Secondary School Sports
I offer sports schedules to members of the National Federation of State High School Associations. By working at the state level, I am able to process similar schedules in bulk. As a result, the cost for each such schedule is greatly discounted compared to the cost of an individual schedule for a collegiate conference or a minor league.
A benefit to having a schedule generated by a computer is that for a reasonable fee, the headache of putting a schedule together by hand can be avoided. In addition to saving work, the quality of a schedule generated by a computer is likely to be better than one produced manually. There are several things a computer can do to improve the quality of a schedule, but two of those things are of special interest to secondary schools. First, a computer can reduce missed class time for sports that meet both on weekdays and Saturdays. Second, a computer can arrange for teams from two different sports to travel together on occasion to reduce the cost of gas. These benefits and more are discussed below.
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For sports that meet on school days as well as weekends, I can produce schedules that minimize the amount of missed class time. Doing that by hand can be difficult. It's not as easy as just picking the closest schools to play on weekdays - choosing one short travel pair to play on a weekday may prevent another short travel pair from playing on a weekday due to the interconnected nature of those decisions. However, a computer is capable of analyzing all possible decisions and selecting the best solution in terms of which results in the least overall travel on weekdays.
Distance balancing is another parameter that takes travel into account. Schools may not want to travel a much greater distance in one season than the next, which can potentially happen in single round robin schedules. To address that issue, a computer can select venues in such a way that the total travel for a given school is roughly the same from season to season. Doing so would interrupt the alternation of venues for a season, but teams that have an unbalanced travel burden may opt for that solution.
The fact that high schools sponsor several sports simultaneously provides an opportunity to save on travel costs by sharing one bus between two teams. To that end, a computer can often coordinate two sports to maximize the number of matches that two teams from one school play at a common venue. Even if not every school in the conference participates in the two sports, integrating their respective schedules together can see those two teams together on a bus more often than chance would otherwise dictate. Integrating the schedules for three or more sports, unfortunately, is likely to be too difficult for a computer to process in a reasonable amount of time.
In sports scheduling literature a break is said to occur when a team plays consecutive matches at home or consecutive matches on the road. Breaks are generally regarded as undesirable by coaches and players.
There are essentially three strategies in sports scheduling for reducing the impact of breaks, listed in order of increasing difficulty for a computer to process: The first strategy is to restrict the potential length of the breaks without regard for the total number of breaks. The second strategy is to minimize the number of breaks overall. The third strategy is to minimize the number of breaks with the caveat that each team has an equal number of them.
For conferences with and odd number of teams, the bye games can enable a schedule with no breaks at all, provided that the other parameters allow for it.
Fairness Concerning Byes
When a team plays an opponent who has previously had a bye, that opponent is often regarded as having an advantage for that match. For schedules with byes, a certain number of matches will necessarily involve that inequality. However, it would be unfair for one team to play more than its share of rested opponents. My clients sometimes request that I limit the number of times any given team has such a match, and often, it is possible to restrict that number to one per half.
Other parameters may specify particular dates for rivalry matches, particular dates for home or away games, or any other details that you are accustomed to incorporating into your schedules. Ask about your specific needs.