The Science of Sports Scheduling

Sports fans are no strangers to the creep of statistical analysis changing the face of professional athletics, be it through Moneyball, the explosion of people playing fantasy sports, or elsewhere. However, there's something other than compiling a winning team that's in need of a stats-based overhaul: figuring out when and where the teams play one other.

Setting the schedule for a pro sports league is a logistical nightmare. When the list of games come out prior to each season, fans usually focus on the match-ups, but behind that list stands a team of schedule-makes who had to deal not only with putting the best teams in the most appealing time slots, but also evenly distributing home and away games, how to move teams around at a reasonable pace, and more. It's a headache, but now the University of Nottingham's Graham Kendall is coming to their aid.

Kendall, a computer science professor, dreamed up a program that could devise the best way to schedule all 92 teams in England's Football League, which includes the English Premier League and the three divisions below it. He can give his program the criteria not only to fairly balance home and away matches to maintain competitive balance for the teams, but also to optimize the logistics of moving teams and fans around. For instance, the software knows to minimize that times that West London clubs Chelsea and Fulham, or Liverpudlian clubs Liverpool F.C. and Everton, play at home on the same day to keep antagonistic crowds from intermingling.

Kendall is in talks to see if the Football League wants to pick up his program to help set its schedule. Given that the Football League organizes more than 2,000 matches in a season between its 92 teams, they might want all the help they can get.

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