Researchers: Home Field Advantage Has Some Legs
> 4/4/2007 10:41:12 AM

The powerful idea of home field advantage permeates virtually every level of sports competition. Teams "get up" to defend "their turf," or so virtually every sports commentator born would have us believe. But a psychology researcher at Harvard, with help from his apparently soccer obsessed brothers, has found evidence that shows it might not be the teams themselves that are so effected by the location. Their feeling: it's the refs.

According to a university press release, Ryan Boyko, along with brothers Adam and Mark, analyzed results from 15 years worth of English Premiership Soccer and found that younger, more inexperienced referees were more likely to be influenced by home crowds, which can be loud and rowdy. While the experience of refs comes into play, the most interesting data the brothers uncovered involved the direct correlation between the sheer number of fans at a home match and home team's performance:

Boyko studied the number of goals scored by a team at home versus those scored while away, and found that teams scored 1.5 home goals on average, and 1.1 while away. Crowd size also had an impact on the number of goals scored by the home team, and for every additional 10,000 people in the crowd, the advantage for the home team increased by about 0.1 goals.

Beyond goals scored, this new research also shows that visiting teams were called more frequently for penalties then the home team.

What is really amazing about this new research is that the advantage isn't larger. With some of the stories that filter into the mainstream U.S. press regarding violence and soccer, it's should come as no shock that referees might be subconsciously effected. A true scientific study would be near impossible, but one can imagine how playing in an unfriendly territory might cause just a tad bit of anxiety on the part of visiting teams and oft-villified refs, what with the rampant violence that has now forced team suspensions and caused fan deaths. In all reality, any ref that makes even a legitimate call against the home team has to have his own safety in the back of his mind. Hopefully some of these guys are getting some hazard pay.

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