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Without fans in stands, home-field advantage limited in the Big Ten football season

Joey Kaufman
Buckeye Xtra
With mostly family members comprising the crowd of a little more than 1,000 for a game against Rutgers on Nov. 7, Ohio State lost its edge and was outscored in the second half.

A clash of top-10 football teams in Ohio Stadium usually promises a spectacle.

More than 100,000 spectators cram into the stands and form a raucous home crowd that roars in support of the Buckeyes.

But there will be no rabid atmosphere when Ohio State hosts Indiana on Saturday afternoon as games in the Big Ten are being played without fans.

The attendance policy was implemented in response to the coronavirus pandemic and a desire to create uniformity across the league, where 14 schools are scattered across 11 states governed by varying public health orders related to the size of large gatherings.

It has led to a season in which home-field advantage has been diminished, potentially impacting high-stakes matchups, including the Buckeyes’ efforts to stave off the upset-minded Hoosiers this weekend.

Through four weeks, home teams in the conference are 11-14, a winning percentage of .440 that sits much lower than the rate from last fall. Teams playing at home in 2019 were 62-34, winning 64.5% of the time.

“It’s a real thing if you believe the crowd has any effect on a game,” Ohio State coach Ryan Day said. “Whether it’s snap counts, or energy, or momentum on defense, things like that. Getting them up on third down. I think for sure it’s had an effect.”

The Buckeyes are 2-0 in the Horseshoe this fall, winning games against Nebraska and Rutgers in convincing fashion.

But at times, Day has felt the absence of a crowd. While leading the Scarlet Knights by 32 points at halftime, he noticed a drop-off in energy during the second half as his team was outscored over the final two quarters.

Without the cheering and urging of fans in a game largely settled, enthusiasm waned on the sideline.

It is an issue that Ohio State’s players have been mindful of this season, while Day has reminded them to find motivation amid the strange circumstances. There is piped-in crowd noise, which is capped at 90 decibels.

“We've had to focus on bringing our own energy,” said Zach Harrison, a sophomore defensive end. “Somebody makes a sack, the sideline has got to go crazy to simulate the energy the fans would be bringing.

“It's also something we can’t use as a handicap because every other team doesn't have fans either. It’s not something that we can just be like, ‘Oh, well, this happened because there’s no fans.’ It's not an excuse. We still got to go out and execute at a high level.”

Left tackle Thayer Munford remarked that he and others have tried to follow advice from Day, who reminds them they still have the support of a rabid fan base.

“Coach Day has said their spirits are there with us,” Munford said, “even though we can't see them or hear them physically.”

There will be even fewer people in the stands this week as Ohio State is no longer allowing families of players and coaches to attend games following a new health advisory in Franklin County.

While the general public had not been at the first two games, there had been crowds of little more than 1,000, mostly family members.

If there’s a significant boost for home teams, it’s in the hours before kickoff.

When teams go on the road, they board an airplane, take a bus ride and an adjust to an unfamiliar setting.

Greg Mattison, the Buckeyes’ defensive co-coordinator, said a comfort remained in playing at home. The daily routine is less affected. Walk-throughs are conducted on campus and meetings are held at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center, the team’s facility.

“Home games are still home games,” Mattison said.

There’s also still pride in hosting teams at Ohio Stadium, where Ohio State has not lost in three seasons, maintaining a streak of 22 consecutive home wins.

“When you're going into the 'Shoe, you better play like you're supposed to,” Mattison said. “That's the bottom line. There's an unbelievable tradition that that's what you do.”

jkaufman@dispatch.com

@joeyrkaufman

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