.99%)

— Mississippi State

— Missouri

— Penn State

— Wisconsin

— Wake Forest

— Miami (Florida)

— Iowa State

— West Virginia

— Arizona State

— Boise State

— Air Force

— Wyoming

— Fresno State

— Georgia Southern

— Middle Tennessee

— Toledo

— Central Michigan

— Kent State

— LSU

1.5 (35.01-40%)

— Rutgers

— Nebraska

— Illinois

— East Carolina

— UMass

— Colorado State

— Texas State

1 (35% or less)

— Vanderbilt

— Kansas

— UConn

— New Mexico

— UNLV

— UTEP

— Rice

— Bowling Green

— Akron

Perfect? By no means. Good enough to give me a barometer when making my numbers? Absolutely. People assume that home-field advantage is still a standard 3 points, but I would definitely dispute that and most of the people in my network would disagree as well.

Realistically speaking, when you look at the list, are there any teams that seem that far off? I don’t think so. Naturally, there are some teams that won a lot more games in the previous five years than they will in the next five, such as Memphis, Nevada and Georgia Southern, to name a few. Some of the really bad teams will get better (UTEP already has). But those are all things you can account for in your handicap. 

In creating game lines, having some HFA values to pair with your power ratings is a way to make sure you are on the right track — and perhaps grab some line value early in the week before a number moves.

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