A Closer Look at Unbalanced Schedules


Ever since the ACC dropped the round-robin regular season schedule, the actual strength of each team’s conference schedule varies based on which teams are played twice.   One month into the regular season, we took a quick look at what was happening based on calculations posted at cbssports.com.   But last Monday, CBS took the conference SOS off their breakdown page for each team.    I don’t know what happened, but I have to wonder if they found something wrong in the math and decided that it was easier/quicker to drop the info than to fix it.

In the past, I’ve taken a mathematical look at unbalanced conference scheduling a number of different ways.   But there was no way that I was going to have time to recreate one of my previous techniques.   So in a flash of brilliance (or perhaps laziness), I decided to just look at each team’s four home/home opponents and total their conference wins.   Here’s an illustration of what I’m talking about by showing the strongest and weakest schedules for the 2013/2014 regular season:


This technique has a number of built-in error checks that can be done and obviously I didn’t find any or I wouldn’t be posting it.   If anyone else with no life finds a problem, please let me know.

Doing that same calc for the other 13 teams gives the following table and graph:





One of the “dangers” of looking at strength of schedule is that the best teams’ schedules are inherently weaker because they don’t play themselves…and the converse is true for the teams at the bottom of the conference.   The above technique avoids this by only looking at the small number of opponents that each teams plays twice during the regular season.      I’ll use this technique in the future unless CBS puts their conference SOS back up.

The one potential drawback that I see is that the four teams that play UVA twice will get a bigger bump in SOS than might be warranted since UVA’s record comes against such an easy conference schedule.   But when you look at the list of upset losses, you see that SYR, Duke, and UNC all lost two games to teams playing on ACCT Wednesday while UVA swept the bottom of the conference.    So while I’m not claiming that this technique is perfect, it doesn’t suck either.

There’s nothing more dangerous than a little knowledge.   The point of this entire exercise was to see who ended up at the top and bottom of schedule strength…not make a big deal about small differences among the teams in the middle.   For instance, here’s a table to look at before anyone runs to their UNC friends about their weak conference schedule:


Line #1 is equivalent.  Line #3 is identical.   Line #4 is nearly equivalent.   This leaves the variation in schedule strength between Duke, UNC, and State to the differences in just one opponent.

Duke’s opponent (SYR) >  State’s opponent (Pitt) > UNC’s opponent (State).   So the difference in schedule difference between UNC and State…is that UNC played State twice.


Side Rant:   Conference Size

With the expanded ACC, here is how the conference basketball schedules were configured over the past three years:

  • 12 teams and 16 games – 3 home; 3 away and 5 home/home
  • 12 teams and 18 games – 2 home; 2 away and 7 home/home
  • 15 teams and 18 games – 5 home; 5 away and 4 home/home

That’s right…the worst schedule is the one that we will watch every year for the foreseeable future.

10 teams is the largest size where round robin schedules in football and basketball make sense.   9 football games and 18 basketball games would make a 12-team conference acceptable.    But the ACC has gone for quantity to make up for a lack of quality and we have the mess you see:

  • Football schedules where you don’t play some teams twice in a DECADE.
  • Basketball schedules where the relative strength varies by nearly a factor of two.

Oh well, back to the SOS discussion.

One drawback of any math-based system is that there is no credit given for home vs away games.   With the ACC’s system of five teams only at home and five only away, which teams you play away could have a noticeable impact on a schedule’s actual toughness beyond what any calculation would show.   For example, let’s look at the top four seeds and their results against each other:

Top vs each other

Once again we see that UVA’s schedule is the easiest both in total games and location.   The interesting comparison comes when you compare Duke’s to UNC’s.   Duke’s schedule ranks tougher when looking at total games against the top-4.  But UNC’s difficulty increases when you consider that they only played one of these toughest games at home.   (Same comparison applies to SYR and UNC.)

I’ve always backed up whatever numerical technique I’ve used with a table to see if the numbers make sense.    I’ve noted which games were away (read along the rows) to see if anything jumps out.   It’s also important to break down the schedule comparisons among the various strata within the conference.   For instance, absolutely no one cares how VT’s schedule compares with Clemson’s unless they are fighting for the same ACCT seed.   So here’s the master regular-season schedule:

Master BB Schedule


Here are some things that stood out to me:

–        About one month into the conference schedule, Pitt, FSU, and WF started tanking.   Pitt and FSU dropped into the mess in the middle and WF’s seven-game losing streak dropped them into the bottom six.

