Schedule Shenanigans

The USL 2016 season schedule was released last week and it, like last year's, is a mess. I did my own analysis and I am calling shenanigans. The league was, thankfully, divided in two this year to make scheduling and travel more manageable. Last year’s attempt was forgivable for trying to do the impossible, make a balanced schedule with more teams than half the number of the total matches. This year the number of teams in the west is one less than half the total number of matches (and exactly half in the east), so the USL does not have that excuse.

The schedule is bad because:

1) Teams do not play each other an equal number of times.

2) Teams play each other back-to-back.

3) Teams have long home stands and long away trips.

These are bad because:

1) When scored on a single table it will favor certain teams.

2) This does not give teams time to evolve and is repetitive for everyone involved.

3) Gets tiring for fans with many home game matches in a row and leaves us wanting more when the team is away for a month.

There are two travel possibilities between matches, coming back to Sacramento or traveling between match destinations. The former would represent the longest possible travel that could occur, while the later would be the shortest for the given schedule (see table below). These are 28,401 miles and 22,781 miles, respectively. For example, traveling to Rio Grande, then up to Oklahoma to play OKC Energy in two consecutive matches makes a lot more sense instead of traveling back and forth to Sacramento.

A perfectly balanced schedule requires playing home one week and away the next, playing each team twice over the season. This, like the previous example, makes for the longest travel distance possible. In addition, there are 30 matches scheduled, which means 2 additional games after playing each team twice. If the schedule was balanced and we played, say, OC Blues away and LA at home for two additional "rivalry" matches, the total distance would be 30,293 miles (see table for details). This is 1,893 miles more than the longest possible travel option for the 2016 schedule, and 7,513 miles longer than the shortest version. So there is some benefit to the 2016 schedule, but it sacrifices balance in the process. Can it be done better?

Let’s take a practical approach and make some guidelines to see how a hypothetical schedule would fair (again, see table below). Assume:

1) Teams play each other twice and the two closest teams one additional time each.

2) No more than three home or away games in a row.

3) No teams play back-to-back (I doubt they are carpooling anyway).

4) Apply common sense to road trips.

This hypothetical schedule totals 17,979 miles. That is over 4,801 miles less than the shortest possible 2016 schedule, and it is balanced at the same time. (Much of this schedule is arbitrary, I am sure it is possible to reduce the travel distance even further.)

We don’t know what other issues USL had to consider in making the schedule. However, a balanced schedule is not only possible, but can be done in an efficient, fair, and equitable manner. Travel distance is not an excuse for FUBAR schedules. USL owes it to fans and players to do better and make a balanced schedule next season.

Opponent Venue Distance from Sac (mi) Distance from Last Venue (mi) Hypothetical Schedule Distance (min travel) Distance (if home/away)
@ Seattle Sounders FC 2 Starfire Sports Complex 745.5 745.5 vs Seattle 0 0
vs Arizona United SC Bonney Field 0 745.5 vs Arizona 0 0
@ Vancouver Whitecaps FC 2 UBC Thunderbird Stadium 898.7 898.7 @ Vancouver 898.7 898.7
@ Portland Timbers 2 Merlo Field 588.2 314.8 @ Portland 314.8 588.2
vs Saint Louis FC Bonney Field 0 588.2 vs Saint Louis 588.2 0
vs Orange County Blues FC Bonney Field 0 0 vs OC Blues 0 0
@ LA Galaxy II StubHub Track and Field Stadium 403.8 403.8 @ OKC 1621.1 403.8
vs Seattle Sounders FC 2 Bonney Field 0 403.8 @ Arizona 361.4 761
vs Swope Park Rangers Bonney Field 0 0 vs Tulsa 761 0
vs LA Galaxy II Bonney Field 0 0 vs Colorado Springs 0 0
vs Real Monarchs SLC Bonney Field 0 0 vs San Antonio 0 0
@ Real Monarchs SLC Aces Ballpark (Reno, Nev.) 130.5 130.5 @ OC Blues 430.1 430.1
vs Rio Grande Valley FC Toros Bonney Field 0 130.5 vs LA 430.1 0
@ Arizona United SC Peoria Sports Complex 761 761 @ SLC 130.5 130.5
vs Seattle Sounders FC 2 Bonney Field 0 761 @ Seattle 696.8 745.5
vs Real Monarchs SLC Bonney Field 0 0 vs OKC 745.5 0
@ Orange County Blues FC Anteater Stadium 430.1 430.1 vs Portland 0 0
@ Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC Switchbacks Stadium 1232.3 1082.4 @Colorado Springs 1232.3 1232.3
@ Vancouver Whitecaps FC 2 UBC Thunderbird Stadium 898.7 1521.4 @ Swope Park 1725.7
@ Rio Grande Valley FC Toros Rio Grande Valley FC Toros Stadium 1970.7 2507 @ Rio Grande 1036.1 1970.7
@ Oklahoma City Energy FC Taft Stadium 1621.1 696 vs Vancouver 1970.7 0
vs USL San Antonio Bonney Field 0 1621.1 vs LA 0 0
@ Saint Louis FC World Wide Technology Soccer Park 1957.8 1957.8 @ Saint Louis 1957.8 1957.8
vs Portland Timbers 2 Bonney Field 0 1957.8 @ San Antonio 888.3 1740.5
@ Orange County Blues FC Anteater Stadium 430.1 430.1 @ OC Blues 1353.9 430.1
vs Vancouver Whitecaps FC 2 Bonney Field 0 430.1 vs Rio Grande 430.1 0
vs Orange County Blues FC Bonney Field 0 0 vs Swope Park 0 0
@ LA Galaxy II StubHub Track and Field Stadium 403.8 403.8 vs SLC 0 0
vs LA Galaxy II Bonney Field 0 403.8 @ LA 403.8 403.8
@ Tulsa Roughnecks FC ONEOK Field 1728 1728 @ Tulsa 1728
home (x2) 1728 home 1728 (x2)
Total 28400.6 22780.7 17979.2 30293.4