Monday, November 03, 2014

Fix the Schedule

When it comes to the Big Ten, the first job for the new athletic director should be going to the committee in charge of drawing up the football schedule and getting everyone to agree to an incredibly simple fix to a problem plaguing two of the East's biggest programs.

Currently, Michigan and Michigan State are both stuck with schedules that have them in alternate years playing two home games against their primary rivals followed by two road games. In 2014, Michigan has road games against both MSU and OSU, and MSU is at home against UM and OSU. Next year the situation is reversed, with Michigan playing MSU and OSU at home, while the Spartans have to go on the road against the Wolverines and Buckeyes.

This is vastly sub-optimal for both teams, from the standpoint of both ticket sales and overall competitive balance. Really, you want each team to play one home game and one road game against each rival. Craig and I were talking about this unfortunate situation yesterday at the Indiana game, and Craig told me he'd happened upon a ridiculously simple solution, and Indiana is the key.

Since Indiana is in the East, both Michigan and Michigan State play them every season. Fortutiously, Indiana played MSU at home and Michigan on the road this year. Therefore, all you have to do is flip the Indiana game from a home game to an away game and flip MSU from an away game to a home game. Everyone still ends up with the same number of home and away games, and the bottleneck is cleared.

Obviously, the time has passed when we can fix the 2014 schedule. And we might as well go through the 2015 schedule as is, since I don't think anyone wants to play at MSU for three consecutive seasons. Where we should fix it is 2016.

Current 2016 Schedule
UM at MSU, at OSU, vs IU
MSU vs UM, vs OSU, at IU
OSU at MSU, vs UM, vs IU
IU vs MSU, at UM, at OSU

Proposed 2016 Schedule
UM vs MSU, at OSU, at IU
MSU at UM, vs OSU, vs IU
OSU at MSU, vs UM, vs IU
IU at MSU, vs UM, at OSU

It would mean MSU has to play at Michigan for two consecutive seasons, but that's only fair since Michigan has just done the opposite. Michigan would also have to play two consecutive seasons at Indiana, which is a small price to pay for getting off the cycle we're currently on. Sure, it's messing with a schedule that's a mere two seasons down the road, but it solves one of the more annoying problems in the current scheduling landscape.

(Additional information by Craig: 1:00 PM Monday:

One of the issues I saw was that in the 2016 schedule, swapping Indiana to be an away game would give Michigan a weird stretch of four straight home dates, followed by three straight road dates to close the year, which is suboptimal.  So, I plugged the 2016 schedule into Excel, and in six minutes, I solved it by moving just four games total.

Illinois at Michigan, originally scheduled for 10/22/16, now moves to the team's mutual open date of 9/24/16
Michigan at Iowa, originally scheduled for 11/12/16, now moves to 10/22/16.
Iowa at Wisconsin, originally scheduled for 10/22/16, now moves to 11/12/16
Illinois at Wisconsin, originally schedule for 11/12/16, now moves to 10/22/16.

It's not perfect, because it gives Wisconsin three straight home games, followed by three straight road games, but it does give them a potential breather having opened the season at Michigan, at Michigan State, home to Ohio State, ------, home to Nebraska.  With a couple other moves, you might even be able to make that one work out better too...)


Craig Barker said...

The one potential flaw, which could take a little more juggling, is the fact that in 2016, Michigan would play four home games in a row, followed by three road games to close out the year under this system. But I think you could figure that out as well.

Chuck said...

I never understood how this all got so screwed up to begin with. The consequences have been devastating. Among my circle of season ticket holders, several of them now FORMER season ticket holders, this became the year to give up on their family tradition of Michigan football because of the historic lack of any rival on the home schedule. (I don't think any of them much cared about competitive balance or anything like that.)

But you guys didn't address what I have (confusedly, I am quick to say) understood was the real reason for the B1G flip of our home rotation with MSU; supposedly, it was to mate some sort of balance with the quartet of PSU, MSU, OSU and Michigan all together. Making sure that none of the four ever had to play all of the other three on the road in any one season.

