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The Complexity of Sports Scheduling

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The NBA recently fined the San Antonio Spurs $250,000 for resting four of their marquee players in a game against the Miami Heat. The Spurs coach stood by his decision stating this was the sixth game of a road trip and it was also was the Spurs’ fourth game in five nights. The NBA commissioner argues that he needs to protect the league and the fans by having teams put their best product on display in a prime-time televised game.

Sports scheduling can be very complex and needs to balance a number of conflicting goals. During the regular NBA season, 30 teams, who play around three games a week from October through April, need to be scheduled. The league must balance income from ticket sales and television deals with the cost of player salaries. They must also take into account the potential damage this demanding schedule can have on the athletes’ bodies and how to distribute home games and road games.

FICO’s own optimization software is used to schedule the NFL’s 256 games, which involves trillions of scheduling permutations, 20,000 variables and 50,000 constraints. We know how hard sports scheduling can become given the large amount of data and the complexity of the variables that must be considered. Without knowing all the details of why the NBA has chosen this particular schedule, it seems that this fine showcases a need for a better NBA schedule next season.

Sports organizations that are able to leverage the power of analytics will have a significant competitive advantage and can offer a superior experience for fans.

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