Mar. 9, 1998 Planning the often complex schedule of home and away games for men's college basketball has been improved through a new algorithm designed for a conference of the National Collegiate Athletic Association, according to an article in this month's edition of a journal published by the Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences (INFORMS).
The operations research program was designed for the nine-member Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) to replace a manual system that had become arduous as scheduling grew more complicated. Using algorithms - mathematical formulas set down like cookbook recipes - the authors of the study generated 300 million possible schedules, narrowed the number to 17, and then 3 before arriving at a single schedule that met all the ACC's needs. The system, which was adopted for the 1997-1998 season, is capable of sifting through this vast number of possible schedules in a single day.
The new system provides numerous benefits, such as ensuring that teams complete their seasons before home team fans every other year; providing television and radio broadcasters with a steady stream of well-matched games; giving players enough time to attend class and rest between games; and making the schedule convenient for fans attending home games.
The Atlantic Coast conference includes nine universities: Clemson, Duke, Florida State, Georgia Tech, Maryland, North Carolina, North Carolina State, Virginia, and Wake Forest.
The operations research program has potential impact for other college basketball conferences, college football scheduling, major league baseball, and national football scheduling. The authors have also created a scheduling system for the ACC women's basketball division.
Daunting Math Problem
As described in their paper, the operations researchers' task was like a school math problem - but at a daunting level of difficulty. Among the factors that had to be balanced were:
- Every team plays every other team twice in a season, and the meetings should be separated by as long a time span as possible
- The final weekend of the season is the most important and must be reserved for traditional rivalries, with Duke-North Carolina the most critical pairing
- Teams must vary home, away, and bye games to reduce strain on athletes and accommodate spectator preferences
- No team should play more than two consecutive games at home or away
- Every week, teams play one weekday and one weekend game
- As many conference teams as possible should play at an available time
- Numerous special sequences must be scheduled to satisfy broadcasters, viewers, and advertisers.
The study, "Scheduling a Major College Basketball Conference," was written by two operations researchers, Dr. George L. Nemhauser of the Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, and Dr. Michael A. Trick, Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh. It appears in the current issue of the journal Operations Research, a publication of INFORMS.
The Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences (INFORMS) is an international scientific society with 12,000 members, including Nobel Prize laureates, dedicated to applying scientific methods to help improve decision-making, management, and operations. Members of INFORMS work primarily in business, government, and academia. They are represented in fields as diverse as airlines, health care, law enforcement, the military, the stock market, and telecommunications.
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