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Ben Motz
Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences

Tracy James
IU Communications

Last modified: Monday, January 9, 2012

Expert source: Home-field advantage in NFL is small but significant

Jan. 9, 2012

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Home-field advantage is real, says Ben Motz, who uses sports statistics to jazz up his research methodology courses at Indiana University. Analysis of National Football League stats between 1981 and 1996 show that the home team won 57 percent of the matches.

Motz, a cognitive scientist in IU's Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, described this edge as small but significant. So, what gives? Motz points to the officiating, and the likelihood that officials want to appease the local fans.

"If 100,000 fans are screaming at you, you'd be a sociopath if you weren't affected by the crowd," he said, noting that the home-field advantage diminished slightly once the league allowed instant replay in 1999.

Motz uses stats to discuss this and other football topics in the NFL Media series "Football Freakonomics," hosted by author Stephen J. Dubner and based on his book "Freakonomics." Video topics include home-field advantage; whether the league is quarterback-driven; firing coaches; and the influence of injuries.

In the fall, students in Motz's course "Prediction, Probability, and Pigskin" will use fantasy football to better understand how to use a range of statistics to predict outcomes. This connection between virtual sports leagues and quantitative analysis likely makes perfect sense to the many people nationwide who scour sports stats each week to manage their mish-mash dream teams. Fantasy football participants, a.k.a. team owners, typically play one other team each week throughout the season, either winning or losing based on the points their players earned according to their performance stats for their real-life games. Owners use stats throughout the season for drafts, trades and other management moves.

"When I joined a fantasy football league recently, I realized that people in my league who I'd never thought of as quantitatively minded -- people who think in terms of numbers -- were doing what I want my students to do," Motz said. "They were thinking critically about data, using patterns they were seeing and making extrapolations about data yet to come. It was pretty clear to me that it had the power to help people think empirically about data."

Students won't need to be die-hard sports fans to understand the course concept, he said, but they might get an edge in their league play.

"I'll teach them everything they want to know about fantasy football," Motz said, "and it'll help them become more empirical thinkers."

Motz can be reached at 812-855-0318 or