Why the Georgia Dome Isn't Sanford Stadium West

I begin by offering an apology to Bruins Nation's Nestor, to whom I owe a follow-up to the first installment of my reply to his thoughtful piece on the East Coast bias.

For the moment, though, I am occupied with the reply offered by And the Valley Shook in an effort to refute my assertion that the 'Dawgs do not have home field advantage in the Georgia Dome, to which an answer is warranted, in order to set the record straight.

"Oh, you were finished? Well, allow me to retort!"

The original assertion which started this exchange was as follows:

One more note, it may be a bit of a stretch to consider the SEC championship game - held annually in Atlanta - a Road/Neutral game for the Georgia Bulldogs, given that Athens is an hour away.

When I took issue with this unsupported claim, I received the following rejoinder:
Kyle says the facts are a wash, since UGA is 3-3 in Atlanta in recent memory (in 3 Peach Bowls and 3 SEC Championship games).

From a purely statistical perspective, there's no way we can draw anything close to a factual conclusion from a sample set of six games.


How is it possible to square that fallback position with the initial boldfaced claim of home field advantage? And the Valley Shook offered an assertion (that treating a game played at the Georgia Dome as "a Road/Neutral game for the Georgia Bulldogs" "may be a bit of a stretch"), then backtracked and insisted that "there's no way we can draw anything close to a factual conclusion" based upon the games to which I referred . . . which are the only games there are upon which to base his initial declaration.

The Georgia Dome opened in 1992. Since that time, the Bulldogs have played there six times, in the 1995 and 1998 Peach Bowls, in the 2002, 2003, and 2005 S.E.C. championship games, and in the 2006 Sugar Bowl. There simply aren't other games upon which to base A.T.V.S.'s argument. If we ignore the historical realities, upon what basis are we to put forth some mythical home field advantage?

The Georgia Dome . . . where the Bulldogs have never lost the games they haven't played!

If necessary, we can go back to the Georgia Dome's predecessor, Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium. The Red and Black played there twice, in the 1973 and 1989 Peach Bowls. The Bulldogs came away from those two games with a 1-1 record, winning the former by one point and losing the latter by one point.

Since that only increases our sample size from six to eight games, let's go back 50 years. During that span, Georgia played neutral site games in the City Too Busy to Hate in 1955 (Ole Miss), 1957 (Texas), 1959 (Mississippi State), and 1961 (Mississippi State). In those four games, the Bulldogs were 2-2.

That only gets us up to a dozen games, though, so let's go back to, say, 1914. The Red and Black played regular-season neutral site games in Atlanta against Alabama (in 1919, 1920, 1921, and 1942), Auburn (in 1914), Dartmouth (in 1921), L.S.U. (in 1944), North Carolina (in 1914), and V.M.I. (in 1943). In those nine games, Georgia was 4-4-1.

That gets us up to 21 neutral site games covering a period of more than 90 years, during which the Red and Black's record in Atlanta is 10-10-1. It appears that Georgia's likelihood of prevailing in the Peach State's capital city is a 50/50 proposition . . . which sounds pretty neutral to me.

"You win some, you lose some, and some are rained out . . . unless you're in a dome. All right, that's an advantage in the Georgia Dome; it doesn't rain. I'll give you that."

Nevertheless, A.T.V.S. said that "even a sample set of 30 is generally too small to draw meaningful conclusions" and we're still below that number, so we'll forge ahead.

While the Georgia-Georgia Tech series has gone back and forth between Sanford Stadium and historic Grant Field for many years, the Bulldogs and the Yellow Jackets have met on Fulton County fields which were not located on either team's campus. While these games were in the Ramblin' Wreck's home town, they still were played at neutral sites, so we should consider those games, as well.

Georgia and Georgia Tech met at Piedmont Park in 1900, 1903, and 1904, at Brisbine Park in 1902, and at Ponce de Leon Park in 1907 and from 1909 to 1912. The Red and Black held a 5-3-1 series advantage in those nine contests, which appears to lend credence to A.T.V.S.'s claim that Georgia has home field advantage in Atlanta because "Athens is an hour away" from Terminus . . . until we consider the fact that, while Georgia's campus is near Atlanta, Georgia Tech's campus is in Atlanta. If home field advantage accrues to a team from 67 miles away, surely it also accrues to a team from a few city blocks away, right?

Our sample size now stands at 30 and Georgia's record in neutral site games in Atlanta now stands at 15-13-2. In other words, the 'Dawgs lost or tied exactly the same number of games as they won in a place where they supposedly enjoy home field advantage.

