A couple of articles, both related to scheduling, caught my attention recently. First, Bob Harig at ESPN ponders “Why the No Shows for the PGA Tour Opener?”. Eleven of the players eligible for the elite, winners-only kickoff to the PGA season skipped the event, including 3 of the 4 major winners from last year, Rory McIlroy, Charles Schwartzel, and Darren Clarke, along with big names like Phil Mickelson. That’s over 25% no shows for a no-cut, guaranteed payoff event (last place paid out $64,000). As Harig says,
No sport starts its season with as little fanfare, as little buzz, as the PGA Tour.
He identifies several contributors: injury, short offseason, many other opportunities to make money, competition with NFL playoffs. I want to single out the long season/number of events for scrutiny. The choice of more (or fewer) events presents a very difficult tradeoff. A long season provides many hours of TV exposure, and dedicated intermediaries like NBC’s Golf Channel like this. (Of course, the long schedule preceded the Golf Channel’s tour coverage). The down side is that it means more opportunities for players to cherry pick their favored events, with fewer times where the best play against the best which enhances the quality of watching for consumers. In addition, a longer season pits the tour on weekends in January against big NFL games. The tour made a shift in the Kapalua event this year to a Monday finish to try to mitigate this impact, but this loses the bigger Sunday audience. As I’ve written before on the NBA, leagues and or their TV-associates seem very reluctant to experiment with shorter seasons.
The second scheduling article appeared in today’s Wall Street Journal , where Jared Diamond details the small (or non-existent) number of true road games played by the big dogs among NCAA basketball teams (the same issue is also prevalent among football teams.) Kentucky, North Carolina, and Duke have played no non-conference road games, Kansas one. Louisville had also played no road games until its Dec. 31 rivalry game against Kentucky. Last night the Cards lost by 30 at Providence.
The financial incentives are obvious. The issue that I would raise is the lack of adjustment in things like RPI or polls for such home-cooking. The NCAA tournament selection committee often hides behind “quality wins” and records against top x (50, 70, …) teams to justify their selections and seedings. However, these matchups in non-conference games are heavily biased toward teams playing at home all of the time. That’s why games from prior year tournaments on neutral (or somewhat neutral) courts are really more informational than the selection committee seems to utilize. Of course, the same financial incentives at work in why the big dogs play at home so much are also at work, maybe more subtly, in the politics behind selection committee decisions.