A look at the recent volleyball standings in the WCC got us thinking about home court advantage. Currently the San Diego Toreros are a game behind the BYU Cougars, and if both win out the Toreros will need to get a win in Provo to claim the WCC Championship. That is a very tough task as the Cougars are 34-1 at home dating back to 2012 with their only loss coming to #5 Washington earlier this year. It is VERY hard to win a match at BYU.
So who has the very best home field advantage across all the WCC sports? It would have to be a school with a large fan base, consistent success, and very loud supporters. In all those areas, it’s hard to argue against BYU. One reason other WCC schools have so much trouble winning in Provo is that the environment there is so loud and intimidating. It’s a much bigger atmosphere than most of the smaller schools get at home or at other venues throughout the year. A team’s trip to BYU is regularly the biggest crowd they will play in front of all year, and it can get to an opponent.
Oct 3, 2014; Provo, UT, USA; Brigham Young Cougars fans during the first half against the Utah State Aggies at Lavell Edwards Stadium. Utah State won 35-20. Mandatory Credit: Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports
The first factor is obviously size. BYU has an enrollment of nearly 30,000 full-time students. They are much larger than every other WCC school, giving them a much larger student body to pull from for attention and support. To put it in perspective we can look at Gonzaga, arguably the second most popular school in the conference. They have well under 10,000 students, much closer in size to the other schools in the conference. You are at a big advantage as BYU when your normal home crowd for a basketball game is larger than the entire student body of the schools you are playing!
This also feeds into a long-term advantage. The more students, the more alumni. The more alumni, the more family members like children who grow up as BYU fans. Over time, that creates a large network of people affiliated with BYU and rooting for the Cougars. The larger the school, the more this grows over time. So every year as BYU has a larger graduating class than the other WCC schools, their fan base slowly grows larger than the other schools.
Second is their religious affiliation. BYU is a Mormon university. This is a notable advantage for fan support. Many Mormons will root for BYU even if they didn’t go there or live in Utah because so many fellow Mormons play there. Notre Dame is another good example of this when it comes to Catholics. Being able to pull fans from an entire religion because of a close affiliation makes for a very loyal and large fan base. And it’s something many schools cannot take advantage of. Public schools don’t have this affiliation. While some private schools might, being the primary name is the real advantage. BYU isn’t just a Mormon university, it’s THE Mormon university.
One could also argue it’s a notable recruiting advantage. One reason BYU is so successful across most of their sports is because they immediately have an affiliation to Mormon athletes. Many notable Mormon recruits at least consider BYU even if they don’t live near there or have little interest in the school because it’s a positive and welcoming home for them while they’re in college. It’s no surprise they would want to go where they are comfortable, and BYU represents a perfect environment for that.
This is big because success is always a big driver of fan support. Win more games, more fans come to your games. Simple as that. BYU is able to stay competitive in all their sports, so their fan base stays more consistent versus coming and going whenever a team is doing well or not. A lot of schools can pack their venues for big games, but it’s a big advantage when you can do it consistently.
Oct 3, 2014; Provo, UT, USA; Brigham Young Cougars fan Nox O
Third is altitude. If the overwhelming fan support wasn’t enough, the Cougars also have the advantage of playing at a high altitude. This is even more prominent considering most of the WCC schools are at or near sea level. Any athlete can tell you playing at a high altitude takes some adjustment, so any visiting team doesn’t have much time to do that. That’s compared to the Cougars who are constantly practicing and playing in that environment and will be more used to it.
All of this creates quite an environment that is really tough for the opposition. Imagine being an athlete at a smaller WCC school. You regularly play in front of a few hundred fans, maybe less depending on the sport or your team’s recent success. At best you play in front of a few thousand on rare occasions when there is a big game. No matter how strong your mentality, you can’t be ready for the contrast of walking into BYU in front of thousands of hostile fans.
It creates a hurdle to adjust to, and in a close game that might be the difference between winning and losing. A missed free throw, a blown serve, and so on. Doesn’t always happen, but a hostile crowd can and does sometimes cause those mistakes to happen. Between everything BYU has going for it, the Cougars dwarf the WCC when it comes to home field. Like the Toreros Volleyball team, just hope you don’t go into Provo needing a win. Because odds are, you won’t get it.