But the reality of the fan effect, according to some studies, is that energy — from foam fingers to fight songs — doesn’t actually change player performance that much.
A 2010 study of Italian soccer matches played in empty stadiums found that home field advantage disappeared, and it had almost nothing to do with the players. Performance — shot percentage, passing accuracy and defense — remained the same as before fanless games. Syracuse’s defense probably didn’t get that goal line stop because the student section yelled a little bit louder.
Home field advantage does exist for a different reason, though: the officials. The biggest impact of the absence of fans is that home teams getting more favorable calls effectively disappears.
The same study concluded favorable calls for the home team dropped by 23-70% in empty stadiums. Toby Moskowitz, a Yale economics professor and co-author of “Scorecasting: The Hidden Influences Behind How Sports Are Played and Games Are Won,” said that conclusion applies to all sports, including college football.
Social influence, a psychology theory stating that humans’ behaviors are affected subconsciously by an environment, explains the difference in officiating, Moskowitz said. In an official’s case, that environment is 49,057 Carrier Dome fans screaming.
“It’s not like we’re seeing referees making bad calls on obvious calls,” Moskowitz said. “They’ll call it against the home team if it’s clear-cut. It’s when they’re not sure. That’s when they tend to side with the home team.”
Since Babers took over the program in 2016, Syracuse has gone 15-10 (.600) in the Carrier Dome and 7-14 (.333) on the road. The signature moments of Babers’ teams — upsetting No. 17 Virginia Tech in 2016 and the national defending champions Clemson in 2017 — both came in the Dome and led to “Whose House?” postgame speeches.
Syracuse also led the ACC in penalty yards per game (73.9), so losing the benefit of the doubt at home won’t help the Orange’s cause either.
The flipside of losing home field advantage is that Syracuse’s opponents do, too. SU’s road record could potentially improve this year through playing in essentially neutral sites. There will be no fans at either of the Orange’s first two games, at North Carolina and at Pittsburgh.
“I guess we don’t have to deal with no trashy fans,” safety Eric Coley quipped Sept. 1.
Those teams — and their college towns — will be dealing with the same fanless stadium ripple effects as Syracuse. Some strange, some obvious, but all real.
“It’s going to feel different,” Coley added. “But football’s going to stay football.”
Published on September 9, 2020 at 11:56 pm