It seems as though every time an away team loses a game, their fans complain about the home cookin' by the refs. It makes sense, we're all inclined to believe that the refs - something outside the control of the team - are responsible for their loss. It makes it easier to swallow. But I decided to take a look at the fouls this year to see who, if anyone, has been on the receiving end of some referee bias.
I'm not a statistician, so I really am looking at this in the simplest terms possible. How many fouls were called on a team in their home games, and how many were called on teams in their away games. And for a few reasons, I'm only looking at conference games. The site I pulled the foul data from doesn't do a great job of notating neutral site games, early season matchups are more likely to be officiated by crews that aren't familiar with the teams/coaches and thus should be less likely to show a bias (making it harder to spot one if it exists), and realistically I don't care too much about the early non-con games anyway until it's seeding time.
Mmmm, Delicious Home Cookin'
I calculated the average number of fouls called on a team when at home (PF Home) and average number of fouls called on a team when away (PF Away). The Home Cookin' Advantage (HCA) was then found by subtracting PF Home from PF Away.
|PF Home||PF Away||HCA|
First of all, it would certainly appear that the home team has an advantage overall. If you average up the Home Cookin' Advantage, you'll find that there's 1.73 fewer fouls called on the home team on average in B1G play.
Who's the biggest benefactor? Indiana and Minnesota are both whistled nearly six more times a game on the road than they are at home. Six! That's a crazy high number to me. Ohio State and Northwestern have enjoyed a decided advantage this year as well, though not quite to the same extent, and MSU's home court advantage of 1.29 fouls per game seems downright pedestrian by comparison. On the flip side, even the home refs hate to watch Illinois struggle to play "basketball" or whatever they're calling it Champaign these days, penalizing them on their own court with a nearly two foul per game disadvantage. Ouch.
You all may be surprised (shocked, in fact!) to learn that Wisconsin - who's been accused of benefiting from friendly home referees for years - has had no home court advantage at all this year according to these raw numbers. The difference in fouls called between home and away games is small enough to be noise. As a Badger fan anticipating questions about this number, I looked a little deeper to try to remove close games where we were fouling at the end of the game since that could skew the numbers. After removing the losses to Northwestern, OSU, and Indiana during The Swoon™ (h/t MickeysPancakes), our Home Cookin' Advantage was still -0.47, so there's really no home officiating advantage to be found. One might argue about removing another close game or two, but I played around with the numbers quite a bit and they really don't change much. That's due to the remarkably consistent foul rate that Wisconsin has shown over the B1G season, with total fouls ranging between 13 and 18 in every game except for the first matchup with Iowa (22). I just can't find a way to show a statistically significant home court advantage for the Badgers.
Side Note on How Refs Call B1G Conference Games
When I started diving into the fouls this year, I was also a bit curious about whether the games have been getting called differently in B1G play as opposed to the early non-con games, especially with the new emphasis on touch fouls this year and the change in definition for a charge vs block. Given the general feeling among the people I've interacted with that the refs have reverted somewhat during conference play, allowing more physical games and not calling the touch fouls as often, I fully expected the foul numbers to drop from the non-con to the conference slate.
Boy was I wrong. League wide, the foul rate for B1G teams in the non-conference was 18.06 per team per game. The foul rate during conference play has been 18.25 per team per game so far during conference matchups.
So What Does it All Mean?
Does this affect how you view the strength of any of the B1G ten teams? Are Minnesota's home wins over OSU and Wisconsin diminished now that you know this?
Will this affect your bracket at all? Is MSU any less attractive for making a deep run in the tourney since they'll be on a neutral court and away from that slight home advantage?
Does any of this even matter? I mean, it's only a couple fouls per game per team on average.
That's all up to you, I guess. I personally will twist the stats any way I can in future discussions to gain the figurative upper hand for Wisconsin in the non-existent office power rankings here at work (yeah, good luck making sense of that statement). How about you?