Monday, April 25, 2016

Biological Bias for East Coast Football Teams

Are you a fan of the NFL? Who's you're team? 49ers fans, or as a matter of fact any PST time zone team....? Little did you know your team faces a significant competitive disadvantage while playing in any one o'clock games on the east coast. Is your team playing in one of the London games this year? I sure am glad my Patriots aren't, and to top it off they only have 2 games this season outside of their normal time-zone.

To understand where I'm coming from - and the sports blogger who tackled this issue just last week we need to delve into the study of chronobiology. To be overtly concise: many aspects of exercise performance suffer in the morning. This has no bearing on the bender you just finished over the weekend and now find yourself curled around the coffee pot in the office all day on Monday. It's actually far more elegant than the simple cause and effect relationship you may have built with Anheuser-Busch.  In fact many biological functions relevant to physical performance follow the core body temperature cycle, which is found to be lowest in the morning of an individuals circadian rhythm, and peaks in the early evening.  
So you might be asking at this point - how does this relate to a players performance in a football game?  "For example, every 0.1℉ decrease in core body temperature results in a nerve conduction velocity decrease of 0.432 m/sec, directly reducing reaction time." While the visiting players themselves may just owe certain aspects of this phenomena to having a bad day, they truly are unable to react with the same level of speed that they could if playing in a home game. We can actually derive statistically significant results from looking at the outcomes of such games and observing various characteristics that may have led to such an outcome.
Knowing what we have learned in our biostats class this semester, the statistically significant difference in win percentage (P = 0.002) certainly did not happen by accident. Looking at this data we come to the indisputable conclusion: teams playing a morning body clock start time face a significant competitive disadvantage. Luckily for the fans, most of the desirable match ups to watch get scheduled for primetime games starting at 4:15 or 8:30 PM. Obviously the NFL does this to garner the highest viewer ratings possible but they also inadvertently ensure prime performances between some of the best rivalries football has to offer. In closing since these statistics were taken over the 2000-2015 season I see it fit to take a moment to honor one of football's greatest quarterbacks to ever take the turf.   


  1. This is interesting. I know that my team always seems to do bad on the west coast. I always figured that it was simply due to the NFC West teams being really good. Still not entirely sure I agree with the variable for the performance being due to core temperature. It could also depend on how the player responds to a changed schedule after being used to doing everything locally most weeks. I would also be interested in seeing the results for NBA teams.

  2. This makes me think of NBA teams and elevation! The idea is that the Denver Nuggets and Utah Jazz both have an extra homecourt advantage, due to their respective cities being at a higher elevation than the other 28 teams in the league. Because the players are accustomed to playing there, it does not affect them the way it affects their competitors, who may only play there once a year.

    Nylon Calculus has a great post attempting to quantify this here:

    Looking back as far as 2002, they find that the correlation coefficient between home winning percentage and altitude is 0.2842. And in terms of Denver and Utah, they find that they are in the top 6 for home win percentage, despite not being above average overall during the studied time span.