Home field advantage. The term has been used, and used quite often in the wide world of sports. And it doesn’t really matter which sport, game or event, it seems that if given the choice everybody wants to compete at home.
There are a number of studies and facts that both support and disprove that home-field advantage lends some sort of statistical boost, especially in the sport of football. The Football Outsiders Almanac 2011 even goes as far as breaking down every possible statistic you could think of or ever want (or not want) in the NFL and NCAA.
But proven or disproven, talk to any coach or player and they will tell you that they would rather play at home than on the road. And all statistics and number crunching aside, one of the major factors in this is simply due to the amount of time it takes to get from one town to the next. That is where the home and away schedule comes into play. For obvious reasons, not everybody can play at home, but in places like rural Montana, away games can be absolutely brutal.
“Home field advantage is nice,” Havre High head football coach Jason Christenson said. “Because the kids get to relax and be and home. But it all comes down to mental preparation.”
Take the Havre High Blue Ponies football schedule.
The Central A squad has nine scheduled games this regular season, four at home and five on the road. Giving it no strenuous thought, it sounds like your typical football schedule. But taking a look at just where the Ponies have to travel this fall, the miles add up rather quickly.
Tonight however, the Ponies are at home to face the defending Class A champion Miles City Cowboys.
HHS already faced the Butte Maroons in Butte this season, but they will also play in Sidney when they face the Eagles, Libby when they face the Loggers, Belgrade when they face the Panthers and Browning when they face the Indians. The Ponies shortest trip is to Browning, a 161-mile (one way) trip that will take over two and a half hours. The Ponies next shortest trip was to Butte, a 268-mile (one way) trip that took over four hours.
But from there on out, when the Ponies hit the road they are in for the long haul.
The trip to Belgrade is over 290 miles one-way, and takes over four hours. And the trip to Sidney is just less than 300 miles one-way, and means another five hours on the bus prior to game time. The Ponies trip to Libby is the longest by far. The trip is nearly 350 miles one-way, and takes almost six hours before the Ponies roll into town. When headed to Libby, HHS will leave at 9:15 a.m. and won’t reach Havre again until approximately 5 a.m. the next morning.
With the way Montana is laid out, it doesn’t seem like any away game is ever an easy one. The players have to deal with tight quarter for hours, and then must attempt to loosen up and get ready for the game by kickoff.
This regular season the Ponies will travel, round trip, over 2,736 miles, about the equivalency of driving to Los Angeles, Calif. and back.
“Everybody has to travel,” Christenson said. “Miles City has to travel up here and that is a very long trip. The kids just have to focus and have to understand that it is a long trip and a long bus ride. They have to understand it’s not a vacation; it’s a football game. Everybody has to realize that and play hard. We are always telling them to talk football or even keep the chatter down. They have to keep in mind what they are traveling for. We are going to take care of business and the kids understand and know that.”
But just as stated before, this doesn’t determine whether the Ponies will win or lose. Last season the Ponies thrived on the road, defeating Sidney, Livingston, Browning and Lewistown, and struggled at home, losing to Miles City, Butte Central and Belgrade at Blue Pony Stadium. Each game comes down to who is more prepared, and mentally ready to play football for four complete quarters.
Havre will try to take advantage of its home field when the Blue Ponies face Miles City at 6 p.m. at Blue Pony Stadium.