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5 Years Of Penalties: How The Flags Fly In Each SEC Stadium

mrsec stat analysis newThe refs are out to get ya.  Obviously that’s because the league office is out to get ya, too.

Travel from one coast to the other and listen in on any group of sports fans — pro or college, hoops or football, baseball or hockey — and you’ll quickly come to the realization that darn near everyone feels their favorite team is being cheated by the officials.

Now, we could spend a lot of time detailing why these theories persist — simple answer: no one can just accept losing — but we’ve chosen instead to dig inside the numbers to see if certain teams really do get the benefit of officials’ whistles more often than others.  Specifically, we wanted to see which SEC stadiums provided the biggest boost for their occupants.

Below you’ll find several sets of numbers.  We have gone back over five years of official NCAA data to see just how many many penalties have been called (and accepted) against each SEC school in its own home stadium.  Then, we examined that same period (2008-2012) to see how many penalties road teams have wracked up in those buildings.

Let’s start with the home team data.  Below are the penalty numbers for each SEC football team in its own park between 2008 and 2012, listed from best to worst:

 

  School   Home Games   Total Penalties   Avg. Penalties / Home Game
  Alabama   35   156   4.45
  Kentucky   35   163   4.65
  Ole Miss   35   166   4.74
  Miss. State   33   164   4.96
  S. Carolina   35   188   5.37
  Missouri   31   171   5.51
  Vanderbilt   32   182   5.68
  Tennessee   37   213   5.75
  Auburn   37   225   6.08
  Arkansas   32   199   6.21
  LSU   36   231   6.41
  Georgia   31   200   6.45
  Texas A&M   34   225   6.61
  Florida   35   255   7.28

 

And there you have it!  Proof that Alabama gets all the calls in Tuscaloosa.

Well, that’s how some will take it, of course.  The reality is that if SEC officials were looking out for Alabama then they must also have been in the bag for Kentucky.  And we’re talking football here, not basketball (which is a completely different conspiracy theory).

Interestingly, most of the league’s strongest teams over the past five seasons — Auburn, Arkansas, LSU, Georgia, Florida — have all had oodles of yellow hankies heaved in their directions while playing at home.

Now let’s take a look at the number of penalties called against visiting teams at each of those SEC stadiums from 2008 through 2012, listed from best to worst:

 

  School   Home Games   Opp. Total Penalties   Opp. Avg. Penalties / Home Game
  Texas A&M   34   251   7.38
  Missouri   31   212   6.83
  Arkansas   32   218   6.81
  Miss. State   33   223   6.75
  Vanderbilt   32   202   6.31
  Florida   35   215   6.14
  LSU   36   209   5.80
  Kentucky   35   200   5.71
  Alabama   35   196   5.60
  Tennessee   37   207   5.59
  Ole Miss   35   188   5.37
  Auburn   37   192   5.18
  S. Carolina   35   180   5.14
  Georgia   31   159   5.12

 

Looking at those numbers, either Big XII officials like to throw a whole lotta flags or Kyle Field and Faurot Field are darned intimidating.  Once again, at the bottom of the list are three pretty good programs over the past five years — Auburn, South Carolina and Georgia.  Those three — when playing at home — only see about five flags per game thrown at their opponents.

What exactly does that mean?

Well, let’s compare the two tables above to see which schools have gotten the biggest advantage in terms of home-game penalties over the past five seasons:

 

  School   Avg. Penalties / Home Game   Opp. Avg. Penalties / Home Game   Penalty Diff. / Home Game
  Miss. State   4.96   6.75   + 1.79
  Missouri   5.51   6.83   + 1.32
  Alabama   4.45   5.60   + 1.15
  Kentucky   4.65   5.71   + 1.06
  Texas A&M   6.61   7.38   + 0.77
  Ole Miss   4.74   5.37   + 0.63
  Vanderbilt   5.68   6.31   + 0.63
  Arkansas   6.21   6.81   + 0.60
  Tennessee   5.75   5.59   – 0.16
  S. Carolina   5.37   5.14   – 0.23
  LSU   6.41   5.80   – 0.61
  Auburn   6.08   5.18   – 0.90
  Florida   7.28   6.14   – 1.14
  Georgia   6.45   5.12   – 1.33

 

The big takeaway?  That there has been no conspiracy when it comes to flag-tossing refs in the Southeastern Conference.  By this measure, over the past five years Mississippi State has actually benefited the most from playing in its home stadium.

Cowbells, anyone?

Missouri, Alabama and Kentucky all — on average — have seen their opponents called for about one more penalty per game than they have been.

On the other end of the spectrum, Georgia, Florida and Auburn all tend to be called for penalties about once more per home game than their foes.

Later today we’ll take a look at the difference in penalty numbers between each school’s home and road games to see if there’s any type of trend that might stand out in that area.  But from the above numbers, it doesn’t appear that stadium size or a team’s record have very much impact on how penalties are called in SEC football games.

 


5 comments
ColonelRodimus
ColonelRodimus

This analysis is partially erroneous.  It doesn't consider at what point in the game and the circumstances surrounding the penalty.  A more interesting analysis would be penalties in the final 2-3 minutes of a game.

SouthernBoiSB
SouthernBoiSB

Why does this site say there's 7 comments when only 2 are posted?  Is something screwy with the counter again?

SouthernBoiSB
SouthernBoiSB

it would be interesting to have a breakdown by games to see that info.  Like if some teams have more calls in certain locations.  Or do rivalry games create more penalties than others.  And are there more @ the start, middle, or end of the season?

Borodore
Borodore

Mr. Pennington,

Love your work, and this is interesting in comparing home field advantage.  There is no question that that is an interesting metric.  I also think it proves your point that there is not a significant difference in officiating between home and away.

However, I am more interested in seeing how many objectively bad calls each team has had go against them each year.  I would like to see how many referee apology letters each school has received for bad calls after the game over the last 10 years.  I would also see how many calls that created apology letters were in favor of each team.  I think the is a much more targeted metric that goes to bad calls, not total calls.  

P.S.  I am not denying my bias or that these calls go in my school's favor (i.e. Vandy-Ole Miss game last year)     

m_Ag
m_Ag

The pace of the game has something to do with the differences.


Playing with (or against) a no-huddle offense can mean significantly more plays per game.  If two teams are each called for a penalty once every 8 plays, the team that has the most plays will get called for more total penalties.


Dividing the number of penalties by the number of plays would be better for comparison purposes.

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