The National Football League (NFL) prepares game schedules for all the professional football teams in the league and dictates where and when each team plays. There are 16 games played by each team in a regular season, half at home and half on the road. Games away from home are usually more difficult, because they require teams to travel to different environments for competition. The combination of a new environment and the unfamiliarity of the stadium or dome might have implications for the visiting teams’ performance. However, the change in the physical environment is not the only possible factor affecting the performance of professional football players when they play in away games. The effects of air travel on the players’ physiological and psychological systems might cause a decrement in performance. Like other professional sport organizations, professional football teams use air transit when they travel to different cities in the United States for away games. Visiting teams traveling long distances from one city to another, for instance from Oakland, CA to Miami, FL, might experience increases in stress and fatigue. The distance traveled is relevant in predicting stress and exhaustion (Shepard, 1984); the direction of travel might also have an adverse effect on athletic performance (O’Connor & Morgan, 1990; Reilly, 1998).
The direction of travel is important because it determines whether the visiting teams are traveling within the same time zone or different time zones. For instance, teams traveling north and south usually remain in the same time zone with no effect on daily routine, such as regular meal and sleep time (Loat & Rhodes, 1989). On the other hand, when teams travel from the east coast (EC) to the west coast (WC) or vice versa, the teams experience a shift in time. As a result, the transmeridian travel may cause a disruption in the sleep-wake cycle, which may lead to sleep loss (Loat & Rhodes, 1989). Researchers have agreed that it is advantageous to travel in the westward direction, because the person’s travel day is lengthened as compared to the shortened travel day when traveling eastward (Klein, Wegmann, & Hunt, 1972; Loat & Rhodes, 1989; Reilly, 1998; Shepard, 1984; Youngstedt & O’Connor, 1999). In fact, after a westward flight, the mean re-entrainment (readaptation) shift rate is faster than after eastward flights (Aschoff, Hoffman, Pohl, & Wever, 1975). Therefore, professional football teams on the west coast might be at a disadvantage when they travel to compete against teams on the east coast.
Because of the three-hour difference from west coast to east coast, there are several possible factors that might explain the adverse effect on performance for the visiting teams from the west coast, such as jet-lag, circadian rhythm, and sleep deprivation. The jet-lag theory assumes that athletic performance is impaired following rapid transmeridian travel, while the circadian theory postulates that athletic performance peaks at certain time of the day. The sleep deprivation theory suggests that sleep loss would lead to fatigue and changes in mood.
The purpose of this study was to investigate whether WC professional football teams are at a disadvantage when they play against EC professional football teams on the EC at 1pm ET as compared to 4pm ET and after 6pm ET. If the results show that the WC teams perform worse at 1pm ET than 4pm ET or after 6pm ET against EC teams on the EC, then the WC teams may want to petition the NFL for later games on the EC.
The researcher categorized professional football teams in the WC and EC according to the teams’ home cities in their respective time zones. Using the information on a website (www.timetemperature.com, 2003) regarding the different time zones in the United States, the researcher was able to divide the teams in the Pacific Time (PT) zone and Eastern Time (ET) zone. Seattle (WA), Oakland (CA), San Francisco (CA), and San Diego (CA) are cities with professional football teams in the PT zone. The teams from cities of the EC teams in the ET zone are located east of Indiana, Kentucky (Frankfort), Tennessee (Nashville), and Alabama. Teams from cities in the ET zone that are unaffected by daylight savings time were eliminated from this study, which included Cincinnati, Cleveland, and Indianapolis. Therefore, the participants were the four WC professional football teams and the 13 EC professional football teams during the 1990-2002 seasons. The four WC professional football teams consisted of the Seattle Seahawks, Oakland Raiders, San Francisco Forty-Niners, and San Diego Chargers, while the 13 EC professional football teams included: Buffalo Bills (NY), Miami Dolphins (FL), New England Patriots (MA), New York Jets (NY), Baltimore Ravens (MD), Pittsburg Steelers (PA), Jacksonville Jaguars (FL), New York Giants (NY), Philadelphia Eagles (PA), Washington Redskins (DC), Atlanta Falcons (GA), Carolina Panthers (NC), and Tampa Bay Buccaneers (FL). By NFL rules, each team was allowed to have 52 players suited for games during the 1990-2002 seasons (Upson, 2002).
Procedures The researcher searched the WC teams’ websites for their business information to contact their travel coordinators. The researcher contacted the travel coordinators at the four WC teams’ business offices via telephone to schedule appointments before conducting the interview. The telephone interviews were conducted on different days and times because of the travel coordinators’ work schedules. Telephone interviews consisted of scripted questions that were written by the researcher (see Appendix A). The researcher performed a pilot study with the scripted questions by contacting a friend who worked as a public-relation representative for a corporate company. The researcher asked the travel coordinators questions about the day and time the WC teams normally depart for games on the east coast. Also, the researcher asked questions regarding the time when the WC teams normally rise in the morning for games starting at 1pm ET, 4pm ET, and after 6pm ET on the east coast. The telephone interview lasted approximately 15 minutes. The information given by the four travel coordinators of the WC organizations helped the researcher to identify possible reasons for any differences in WC teams’ performance against EC teams on the east coast at different game times.
