Tuesday, May 15, 2007

My Proposal for ACC Basketball Scheduling

Since going to 12 teams, there has been a lot of talk about basketball scheduling. Gone are the days when you could play a 14 or 16 game schedule and get home and away games against each team. To go back to those days, conference games would take up 22 games, leaving little for those big out-0f-conference games like Duke vs. Michigan, UNC vs. Arizona, and Clemson vs. Monmouth.

So, we are left with an imbalanced schedule. Some teams get Duke twice, some teams get UNC Twice, some lucky team gets Miami twice. The problems with an imbalanced schedule are:

  1. An imbalanced schedule can be inherently unfair, with two teams fighting for regular season championship, but one of them having a weaker schedule than the other.
  2. Duke and UNC are big draws, bring a lot of excitement and a lot of ticket sales, but not everyone can play them twice every year.
Those issues are going to remain. You can reduce their impact by going for more conference games, but this reduces the control that coaches have on scheduling, and you can make an argument that it could hurt the ACC come tournament time, because teams would have fewer opportunities to play different styles and fewer opportunities to impress the committee with quality out of conference wins.

The somewhat random nature of the current imbalanced scheduling is part of the problem with its perceived unfairness. What I'd rather do is take a page from the NFL. The NFL takes a couple of games for each team every year, and based on the previous years record, schedules teams of similar strength. So for example, if a team finishes near the bottom of the NFL record wise, those two flex games would be against 2 teams that also sucked. While it is a small part of the schedule, many credit this system for the parity in the NFL, with teams seemingly often making bottom to top turn-arounds in a single year.

So, why not do something like that for the ACC. The ACC has always been progressive in its thinking, from the first conference tournament, to the 83 season with short shot clock and short 3 point line.

So, here is my proposal. Like the current system, each team plays every other team at least once. That takes up 11 of the 16 games. Also like today, each team gets 2 natural rivals. These are teams that no matter what, you play twice a year. For example, each year, NC State gets home and home with UNC and Wake. Duke's rivals are UNC and Maryland. Maryland's are UVA and Duke, etc. In some cases these "rivals" may be forced relationships, as BC doesn't really have natural rivals yet. But this type of setup is required, because any system that doesn't ensure 2 Duke/UNC games or 2 UNC/State games is a non-starter.

So, 13 of the 16 games are spoken for, but that leaves 3 additional games on the schedule. These would be scheduled based on the previous seasons results. Some purists might argue that unlike professional sports, the college game really starts fresh each year. Have you ever heard coaches talk about how they never defend a title, because each team is so different. That may be true, but often times you can draw conclusions about a teams likely strength based on the previous year. Sure, teams get better and worse, but previous years finish I'd argue is probably most often as good a predictor as is the pre-season writer's poll.

So, based on the previous years finish, you divide the league into 3 divisions. The top 4 teams are in the Top division, then middle 3, bottom 3. Those 3 remaining ACC games would be scheduled against the team that finished in your same division. So, based on 2006-2007 results:

North Carolina 11-5 31-7
Virginia 11-5 21-11
Virginia Tech 10-6 22-12
Boston College 10-6 21-12
Maryland 10-6 25-9
Georgia Tech 8-8 20-12
Duke 8-8 22-11
Clemson 7-9 25-11
Florida State 7-9 22-13
NC State 5-11 20-16
Wake Forest 5-11 15-16
Miami 4-12 12-20

North Carolina's additional games would be against Virginia, Virginia Tech, and BC.

Duke, who finished in the middle would get Maryland, GaTech, and Clemson.

Before I go on, let me say that this past year was a pretty odd year in the ACC, and more times than not, I think you could expect Duke and UNC to both be in the top division, with two other teams that are typically solid. The other thing is that as you look at the plan above, some teams end up in the same division as their natural rivals. You wouldn't schedule 3 games with a team, so when that happens, you just work through it, grabbing the next highest finishing team you aren't already scheduled with.

All of this sound pretty convoluted, but it isn't that hard to do. The end result would be more good games and fewer blowouts, more marquee games, and more parity. By letting better teams play more games against better teams, they get more quality experience to prepare them for the NCAA's. By letting middle teams play more games against middle teams, it gives them a chance to prove themselves to the selection committee. And the bottom dwellers get a better chance to lift themselves out of the basement instead of 3 or 4 automatic losses against Duke and Carolina.

What do you think?


Anonymous said...

If the ACC can't play a true round-robin, which they can't with 12 teams, I think the're better off sticking with the 16 game format with 2 traditional rivals and the rotation among 3 other schools. Sure, it's not equatable, and some teams will end up with easier schedules than others... still gotta win the tournament to be the true conference champion.

Ken White said...

You know, my dream of course is for everyone to go 8-8 and all make the tournament. I keep hoping there is some kind of scheduling trick you can do to bring the top down and lift the bottom.