However, A.T.V.S. did say that even 30 games was "generally too small" for learning anything of significance, so let's go all the way back to the beginning. Since the first Red and Black squad stepped onto the gridiron in 1892, here are the neutral site games Georgia has played in Atlanta:

  • Alabama in 1908 and 1909
  • Auburn in 1892, 1894, 1895, 1896, 1898, 1899, 1900, 1901, 1902, 1903, and 1913
  • North Carolina in 1895 (twice), 1896, 1899, and 1901
  • Sewanee in 1895, 1899, 1900, and 1902
  • Vanderbilt in 1898 and 1912
  • Virginia in 1897 and 1913
That's an additional 26 games, virtually doubling our sample size and taking us literally to the inception of University of Georgia football. The 1892 Georgia-Auburn game was the second game in Bulldog football history . . . back when the Red and Black's mascot was a billy goat. Surely, 56 games over a period of nearly 115 years will tell us something meaningful about Georgia's home field advantage in Atlanta; after all, these are all the neutral site games Georgia has ever played there.

In those 26 outings, Georgia was 7-16-3, bringing the Classic City Canines' all-time record in neutral site contests played in Atlanta to 22-29-5 for a .438 winning percentage in the site of their alleged home field advantage. (By way of comparison, Georgia has had a winning record in Sanford Stadium in 37 of the last 42 seasons and the Bulldogs have had a losing record between the hedges just once since 1962.)

Given the foregoing facts, I feel quite comfortable reiterating my assertion that A.T.V.S.'s initial assertion is sheer nonsense. A.T.V.S., however, has stated that, due to the small available sample size, "this becomes a purely qualitative exercise rather than a statistical one."

This is a convenient way of saying that, when historical facts and quantifiable results don't support an obviously baseless conclusion, over a century of history and over 55 games may be cast aside as irrelevant to an amorphous expert assessment of the advantages enjoyed by a school I attended in a geographic area in which I have lived for nearly 38 years. As you might well imagine, I cotton to that about as much as A.T.V.S. would enjoy hearing me lecture him on life and football in Louisiana based upon the knowledge I gained by reading Robert Penn Warren's All the King's Men.

On the plus side, though, And the Valley Shook does have a really cool logo!

Because the quantitative realities are so obvious, I will deal with A.T.V.S.'s qualitative assertions in short order. These are they:

A.T.V.S. asks, rhetorically, whether I claim "that Georgia Tech fans shell out $100 (or whatever the actual ticket cost was) simply to go into the Georgia Dome en masse and cheer against UGA?" Obviously, that is not my claim; Georgia Tech fans don't even go to their own games, much less ours.

My point was that Atlanta is in no sense Bulldog territory. In fact, the city is an eclectic mix of fans from all over the place, which is why many local sports bars are designated as the home bases of fans of numerous out-of-state teams, both at the collegiate and the professional level. A Georgia game played in Atlanta simply does not afford the sort of benefits that, for instance, a Nebraska game played in Omaha would.

A.T.V.S. asks about "the distribution of Red vs Purple shirts in the stands for any of the LSU-UGA battles in Atlanta." I don't know what it was, but I know what it could have been: 50/50. One of the reasons neutral sites are neutral sites is that the tickets are allocated evenly between the opposing teams.

If one team failed to use up its allotment and opposing fans bought them up, that doesn't make the team with more ticketholders the home team; if that were the case, virtually every Georgia-Georgia Tech game played at historic Grant Field in my lifetime would have been a Bulldog "home" game. (This, by the way, is part of the reason I am critical of Georgia fans who claim that Florida has home field advantage in Jacksonville.)

A.T.V.S. says that he considers L.S.U. games played at the Superdome to be home games for the Bayou Bengals. If so, he should have said so when making his initial calculations. He goes on to wonder:

I ask you, Kyle: if your Dawgs had to play LSU in New Orleans, would you consider it a home game for LSU?

No, I wouldn't. I'd consider it a neutral site game, because that is objectively what it is. Considering that Mark Richt is 19-2 in road games and 6-7 in neutral site games, I'd rather play the Tigers in Baton Rouge than in New Orleans, but, if the two teams met in the Superdome twice, with L.S.U. winning 34-13 the first time and Georgia winning 34-14 the second time, I would recognize the absurdity of attributing home field advantage to either team.

Given the lopsidedness of the margins in both Georgia-L.S.U. championship game meetings, I have a hard time believing a change of venue would have changed either outcome.

When assailing my assertion of what he calls "'Near-Home-Field Disadvantage,'" A.T.V.S. asks how Pete Carroll "was able to churn out such a brilliant stretch of football from 2002-2005 with Hollywood in USC's backyard." A.T.V.S. is confusing regular-season home games with postseason bowl games.