I haven't done the future-schedule calculation; but what happens when you figure the PSU schedule into your proposal?

There is one other notion, which is too evil for me to accept; that together, Dave Brandon and Mark Hollis figured that if they both went to feast/famine scheduling, with both conference rivals at home every other year, they could use those feast years to ratchet up ticket prices.

Now that is pure speculation on my part. And as a moderately staunch defender of Dave Brandon against his MGoDetractors, I'd like to see such speculation refuted. But the flip of MSU on our home schedule was a massive fail that really cries out for a detailed explanation.

Craig Barker said...


Quick answer. Moving this does not go feast or famine among the "Big Four" in the East. Michigan would have two at home in even years (MSU/PSU) and one on at home in odd years (OSU) while MSU has Ohio State at home in even years and Michigan and Penn State at home in odd years. OSU gets Michigan at home in even years and MSU/PSU at home in odd years, and PSU gets OSU/MSU at home in even years and Michigan in odd years. So, as much as you can balance that quartet, I think you have.

Feast/famine would work in future scenarios for Michigan. 2016 has Wisconsin and Illinois at home (in addition to Hawaii, UCF, and Colorado) (OK, so not great.)

2018 has Arkansas, Nebraska, SMU, Penn State at home as well as a TBA game, so that's not too bad.

2014 looked to be a dry spell to be "got through" and unfortunately, it didn't pan out.

Chuck said...

So Craig what is the prevailing theory on how our natural rotation with MSU got screwed up in the first place? Because I knew from the moment it was announced that it would be a shitstorm requiring an exceptionally good explanation. That explanation never came. Brandon simply made vague references to Conference "algorithms."

Anonymous said...

This whole scheduling debacle reeks of everyone caving to Michigan State's demands. If you recall, the only 1 of the 4 (Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State, and MSU) that was talking about being in the WEST division was MSU - despite it making no geographic sense. (which is so MSU by the way)

This problem could have been easily alleviated THIS YEAR by switching the Indiana game to a road game. It was as simple as that. It went ignored - that smells of this being negotiated and purposefully done.

Michigan State had just played a Big Ten season without a single regular season game against Ohio State, Penn State, or Wisconsin. That was also the third time in the last 5 years they hadn't played Ohio State. Why in the world wasn't that taken into consideration? Why did they get favorable treatment once again?

The problem also could have been alleviated by making MSU play Nebraska at Nebraska two years in a row. To soften the blow for making us play in EL two years in a row. Yet that rotation wasn't altered.

Michigan State got two home games in a row versus Michigan and Ohio State. They got to keep their regular rotation with Nebraska.

I am sure the whining will begin on their side pretty soon on how they got screwed when they play Michigan, Ohio State, and Nebraska all on the road next year. Once reality sets it, they will realize they screwed themselves over the long term for this short term back to back favorable schedules.

This problem can be fixed with us getting two home games in 2015 and 2016 and switching the Indiana game. Also there better not be any BS talk about making the second game a neutral site. We had to go to their dump two years in a row and the Michigan freshman from 2011 saw ONE home game versus Michigan State. Not to mention Hoke will have only coached ONE home game against them. The idea of a neutral site was completely ignored for the 2014 - it would have been a fair trade off.

Brandon was obviously too weak to stop this. He was outwitted in negotiations just like the Notre Dame series cancellation.

I have no doubt this scheduling issue will be a topic next year talking how it screwed MSU over. Sorry MSU, you screwed yourselves over. You manipulated a favorable schedule in the short term to follow up your comically easy 2013 schedule.

I hope the talks open up again with this once MSU takes another look at their schedule for next season. It they want to fix it, they better be ready to play in Ann Arbor two years in a row. I have no doubt that any initial negotiations will revolve around that second game being at a neutral site, all the while conveniently ignoring that a neutral site game was completely ignored in 2014.