Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Dome, Sweet Dome

Since the only other Vikings stories right now seem to be Tarvaris Jackson's knee and Bernard Berrian's toe, let me try introducing a more juicy topic, sure to inspire some well-thought, rational debate:

The Vikings are better off playing their home games in the Metrodome than they would be playing them outdoors.

Yeah, nobody will argue with that, will they?

Let's start with a few simple facts, namely the pre-Dome and post-Dome Vikings' regular season winning percentages:

Outdoor Vikings (1961-1981).568.616.520
Indoor Vikings (1982-2007).534.644.424

The fact, that the "Indoor" Vikings have a better home winning percentage than the "Outdoor" Vikings is not, in itself, an indicator that the Metrodome is a better home field than an outdoor stadium would be. If Team A goes 12-4 with a 6-2 home record and Team B goes 8-8 with a 5-3 home record, it doesn't necessarily mean Team A has a better home field advantage; they're probably a better team, period, and play better than Team B at home, on the road, on Mars, or wherever.

On the other hand, what if Team B had the extreme case of going 8-0 at home and 0-8 on the road? Does that mean they're an awesome home team, even better than Team A? Or does it mean they're an awful road team? It's difficult to say, though it's probably a little of both.

This is, in a way, is what we face when comparing the two eras of Vikings play. The Outdoor Vikings were better overall (.568 to .534 winning percentage). Despite that, however, they had a worse home record than the Indoor Vikings (.616 to .644). What can we interpret from that?

Suppose we know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that Team A is better than Team B. Now, suppose Team B has a better home record than Team A. This automatically means Team A must have a better road record than Team B (since A is better overall). From that, I can infer one, or possibly both of these things:

1) Team B has a bigger home field advantage than Team A; and/or
2) Team A is better at playing on the road than Team B

If the inverse of point #1 were true -- that Team A is a better home team than Team B -- then we would expect Team A to have a better home record than Team B, since they're better overall and better at home. Point #2 is probably correct, because A > B overall and A > B on the road.

Now, replace "Team A" with "Outdoor Vikings" and "Team B" with "Indoor Vikings." If playing outdoors was such an advantage for the clearly better team, why do they have a worse home record than the inferior team? If the Outdoor Vikings were a bad team, I could see them having a worse home record and still being better at home than the Indoor Vikings. But that's not the case here.

If you've read this far, you probably disagree with me, or at least did at the start of the post. Football is played by men! Indoor football in Minnesota is a travesty! The Metrodome makes Bud Grant weep! And of course it would be a huge advantage for the Vikings to play outdoors instead of cowering under a roof like sissies!

Not so fast.

Consider this: The Metrodome is an "active" home field advantage eight times a year. Last I heard, it was pretty loud in there and is definitely a hostile place to play, for all opponents. How many times a year would an outdoor stadium be a home field advantage for the Vikings? I'd say that maybe the last six games of the year -- from late November to (possibly) early January -- are the ones that are most likely to feature inclement winter weather. Half of those games, on average, will be at home, so that gives us three potential advantages. Toss in that the weather might not be bad or that we might be playing a team that's not "afraid" of the cold, like Green Bay or Chicago, and you get, I'd say, maybe 2.5 home games per year where we would have a definite advantage due to weather.

2.5 < 8

What about the playoffs, which are always in January, when it's cold? It's a small sample size, and you again have the "better team" question, but the Outdoor Vikings were 7-3 in home playoff games, and the Indoor Vikings are 5-3. Not exactly indicative, one way or the other.

And how great, really, is the home field advantage for "cold" teams? I don't have any numbers, but if a quarterback from Mississippi can be considered the best cold weather quarterback in history, how much of an adjustment can it really be for, say, a team from San Diego to play a team in Buffalo when there's snow on the ground? Players come from all around the nation and it's just as cold for the visitors as it is for the home team. Sure, LaDainian Tomlinson's from Texas, but Trent Edwards probably didn't face too many snowstorms growing up in the Bay Area of California, either. See also: Green Bay's home playoff performances this decade.

Now, what about the road issues? "Better team" arguments aside, it's hard to argue with a .520 vs. .424 winning percentage, and I'll say, with some confidence, that the Outdoor Vikings were a better road team than the Indoor Vikings. Maybe that is the result of their cushy dome, artificial turf, and lack of wind and rain. Perhaps, overall, the Vikings would be a better team if they ditched the dome. But the notion that the Minnesota cold is an insurmountable obstacle for visiting opponents is probably just part of Vikings nostalgia that bears only passing resemblance to reality.


BJ said...

So could we get the best of both worlds with a retractable roof stadium?

Jason said...

Maybe we could, and we could use it as the opposite of how most franchises use such stadiums -- when it's warm and sunny out, we close the roof, when it's cold and snowy/rainy, we open it up :)