Hall of Krame: Big Green Coming Home

Justin Kramer breaks down the Big Green’s historical home field advantage.

by Justin Kramer | 10/11/21 2:05am

hall_of_krame
by Alexandra Ma / The Dartmouth

Homecoming takes on many different meanings across the Dartmouth community. For members of the Classes of 2024 and 2025, it’s about being welcomed into the community as they run — no, sorry, walk — around the bonfire. For upperclassmen and alumni, it’s about reconnecting with old friends and sharing the Dartmouth spirit. But for many Big Green student-athletes, “homecoming” has a different meaning altogether: coming home gives them a much higher chance at earning a victory.

Over the past decade, Dartmouth varsity teams have a combined 58.1% winning percentage at home compared to only a 38.1% winning percentage on the road. This difference is not just due to a few teams with more games holding particularly stark home-road differentials. Among 18 varsity teams that consistently play home and away games, 16 have better records at home. All but four have winning percentages more than 12% better at home versus on the road, and 11 teams have more than a 20% differential.

Below is a table showcasing the home and away winning percentages over the past decade for these 18 teams, sorted by the difference between these winning percentages for each team.

Toward the top of the list, we see a couple of Dartmouth’s most successful teams this decade, women’s rugby and men’s soccer, each with home-road differentials over 30%. Women’s rugby, which won three consecutive Ivy League titles and the 2019 NIRA championship, has been dominant at home since its inception, with a 23-3 record (88.5%), but has only a mediocre .500 record on the road. Men’s soccer, despite winning four straight Ivy championships from 2014-2017 and winning more than three-quarters of its games on Burnham Field, won fewer than half of its away games this decade. 

In fact, eight other teams have won over half their home games but lost over half on the road, and the difference in winning percentage is often substantial. It’s worth noting that some sports in this category, such as baseball and softball, have long break trips against premier non-league opponents before the snow melts in Hanover, contributing to this large differential.

For most teams though, the split in quality of competition in home versus road games is not as substantial. Why is the home-away differential so large for the vast majority of Big Green teams? 

The conventional wisdom of the “home-field advantage” might suggest that Dartmouth has an active fanbase that provides extra motivation and encouragement for its student-athletes. This explanation makes some intuitive sense, and the top six home-road differentials are all for team sports that are ripe for fan attendance and support. Meanwhile, men’s and women’s squash, which are more insulated from large crowd support, have barely any difference in their home and away records.

While fan support likely plays a role, there are a couple of major problems with this explanation: Many of Dartmouth’s most well-attended sports typically attract 1000 fans or fewer per game, and football, which frequently hosts more than 6000 fans, is one of only two teams that has actually done slightly worse at home than on the road. Football hosts the most fans per game on average, and despite its homecoming game being the marquee event of the weekend, Big Green football has the lowest home-away differential among Dartmouth sports at -2.83%. Additionally, men’s hockey is the clear runner-up in fan attendance per game, but its 18% home-road differential, while large, ranks No. 13 out of 18 qualifying Big Green teams. 

Instead, home-field advantage may depend on routine more than fan attendance. Before a home game, athletes can sleep in their own beds, order their typical game-day DDS meal, walk or take a quick car ride to the game and compete in a facility where they are already comfortable. They also get to avoid the long bus rides to almost every other Ivy League school and the cross-country flights during break trips. At the same time, opposing teams may struggle with long treks to Hanover, which, like Cornell University, is on the outskirts of the Ivy League region. 

While this explanation seems to be particularly relevant to the Big Green, one caveat is that Dartmouth teams perform much better in neutral territory than on their opponents’ home turf, albeit in a much smaller sample size. Across 409 neutral games, Big Green teams have amassed a 50.9% winning percentage, lower than Dartmouth’s 58.1% record at home but not by nearly as much as the away record. Among teams that have played at least 25 neutral games, only softball has more than a 10% home-neutral differential at a hefty 33.6%. Women’s and men’s tennis and baseball, though, are — in absolute terms — only about 8.5% better at home than in neutral ground, while volleyball’s winning percentage is 3.9 percentage points higher in neutral territory, and squash’s is nearly 20 percentage points better.

The Big Green’s high winning percentage in neutral territory throws some cold water on the home-field advantage theories, considering that in these games, Dartmouth has still done relatively well despite being away from Hanover. Perhaps then the 20% home-away differential can partially be considered an “away-field disadvantage” more than a home-field advantage. It’s also distinctly possible that the quality of competition is lower for these neutral games. For instance, the Ancient Eight all ranked in the top 12 of the women’s squash final rankings in 2019-20, so playing in neutral tournaments against more non-conference competition likely provided a slight advantage for the Big Green.

On Saturday, wins from the football and women’s rugby teams helped the Big Green to a 2-1 homecoming home record, improving Dartmouth’s impressive winning percentage in Hanover. Given the strong logic in favor of the travel and routine explanations for home-field advantage and the limited number of neutral games for most team sports, we should not discount the importance of playing at home for Dartmouth’s success. 

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