Baby It's Cold Outside: Do Warm-Weather School Players Handle the Cold Worse than Cold-Weather School Players?

As those of us that have lived in the North are well aware, it gets pretty damn cold out in the winter time.  Every person who grew up in a state with regular snowfall knows that winter weather can have a dramatic effect on their life and careers:

  • Commuting time increases
  • Illnesses
  • Walking to school in the snow, to and from, uphill both ways

Often when these things are discussed in the north, they are accompanied with a smugness about the abilities of folks down south to handle it.  And of course, this stereotype has extended into the realm of football, via the old "southerners can't handle the cold!" argument.

Today I am going to investigate if this is indeed true by looking into the effectiveness of a single position relative to expected performance in 2016: Running Backs.  Take notes, AFC/NFC North teams!

To begin, I pulled data game-by-game for all running backs in games that had temperatures below freezing.  Once this was complete, the running backs' schools were added, along with a code for whether or not it was a "cold weather" school (this was a judgment call).

Once this was completed it resulted in 76 data points.  Even though in a perfect world we would acquire more data, this was deemed enough to proceed with.  The data was loaded into Tableau, at which point I started playing around with graphs.

The first data points analyzed were yards per carry, divided by warm and cold weather schools.

As is evident from the box plots, there did not appear to be a difference between cold weather schools (Yes) and warm weather schools (No).  To confirm this, I analyzed the data two additional ways.  The first was total yards per game.

In this case, there appears to be a slight advantage for the Northern schools, but this is largely due to Le'Veon Bell being incredible (see the points to the far right).

What about fatigue?  Do Southern players have fewer carries in cold weather?

Here we see a similar pattern to what appeared in the total yards, as would be expected.  Slight advantage to the North in terms of skew, but nothing statistically significant.

As a northerner at this point, I was getting desperate!  The last hail mary test dealt with touchdowns.  Do Northerners score more touchdowns per carry?  Come on, pull through Big Ten!

To test this, I created a new calculated field.  See below for the complex formulation if you'd like to try this at home.

Then, I created the graph by grouping by RB (doing this per game would mostly yield zeros).

Once this was created, I made a final box plot and crossed my fingers.

Northerners, it appears we must admit that our feelings of football superiority in cold weather are in our heads and nowhere else.  In 2016, anyway.  For running backs, anyway.

Back next week with another draft-related analysis!

Author: Chris Bick