Table 1 presents the descriptive statistics of a one-way ANOVA for adjusted OPY, ORY, DPYA, DRYA, fumbles, and scores of WC teams for games played at three different times (1pm ET, 4pm ET, after 6pm ET). Figures 1-6 are diagrams of box-plots that show the mean and range of the data for each adjusted variable for the three different game times.
Mean Adjusted Score __________________________________________________________________________________________
Figure 1. Boxplot of west-coast adjusted offensive yardage (WC AJOPY) versus three different game times.
Figure 2. Boxplot of west-coast adjusted offensive rushing yardage (AJORY) versus three different game times.
Figure 3. Boxplot of west-coast adjusted defensive passing yardage allowed (AJDPYA) versus three different game times.
Figure 4. Boxplot of west-coast adjusted defensive rushing yardage allowed (AJDRYA) versus three different game times.
Figure 5. Boxplot of west-coast adjusted fumbles (AJF) versus three different game times.
Figure 6. Boxplot of west-coast adjusted final scores (AJS) versus three different game times.
West-Coast Offensive Passing Yardage
There were no significant differences in WC Adjusted OPY for games played at three different times, F (2, 112) = 1.63 (p=.201). The means were as followed: 3.89 (1pm), -29.08 (4pm), 8.84 (after 6pm). The data were suggestive that WC teams passed for more yardage in games after 6pm ET than at 1pm ET and 4pm ET.
West-Coast Offensive Rushing Yardage
WC adjusted ORY showed a significant difference among game times, F (2, 112) = 5.15, (p=.007). Games played after 6pm ET had a higher mean adjusted ORY (34.61) as compared to 1pm ET (-4.60) and 4pm ET (-12.92). A Tukey’s pairwise comparisons test revealed that there was no significant difference between 1pm ET and 4pm ET games. However, WC adjusted ORY was shown to be higher for games after 6pm ET (34.61) than 1pm ET (-4.60) and 4pm ET (-12.92), respectively. The significant differences indicated that WC teams were more successful than expected at running the football when they played in games after 6pm ET as compared to 1pm ET and 4pm ET.
West-Coast Defensive Passing Yardage Allowed
For WC adjusted DPYA, no significant differences were found among the three game times, F (2, 112) = .17 (p=.848). The means were as followed: 2.84 (1pm), 10.05 (4pm), -3.85 (after 6pm). The data were suggestive that WC teams allowed fewer passing yardage in games played after 6pm ET (-3.85) as compared to 4pm ET (10.05).
West-Coast Defensive Rushing Yardage Allowed
WC adjusted DRYA showed that there were no significant differences, F (2, 112) = 1.79 (p=.172). The means were as followed: -59.12 (1pm), -46.99 (4pm), -74.76 (after 6pm). The data were suggested that WC teams allowed fewer rushing yardage (-74.76) in games after 6pm ET than at 1pm ET (-59.12) and 4pm ET (-46.99).
No significant differences were found for WC adjusted fumbles among the three game times, F (2, 112) = 2.43 (p=.093). The means were as followed: 0.13 (1pm), 0.77 (4pm), -0.35 (after 6pm). The data were suggestive that WC teams tend to fumble less in games after 6pm ET (-.035) than at 1pm ET (0.13) and 4pm ET (0.77).
West-Coast Final Scores
For WC adjusted final scores, there were no significant differences for the three game times, F (2, 112) = .88 (p=.417). The means were as followed: -3.01 (1pm), -4.53 (4pm), 5.55 (after 6pm). The data were suggestive that WC teams scored more points in games after 6pm ET (5.55) than at 1pm ET (-3.01) and 4pm (-4.53).
In conclusion, the findings in this study did not support the research hypothesis of WC professional football teams performing worse in early afternoon games at 1pm ET on the EC as compared to 4pm ET and after 6pm ET. There was a significant difference in game times for WC adjusted ORY, but no significant differences were found for adjusted OPY, DPYA, DRYA, fumbles, and final scores. WC teams were more successful at running the football in games after 6pm ET as compared to 1pm ET and 4pm ET. Also, the data were suggestive that WC teams performed better in the evening as opposed to afternoon games, based on the higher mean adjusted OPY and final scores plus lower mean adjusted variables for DPYA, DRYA, and fumbles. Therefore, it may be beneficial for WC teams to petition the NFL to schedule more night games on the EC.