–        These changes affected Clemson the most because they played all three teams twice.   So Clemson’s conference SOS turned out to be much weaker than I projected earlier in the season.

–        Maryland got a nice upset in their last game against UVA and finished the season at 9-9.    But seven of those wins came against the bottom-six teams and most of those were at home.    Does anyone still wonder why a 0.500 conference record can be woefully insufficient for a NCAAT bid?

–        Pitt’s schedule against the bottom six is just about perfect.    They played the minimum number of games against the bottom-six and played four of those on the road.    This distribution maximizes SOS by minimizing games against the bad teams and maximizes the chances of winning on the road which gives a real boost in the RPI calculations.

–        Pitt’s OOC SOS ranks 224th.   Where would Pitt be if they had played UVA’s conference schedule?   Answer:   Their overall SOS would drag their RPI down and they would find themselves on the wrong side of the bubble.

–        This means that Pitt lucked out several different ways in their first ACC schedule.

  • They got an overall tough ACC schedule which helped offset their weak OOC schedule.
  • Their tough ACC schedule was built by minimizing games against the bottom of the conference instead of increasing the number of games against the top-4 (which they would have likely lost).
  • Most of the games against the bottom-six were on the road which helped their RPI far more than home wins would have.
  • If you are going to go 0-5 against the top four seeds (like Pitt), then you want to play the team with the best overall record twice (just like Pitt).



How many wins does UVA forfeit for an easy schedule?     None

How many losses does WF get to remove for a hard schedule?   None

Does conference SOS figure into NCAAT selection and seeding?     AFAICT, only through its effect on RPI.

So why are we talking about conference SOS?

I knew before I started working on this entry, that the subject wouldn’t appeal to everyone.    But during the days of the Great Herb Debate, I got intensely interested in the Bubble discussions because that’s where State ended up in four of Herb’s last five years.  Combine that personal interest with a general desire to understand how things work….and you end up with my discussions on RPI, key wins, bad losses, and of course, strength of schedule.

Pulling things apart to see how things work lets us see issues before they blow up in our face.   For instance:

–        There were very few readers around here surprised when UVA ended up in the NIT last year with an 11-7 record.   I work with several UVA fans that were shocked.

–        In Sid’s first year, one of our readers was sorely disappointed when he was told that State had no chance at a NCAAT bid even though they made it to the ACCT finals.   He left in a huff but had the guts to come back and admit that he was wrong after the Sunday night Selection Show.

–        I have several VT friends that seriously believe that Greenburg and VT missed the NCAAT one year because of an upset loss to a bad Richmond team.   They are convinced that a 20th win would have made the difference.   After a while, it’s just easier to let them think whatever they want to.   (But don’t think for a minute that I will let State fans off that easily.)

–          I’m not going to go through my basic rant on the importance of OOC scheduling.   But the huge variations in conference scheduling that are possible with the new, over-sized ACC simply add to the importance of intelligent OOC scheduling.

So basically you are the type of person that likes to understand what’s happening as the season unfolds or you’re content with just watching the games and hoping for the best.    There’s nothing wrong with either approach, but it should be obvious which category I fit in.


About VaWolf82

Engineer living in Central Va. and senior curmudgeon amongst SFN authors One wife, two kids, one dog, four vehicles on insurance, and four phones on cell plan...looking forward to empty nest status. Graduated 1982

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    Ever since the ACC dropped the round-robin regular season schedule, the actual strength of each team’s conference schedule varies based on which teams are played twice.
    [See the full post at: A Closer Look at Unbalanced Schedules]



    Va…I read the whole post over the grill, and nursing a cold one.

    Your brilliance with numbers matched what my eyes have comnunicated for a good while.

    I’m thinking that’s a good thing….

    For both of us. Good for Duke FB this year, too.


    Alpha Wolf

    This is one helluva knowledge drop and I read and then re-read this post to make sure I didn’t miss anything. Great work, VaWolf, and the kind of factual dissection that I really enjoy.



