For Monday Night Football, Bet On The West Coast Team
David Randall points out a study that found an interesting pattern in Monday Night Football:
The scheduling of Monday Night Football games presents a unique circadian problem, especially if a team from the West Coast is playing a team from the East Coast. Players on the West Coast team are playing at their equivalent of 5:30 p.m., no matter if the game is in Seattle or Miami. Players on the team from the East Coast, meanwhile, are three hours ahead in their own circadian cycles. In nature, this sort of mismatch couldn’t happen. It was only in the last 60 years or so that we’ve developed a way to travel so quickly across time zones that our internal clocks are no longer in sync with the daylight around us. Fitting its cause, we call this condition jet lag.
Without knowing it, athletes on teams from the East Coast are playing at a disadvantage. Because of the circadian rhythm, which they can’t control, their bodies are past their natural performance peaks before the first quarter ends. By the fourth quarter, the team from the East Coast will be competing close to its equivalent of midnight. Their bodies will be subtly preparing for sleep by taking steps such as lowering the body temperature, slowing the reaction time, and increasing the amount of melatonin in their bloodstream. Athletes on the team from the West Coast, meanwhile, are still competing in the prime time of their circadian cycle.
The Stanford researchers dug through 25 years of Monday night NFL games and flagged every time a West Coast team played an East Coast team. Then, in an inspired move, they compared the final scores for each game with the point spread developed by bookmakers in Vegas. The results were stunning. The West Coast teams dominated their East Coast opponents no matter where they played. A West Coast team won 63 percent of the time, by an average of two touchdowns. The games were much closer when an East Coast team won, with an average margin of victory of only nine points. By picking the West Coast team every time, someone would have beaten the point spread 70 percent of the time. For gamblers in Las Vegas, the matchup was as good as found money.
In a test to ensure that their findings weren’t the result of West Coast teams simply being better during those years, the researchers expanded their scope and looked at every Monday Night Football game played during that twenty-five-year time span. They found that the overall winning percentages for West Coast and East Coast teams were essentially even when the teams were not playing a game against an opponent from the other coast. Nor were the results a reflection of home-field advantage. When an East Coast team traveled to another destination within its same time zone, it won 45 percent of the time. But if a team from the East Coast played somewhere in the Pacific time zone, its winning percentage shrunk to only 29 percent.
That’s far too high a percentage to be just a coincidence, I would think. It would be interesting to see if this phenomenon existed if one takes into account the entire history of Monday Night Football, and the relatively more recent history of Sunday Night Football. If it does, the oddsmakers in Vegas need to start learning a little more about Circadian Rhythms.
H/T: Gwynn Guilford