When it comes to cashing tickets, there’s just no place like home

Nov 29, 2005 4:45 AM

There’s no place like home. Unless, of course, you’re the Indianapolis Colts, who are 6-0 SU/ATS on the road!

Indy’s road dominance, both straight up and against the number, is remarkable. It’s also rare. The home/road disparity in sports is, for the most part, constant.

The Baltimore Ravens are one of many examples this football season. They started 3-2 SU/ATS at home, but are 0-5 SU/1-4 ATS on the road. A few weeks ago the Ravens traveled to Jacksonville and looked lost in a 30-3 defeat as a +6 dog. The Ravens vaunted run defense got run over. One week later as a +3 home underdog against the Steelers, a very different Baltimore team played hard in a 16-13 upset win.

In that game, the Ravens run defense allowed just 70 rushing yards, 2.8 yards per carry, almost half what it had allowed the previous week to the Jaguars. Notice that for the season Baltimore is allowing 24 points per game on the road, but half that at home. Sherlock Holmes one week, Inspector Clouseau the next. That’s common in pro and college athletics with respects to home/road play.

Naturally teams want to play better in front of the home folks. Pride is one reason, along with the fact fans are paying good money for entertainment. No team wants to send the locals home unhappy, like Green Bay fans last Monday in a 20-17 home loss to the rival Minnesota Vikings. Players and coaches want to put their best foot forward in front of the paying customers. Everybody is happy with a home win, but teams don’t always play their best away from home.

A part of the equation is travel. Visiting teams have to spend time in airports, sleep in unfamiliar hotel rooms, have their sleeping patterns disrupted. Home teams get to spend the week working at their own practice facilities, sleeping in their own bed, eating home-cooked meals, driving to the stadium on the route they’re familiar with. Being home in familiar surroundings means being comfortable, 24-hours a day.

In college football, look at the Iowa Hawkeyes. Kirk Ferentz’s team is 7-9 SU/ATS its last 16 road games, but an astonishing 22-1 SU, 20-1-1 ATS its last 23 home games! Most teams aren’t that extreme, of course, but the point is clear: You never know which Hawkeyes football team will show up on the road, but at home they are beasts! Not every team is so distinct and performances don’t always carry over from season to season so you have to be careful.

The Maryland Terrapins had a very impressive run at home under Coach Ralph Friedgen the last few years, going 26-1 SU and 20-4 ATS from 2001-04. However, things changed this season because of inconsistent quarterback play. The Terps went 1-4 SU/ATS. Still, it is clear that professional and college athletes are more comfortable at home than on the road and this can be reflected in their play.

Sometimes the playing surface can have an effect. Boise State has the blue, artificial carpet that helps their speed game. Boise averages 27 points per game on the road this season going 2-3 SU, 1-3 ATS, but averages 47 at home going 6-0 SU, 4-1 ATS. In fact, since 1999 Boise State is 45-1 SU and 28-11 ATS at home! For the record, that lone home loss was September of 2001, 41-20 to Washington State as a +6 dog.

Not all teams have this kind of extreme disparity, of course, but most play significantly better at home. Coaching is also a factor. Good coaches can get their teams to play at a high level, regardless of whether they’re home or away, while some weak coaches can often get the troops to only play well at home. Even bad teams usually exhibit better play at home. The last two seasons tiny San Jose State of the WAC is a respectable 4-5 SU, 4-3 ATS at home averaging 28 points, but 1-11 SU, 3-9 ATS on the road averaging 18 points.

Good coaches can get their teams to play at a high level all the time, not just when the 50,000 fans are screaming for them to play well. Notice that when Bill Parcells took over Dallas two years ago, the young Cowboys stumbled at home in the opener (27-13 loss to Atlanta), then went on the road and stunned the heavily favored Giants, 35-32 as a +7½ dog.

Dallas didn’t roll over on the road, something they did with regularity the previous two years under Dave Campo. From 2001-02, the Cowboys were 8-8 at home (4-4 each season), but a miserable 2-14 on the road (1-7 both seasons).

Over the next month you will hear players and coaches talk about wanting to secure home-field edge for the NFL playoffs. There’s a big reason for this: It can be a big factor between advancing to the Super Bowl or wondering what might have been. Just ask the Colts the last two seasons.