    Great article, Great information. The home/home comparison really is simple yet accurate. The only factor that it does not pick up on is for the one time only opponents, who did you play on the road and who did you play at home.

    Thanks for analysis of the road games as well.



    Very nicely done Va.



    Va wolf – correct me if I am wrong but doesn’t dance card include the old RPI for their evaluation? If so, Pitt’s roadies don’t matter as much.

    Still…enjoy the data, and thanks to vawolf I am not surprised on selection Sunday.

    Regarding the bubbles, I think those days are back. Gott wins enough to keep us near it, loses too much to clear it. I don’t see that changing too much during his tenure here. Hope like hell I am wrong.



    Fantastic work. Just wow.

    Like VA said, it’s hard to quantify – but definitely what you want as a midrange team is to get the shite foes on the road (where you should still beat them) and the elite at home (where you will at least have a decent shot). A weak foe at home is largely a waste of home court advantage.



    Great work VaWolf! Two things that caught my eye. (1) This matrix really doesn’t change a great deal with one win or one loss. Take our near miss against WF that wouldn’t have changed much. (2) Steve Donahue deserves the Seth Greenberg/Paul Hewitt Parting Gift!!



    I’ve always loved these posts. These are my favorite of the the posts here.

    choppack1 – if the bubble days are back, at least it’s not for the same reason as the Herb days when it was play a weak OCC schedule and then hope you won enough conference games. It will be simply because the Wolfpack isn’t winning against a decent to hard schedule. I for one am thankful it appears we won’t be sweating the bubble because our schedule was too easy.



    VaWolf82 for P(ost)OY!



    Okay … a few things here:

    First off — Very thoughtful and thorough piece, VAWolf82.

    Second — Where on God’s green earth do you find the time to compose such a detailed composition? It amazes me the time some of you have to devote to thought-filled analytics. It beats anything these pay-services want you to subscribe.

    Finally — I know this will NEVER happen. But … humor me: What if we expand the conference to 16 Teams? I imagine the ACC could then separate into two unique divisions.

    For this example (again … just humor me) let’s call it Old ACC vs. New ACC. Each division would have 8 unique teams. Each division would play a full round robin with one cross-over game from the other division per season.

    Now, their are obvious problems that the folks in G-Town probably just wouldn’t ever go for. Not to mention the coaches. It would require a 22-game conference schedule. But … again … humor me: Think of how this would play?

    You’re never going to satisfy everyone. But … maybe you could at least pacify the majority. A good portion of the “Old Big East” would be re-established … and we would get our cozy little “Old ACC” Conference back.

    SO … here goes:


    NC State
    Wake Forest
    Florida State
    Georgia Tech

    New ACC

    Boston College
    Virgina Tech
    Notre Dame

    Who would the expanded team be? I’ll leave that for you all to ponder.

    Any thoughts on this proposal?



    ^Navy for the 16th ACC team.

    These posts are why I keep coming back to SFN to read basketball stories. Even after all the ref conspiracy debates. TJW ’15 campaign begins today.



    Good stuff. Its more meaningful to consider a more quantitative evaluation, such as RPI as opposed to rankings, here focused on conference records.



    I’m not going to go through my basic rant on the importance of OOC scheduling.

    ^But it never gets old, or unneeded.

    Also, thanks for this work.



    Nice work, don’t know how you find the time

    UCONN for #16 -keep grabbing at a piece of that NY area market



    UCONN for #16 -keep grabbing at a piece of that NY area market

    Please… no UConn



    I’d like to have Cincy.



    Nice work. The unbalanced schedule really does make the conference standings a lot less meaningful to me. Who you get at home vs. who you get on the road is huge in my view. The chance to pick up road wins vs crappy teams is a hidden RPI booster.

    I really liked the 8 team ACC with the Wake game ending the regular season every year. That’s how ACC Basketball is supposed to be.



    Va wolf – correct me if I am wrong but doesn’t dance card include the old RPI for their evaluation? If so, Pitt’s roadies don’t matter as much.

    Yea, we talked about this a couple of weeks ago. I should have kept that discussion in general terms and noted that the RPI advantage from road wins might not help Pitt much in clearing the bubble.

