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On Schedule
September 29, 2010
By Wendell Barnhouse | Correspondent

Big 12 Conference Senior Associate Commissioner Tim Allen is the league's schedule coordinator for football and men's basketball, as well as point-person for television scheduling. With the announced departure in June of Nebraska and Colorado, Allen and other members of the conference staff have been busy working on football schedules for the 2011 season.

Unlike the first 14 seasons of the Big 12, the football scheduling process was in flux. Allen, along with Assistant Commissioner Ed Stewart, had to work with two scenarios - the Big 12 would be a 10-team league in 2011 or it might be an 11-team conference if Colorado wasn't able to finalize its departure time for the Pacific-10 Conference.

In this question and answer session, Allen explains the process the Big 12 employed to develop a football schedule for 2011 and beyond that all member schools would approve.

How did the scheduling process begin?
Actually, it started in 2007 when the membership asked staff to prepare nine-game schedules for review as part of an overall look at football scheduling. We reviewed those schedules periodically and it provided a starting point for where we are now. When Colorado and Nebraska made the decision to leave the Big 12, we immediately began preparing eight-game and nine-game home/away matrices for review by the remaining members. When a decision was made to look exclusively at the nine-game schedule, Ed (Stewart) and I were ready to provide schedule grids for review.

How did you determine the home/away balance for each team?
The first review by the athletic directors included a number of staff-developed guidelines, understanding that teams would play five home games/four away games in alternating years. We recommended that the school that has been involved in neutral site Conference games (OU-UT, BU-TTU, KU-MU and ISU-KSU) each went 4-4-1 (home-away-neutral) so that no program would ever have just three home designated Big 12 games in a year.

Our familiarity with the mindset of the institutions over the course of 15-plus years provided a solid point of reference from which to start. We recommended that each institution have multiple games per year in the state of Texas, a balance in the number of the longest charter flights each year, some competitive equity combined with financial impact related to gate and an effort to minimize the number of repeat games at the same site from the final year of the 12-team league to the first year of the 10-team conference.

The athletics directors seemed pleased with the first six grids that they reviewed, but asked if some minor adjustments were feasible. After a second review it was clear the athletic directors were more interested in getting the schedules right for the long run and not as concerned about the repeat site issue for 2010 and 2011.  Make no mistake, that was a concern, but it was out-weighed by other factors.

In the approved matrix, each school will play at least two games per year in Texas; the Texas schools make only two trips per year to the northernmost schools; and we were able to address home/away opponent balance. We got down to as few as six repeat sites conflicts before addressing the input of all 10 schools and ended up with, I think, 11 conflicts before we settled into the desired home/away annual rotation.

That sounds like a difficult task with all 10 schools making requests?
This was one phase we were not able to utilize a computer to determine the balance so we reverted to the old way of doing it by hand with slips of paper, grids and a cluttered desk.

The input of the athletics directors was vital in the process; and the way they worked together, cooperated to finalize a matrix that they could approve unanimously was most impressive.

We did have to work on an issue to get the best grid with Oklahoma State and Texas A&M during the first two years…an issue driven more by gate (ticket sales) than anything...but that was easily resolved based upon the input from another athletic director, something the staff didn't see as an easy fix. The athletic directors deserve the credit for challenging us as a staff and providing valuable guidance.

Were there any major hurdles to overcome?
To that point, no major hurdles. However, while we were working on the final 10-team grid we were simultaneously working an 11-team grid that included Colorado remaining in the Big 12 in 2012. We had to wait until we knew what the 10-team grid was going to look like home/away before finalizing the 11-team schedule, but it didn't take too long to complete that task.

You said to that point, there must have been some hurdles in the development of the actual schedules?
Those are primarily self-imposed hurdles in that you want to create the perfect schedule for the schools and in more than 20 years of doing schedules and talking with counterparts at the other conferences, there is one thing that is certain: there are no perfect schedules. But that doesn't make staff, coaches and administrators want one any less.

While the computer was generating schedules for review for the 10-team league, we were working on schedules for the 11-team league by hand. That process was a little bit mind-numbing.

What were the parameters for the nine-game schedule?
The computer was fed the home/away balance for odd years (2011-2013-2015, etc.) with the understanding that the even years would be the mirror (same order, flip sites). No school could play more than two straight road games and we placed specific games in specific windows based upon history and tradition - primarily the Oklahoma-Texas game in the second week and the rivalry games the ninth window.

Those are built into the computer and then the human element takes hold. We tried to eliminate all schedules where any team played four-of-five games on the road, but factored neutral sites into the equation as well. While the landscape is subject to change, we did try to minimize the number schedules whereby teams played opponents that many would consider traditional powers back-to-back weeks. We desperately wanted to avoid having teams start or finish with two road games, but we were not able to accomplish that. The good news is that those instances are flipped annually, so if a team starts off road-road one year, it starts off home-home the next.

In the final analysis of the schedule, what is the hardest part?
Emotions. Schedulers typically look at 100 to 200 schedules and find one that maybe fits perfectly, only to discover one school has four straight games against teams that have been highly ranked over the last 10 years and you go, "Oh no…don't want to do that to them". But then you notice another school faces that situation, then another and you go "this is a pretty tough conference" and you realize there are no easy outs. A lot of coaches and administrators over the years have said, "Well, we have to play them all" but that is a hard mindset when trying to pull the trigger on picking the final schedules for presentation to the athletics directors.

So you start working with 100 to 200 schedules - what's next?
We narrow them down to a more workable number in the 50 range and then begin a hard look at each of those. When the number is reduced to around 10 to 12, we bring in additional staff and begin looking at the schedules that we think provide the best balance for all schools. It is important to have other staff look at the schedules. Ed played college football and was an on-campus administrator and so he knows something about what works and what doesn't. His input and that of other staff was invaluable.

We got it down to eight options, sat in a room and narrowed it to four schedules to send to the schools for a vote. The majority of schools ranked the final schedule as their first or second choice. That is probably as close as you can come to unanimous.

What would have happened had Colorado would have stayed in the Big 12 for the 2011 season?
We were prepared and presented four schedules to the 11 athletics directors. The votes were much more across the board; in fact each schedule received at least one vote as first choice. In the end, seven schools selected the schedule that would have been presented as the first or second choice…and it was the schedule that Colorado favored.

What's next in the football schedule process?
The schools received the week-by-week grid with tentative dates attached. We have a number of games that we will have to move due to some previous non-conference commitments in 2011 and 2012. We will work with schools and television partners to move games to September, for potential Thursday night windows and we have to address moving a game or games to championship weekend - the first Saturday in December. The schedule for 2011 will be addressed fairly quickly as television is already working on next season; for future years we will begin the process once 2011 is close to resolution. Experience dictates that once a schedule is produced coaches, administrators, alumni and fans take ownership of those dates and we have to emphasize that some of the dates are going to change for television or other reasons.

Looking back were you pleased with the process and end result?
The staff provided great support in reviewing potential schedules and grids; this was not just a one- or two-person operation and Commissioner Beebe allowed us the time to make this a priority. Each institution gave us great feedback…we learned something new with each and every conversation we had. In the end, we were extremely pleased with the process, but few schedulers are ever 100 percent pleased with the end result.
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