The point I was making, though, had no bearing on the regular routine of college life for a student-athlete at a major Division I-A program, which is strictly regimented and largely inflexible. Bowl games are different. There is a longer gap between games and the contests take place on fields neither team can call home.

My point was simply that West Virginia came into the Sugar Bowl focused; it made little difference to the Mountaineers whether they were in Atlanta or New Orleans. Both are larger cities than Morgantown and both are far from home. Their game week experience was largely the same.

Georgia's game week experience was distinctly different. Rather than being in the Big Easy for the holidays, as they had been three years before, they were nearer to their friends and families. The combination of a long layoff and a comfortable setting---as distinct from the rigid regimen of the regular season or the "business trip" mindset the Mountaineers were able to adopt---caused the 'Dawgs to lose focus.

Given the fact that the lackadaisical Bulldogs wandered around in a fog for 16 minutes, during which they were outscored 28-0, before settling down and outperforming the opposition by a 35-10 margin over the next three quarters, I believe it is reasonable to surmise that Georgia's closeness to home proved to be a distraction. West Virginia was mentally prepared, Georgia wasn't, and that was the ball game.

Finally, A.T.V.S. concludes with the following statement:

I'd be happy to rerun the actual numbers, while keeping the Atlanta games classified as road/neutral for the Dawgs, but off the top of my head if I recall correctly, over this particular time span (1998-2005) it would actually hurt their performance measurement.

If recalculating the numbers so that they accurately characterize neutral site games as neutral site games has that effect, so be it. I am after the truth, not just those truths that will make my team look good, which is why I dredged up numbers to show that my alma mater has a losing record in the capital city of the Empire State of the South. I'm not looking for "spin," I'm looking for facts.

I want the truth . . . and, yes, I can handle the truth!

I am curious, though, why A.T.V.S. ever ran "the actual numbers" at all. Earlier, he said that "a sample set of 30 is generally too small," as a result of which "this becomes a purely qualitative exercise rather than a statistical one." If that's true, why is A.T.V.S. rebutting Sunday Morning Quarterback's numbers with more numbers?

At the outset, this was a qualitative discussion: I conducted a poll which revealed that Dawg Sports readers believe that L.S.U.'s Tiger Stadium has the conference's best home field advantage. I believe that assessment to be reasonable and I agree with A.T.V.S. that "home field advantage" involves not just a quantitative measurement of winning percentage differentials but a qualitative sense of how tough it is to play there.

Straight-up wins and losses are part of it, but only part of it. Georgia has a winning record at Auburn, but I consider Jordan-Hare Stadium a difficult place to play because the Bulldogs' wins there have been hard-fought battles. In short, I entered into this agreeing with And the Valley Shook's qualitative assessment. If he wants to use numbers, fine . . . but he should use them accurately.

Treating the Red and Black's games in the Georgia Dome as Bulldog home games is arbitrary and insupportable, particularly in light of the fact that A.T.V.S. didn't indicate that he was also treating the Bayou Bengals' games in the Superdome as L.S.U. home games, the Crimson Tide's games in Birmingham as Alabama home games, the Gators' games in Jacksonville as Florida home games, or the Volunteers' games in Memphis or Nashville (where the Big Orange wins a lot more often than the 'Dawgs win in Atlanta) as Tennessee home games.

I would treat all of these except Tennessee's as neutral site games, because, as I said, that's what they are. An attempt to prove a point mathematically should not be sullied by the artificial imposition of counterfactual revisionist history that is plainly refuted by the numerical reality.

 

The reality of good coaching beats the illusion of home field advantage. (Photograph of Nick Saban from Football Speakers and photograph of Les Miles from Tiger Rag.)

I hope I have not come down too hard on And the Valley Shook in this rejoinder, but, quite frankly, this isn't a close call. Far from demonstrating some bizarre form of home field advantage by osmosis, the Bulldogs' experiences in the Georgia Dome have shown that, in neutral site games, the better team tends to win.

In the 1998 Peach Bowl and in the 2002 and 2005 S.E.C. championship games, Georgia won because the Red and Black were the better-prepared, better-coached, better-executing team. In the 1995 Peach Bowl, in the 2003 S.E.C. championship game, and in the 2006 Sugar Bowl, the Classic City Canines lost because the opposing squad was the better-prepared, better-coached, better-executing team.

In short, Georgia wins when it's the better team and loses when it's not. That's not a matter of statistical analysis or gut reaction. It's just a fact of football.

Go 'Dawgs!

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