Handicapping home-field advantage is crucial this season, which is unlike any other in that fans are playing a very limited role in teams’ success. Most games are being played like glorified scrimmages, with piped-in noise or in front of extremely limited audiences. Most of the bigger programs are used to playing before huge, raucous crowds that create an overwhelming atmosphere for opponents. Smaller schools may enjoy similar edges but on a more intimate scale.
So far this season, 60 games have featured two FBS opponents. On the surface, home-field advantage has been essentially nonexistent compared with recent seasons. In fact, hosts so far are just 28-32 SU, despite being favored by an average of 4.6 points per game, and have accumulated an ATS mark of just 27-31-2 (46.6%). While 60 games falls way short of the 700 or more played in a typical season and it’s too early to make any judgments, an eye-opening pattern is forming. We will need to continuously monitor this to succeed in our college football betting.
Let’s look at the games played to date, analyzing teams’ performances against how they were expected to perform.
Average Line/Score of Non-Neutral College Football Games by Season
2017: Home favored by 4.56 points, Avg. Score – Home 30.19, Road 25.68, Margin + 4.51 PPG
2018: Home favored by 4.86 points, Avg. Score – Home 30.60, Road 26.21, Margin + 4.39 PPG
2019: Home favored by 4.04 points, Avg. Score – Home 30.22, Road 25.63, Margin + 4.59 PPG
2020: Home favored by 4.62 points, Avg. Score – Home 28.67, Road 28.1, Margin + 0.57 PPG
This is a very intriguing start to the study. In the 60 FBS-vs.-FBS games played, the average home team is favored by the typical amount but has failed to play up to typical expectations by about 4.0 points per game. This is a small sample size when analyzing collective home-field advantage, but the reasonable deduction is that oddsmakers have treated home-field advantage as normal, while in actuality home field has provided very little edge. Let’s analyze conference vs. nonconference games to see if any specific indicators might provide more insight.
Average Line/Score of Non-Neutral NON-CONFERENCE College Football Games by Season
2017: Home favored by 9.32 points, Avg. Score – Home 32.39, Road 24.11, Margin + 8.28 PPG
2018: Home favored by 10.38 points, Avg. Score – Home 34.56, Road 23.68, Margin + 10.88 PPG
2019: Home favored by 8.18 points, Avg. Score – Home 32.66, Road 23.47, Margin + 9.19 PPG
2020: Home favored by 8.37 points, Avg. Score – Home 28.07, Road 27.27, Margin + 0.8 PPG
Average Line/Score of Non-Neutral CONFERENCE College Football Games by Season
2017: Home favored by 2.77 points, Avg. Score – Home 29.36, Road 26.27, Margin + 3.09 PPG
2018: Home favored by 2.82 points, Avg. Score – Home 29.14, Road 27.15, Margin + 1.99 PPG
2019: Home favored by 2.52 points, Avg. Score – Home 29.34, Road 26.44, Margin + 2.9 PPG
2020: Home favored by 0.87 points, Avg. Score – Home 29.27, Road 28.93, Margin + 0.34 PPG
It’s clear that home teams are badly underperforming in nonconference games thus far. In 30 such contests, the home teams have been favored by an average amount close to the typical season, but their performance is about 8.0 points off. The conference results are also down slightly for home teams, but considering they have been favored by 0.87 points and winning by 0.34 points, the amount is negligible and can be better explained by closer matchups to date than an absence of home-field edge. This dichotomy is something we will want to watch. Although relatively few nonconference games remain on the schedule, it seems that so far, any unfamiliarity advantage home teams have enjoyed over nonconference opponents has been wiped out by the scrimmage-like atmosphere. The difference hasn’t been as big in conference games between familiar opponents.
The next big question is: How has the presence or absence of fans affected the results? Here are the games played so far broken down as to whether fans were in the stands. Only 13 of the 60 games banned fans. The other 47 have allowed them on a limited-capacity basis.
Average Line/Score of 2020 Non-Neutral College Football Games by Fans/No Fans
Fans: Home favored by 5.64 points, Avg. Score – Home 30.57, Road 27.93, Margin + 2.64 PPG
No Fans: Home favored by 1.25 points, Avg. Score – Home 22.43, Road 28.64, Margin -6.21 PPG
The results indicate that having at least some fans in the stands is far more advantageous than not. The home teams that have had fans at their games are underperforming by 3.0 PPG, according to what oddsmakers have expected. Those without fans have underperformed by 8.5 PPG. A lack of motivation seems obvious for home teams playing in empty stadiums. It should be noted that once the full array of conferences have returned, about 50 of 111 teams that have announced a strategy indicated no fans would be allowed.
I have chosen to keep my team-specific Home Field Advantage ratings down significantly, about 38%, or 1.3 points per team off their usual amount of 3.5. I might choose to reduce this even further if the results in this study persist.