    I’ll improve that next year and steal BJD’s reasoning on home/road games as well.



    Good stuff. Its more meaningful to consider a more quantitative evaluation, such as RPI as opposed to rankings, here focused on conference records.

    Jeremy, I’m not following you. What did you want to see?



    I really liked the 8 team ACC with the Wake game ending the regular season every year. That’s how ACC Basketball is supposed to be.

    I always wonder what the T.V. executives that enabled conference expansion, by giving out more lucrative deals to larger conferences are thinking.

    No fan, of any conference, really likes conference expansion / realignment, but the T.V. deals keep driving it.

    I mean at some point, you’d think a T.V. executive would say, “WTF? Nebraska versus Northwestern, as the game of the week? No more Nebraska versus Oklahoma rivalry? That’s not a good idea conference guys”.

    But no, they’re like, “OMG! WVU versus TCU! That’s a rivalry I had dreams about as a kid! Sign us up!”

    I really do not understand how the numbers work out for T.V. networks in this. I’d think the audience for a TCU v WVU game would not materially change, even though they are now in the same conference. The conference adds a few low interest games via expansion, but gets paid handsomely for it.

    There are a few exceptions, like Texas A&M joining the SEC, but generally I do not see people going out of their way to watch Utah versus Standford in football.



    It’s all about media markets, my friend. Seems to be working as everyone is making more. Don’t really get it, either. But that’s where we are. And probably not going back.



    I like Cincy also



    RE: TV driving conference expansion.

    Like most things, it’s complicated. I see it as this. Everyone says they don’t like it, but then people watch the new games anyway (I haven’t looked at the numbers to prove this, so this is a hunch). As a TV exec, you pay attention to what people do, not what they say (Netflix is actually both the perfect anti-example and example of this. They put out shows like House Of Cards that were initially refused by TV, but then they also base their decisions off of what people are watching on Netflix).

    The further questions is, why do TV execs benefit from conference expansion and are willing to pay out more money? One answer is that it’s live sport TV. It’s pretty much the only thing people are willing to watch live any more and are willing to watch the commercials. In the age of DVRs, the value of live TV has gone up. Therefore, more money for it.

    Of course, this puts more demand for live sports. So the TV execs fight over the rights to the conferences. And if you’re a conference, you realize you can make more money by having more games to offer. Regardless of the actual quality of the games. The money comes from quantity in the short term, not quality. Therefore, conference expansion happens to have more games to offer. Now the deals command ever greater money. If you’re a TV exec, you also don’t complain so long as you can afford to pay the most (ESPN), because while expansion drives up the cost of the deals, you now have less partners to negotiate with. So ESPN can lock up the rights to most of the conferences by negotiating with 5 or 6 organizations instead of 10 or 12. And make no mistake, ESPN wants to own it all. The reason ESPNU and ESPN3 exist is so ESPN has someplace to show live games they have the rights to, since they can’t put them all on ESPN and ESPN2. This isn’t driven by ESPN really wanting to make money here, it’s to keep out competition. If ESPN doesn’t air the games they can get hit with antitrust lawsuits for hoarding. A small rival of ESPN actually did bring suite before ESPN launched ESPNU for this very reason.

    Now back to the argument of the games being crap as rivalries are broken. ESPN doesn’t care. They now own the rights to all the games, so they can start to dictate what games they’d like to see and create the matchups that make them money. This was all detailed in a great New York Times series of articles last year. Think about where the ACC-BIG TEN Challenge came from. Think about why does Alabama play Virginia Tech in football to begin the season? Why did NC State play South Carolina? Behind the scenes you’ll find ESPN pulling strings to get games they can hype and make money on. ESPN doesn’t need to do this for a lot of games, so in basketball they just focus on the top and let the rest fend for themselves. And they make boatloads of money doing this.

    And that is how conference expansion happens and makes lots of people money while destroying rivalries and seemingly leading to a worse product.

    A bit of a digression, but worth telling I think.



    Maybe it’s just the logistical practical side of me, but I’d switch out Virginia and Miami. Yes, it would break up the “old ACC,” but I’m thinking Miami would hate to have to travel that far North all the time for away games in the “old Big East” with most of the “old ACC” being within driving distance of each other.

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