By Brandon Haight
Nothing like a little bit of home cooking. It is a common phrase associated with professional sports, and in pro football it is common to consider the home team a favourite, even in a situation where teams are evenly matched.
So what is it about playing in the confines of a home stadium that makes a team play differently/ It could be the fan base; the crowd noise and rowdiness of the patrons cheering on their favourite team. The climate and weather; teams that don’t play in snowy climates regularly struggle when having to play there. Or could it even be the field surface itself; one team is used to wearing longer cleats to deal with grass that is kept more damp or playing on turf as opposed to natural grass.
Living, breathing football players see alterations in their game plan, adjustments in their routines, and a general shift in the chemistry of games when these things come into play. But this is the Simulation Football League, and while the players in our community are living breathing people, their virtual avatars or not. This point caused me to posit this question:
In the world of Simulated Football, does home field advantage even exist?
There seem to be multiple schools of thought on this topic and so I reached out to the SFL community to shine some light on home field advantage argument. First I reached out to a pair of owners. Freeman Peltier from the front office of the St. Louis Gladiators had this to say about home field advantage in the SFL, “It seems a team plays with better momentum when at
home, but that will only carry you so far against a top opponent. Game plan and big plays has to close the gap.” The Baltimore Vulture’s brass provided a similar insight, but perhaps shining a light on the system of the game itself when he said “I would guess home field [advantage] provides a +2 points advantage if there are two even teams. Not sure how we could prove it –
would have to first prove we have two even teams, which couldn’t be proven either.” Needless to say, the concept and its incorporation into the simulation each week are inconclusive and difficult to nail down.
Mr. Peltier further regaled me with a few instances where he felt home field advantage absolutely played a role in St. Louis’ games. He said, “We’ve had some big come from behind rallies at home and we’ve also blown leads and missed game winning field goals with star kickers at home or dropped TD passes or threw end zone interceptions.” I wanted to investigate the matter further and reached out to those at the player level as well, to see if perhaps their experiences would uncover more information on this phenomenon of the Virtual Homefield Advantage.
Ray Bentley, running back for the Mexico City Aztecs, was gracious enough to respond to the call for information. Mr. Bentley said of Home Field Advantage in the SFL, “I think Homefield Advantage is definitely a factor in the league, and have noticed that the crowds in the stadiums will react accordingly if the visiting team scores first. I think there might be some hidden morale’ stat that the crowd may be part of tracking, with the louder the[y] get giving your quarterback more confidence to chuck it into double coverage.” Homefield Advantage has a tendency of being considered an absolute “12’th man2 ala the Seattle Seahawks, where it becomes part of the game plan that needs to be considered when playing that team, Mr. Bentley has a bit of a differing opinion as it pertains to playing on the road in the SFL, “Having said that, I do not think Homefield Advantage / morale is a make or break stat.” Ray further extrapolated on his point by recalling a game from Season 9 between San Antonio when they played in Mexico City. He recalls “There’s a game in Season 9 that I point people towards, San Antonio at Mexico City. The final 2 minutes have over 40 points scored but Mexico takes the W in the end thanks to a last-second hail mary to Richard Montague If the game had been played in San Antonio? I don’t think he makes that catch. I think the
‘morale’ stat helped, honest to god.” So it would seem that though the home field advantage statistic may not be a constant uphill battle for road teams, it is a factor that could tip the scales in the home teams favour in certain situations.
There is no better way to clear this debate up than by looking at it through the lens of statistics, and thanks to the records that have been kept on the Simulation Football League website, I am able to dive into 11 previous seasons of results for answers. First of all, we can say that in the 11 previous seasons of SFL football, there have been nearly 850 games played, including regular season and playoff contests. That is an incredible feat, and with that large of a sample size I can say, after doing some simple math, that the winning percentage for teams playing at home is a modest yet significant 57%. Home teams hold a respectable 495 – 281 record in regular season play. In this humble writer’s opinion, that would be more than enough to inspire some measure of confidence were my team playing in the confines of its home stadium. But let’s talk championships, and the road to the championships is paved by the glory of the playoffs. The playoffs are a driving force for teams to play well during the season, not just so they can enter the tournament, but also to obtain a higher seed and receive as many home playoff games as possible. But is this necessary? Do these virtual avatars gain some sort of intangible from playing in their home stadium when the lights burn brightest. Seemingly they absolutely do. In the history of playoff contests in the SFL, over the last 11 seasons, the team playing at home has the same 57% winning percentage as the those playing at home during the regular season. That weeded itself out to a 40 – 23 win-loss record, and to me seems to be an awfully big motivator for teams to covet those top seeded spots, so their home stadium can provide the potential benefit necessary to take them over the top, on the grandest stages in the SFL.