Memo to NFL Computer Scheduling Guy

It is amazing that computers can put men on the moon, solve murder mysteries and compute complex problems in all walks of life. Yet somehow, every year when the NFL schedule comes out, I marvel at some of the gaffes and blunders that show up on the schedule. Trust me, I schedule sports for a living on the collegiate level. You can put an extensive number of parameters into the computer and that incredible machine still spits out a valid schedule. The reason is because all you need is just one acceptable answer. Usually there are hundreds of acceptable combinations, but just one is all that's needed. And, if there is one, the computer will find it. That's what it does.

In college we deal with student-athletes whose missed class time must be minimized. We deal with mid-week games that coincide with weekend games. We deal with men and women who share facilities, and we deal with 21 different sports, usually 6-8 going on simultaneously. Generating college schedules is geometrically more complex than generating a single NFL schedule, which frankly, I can do in my lunch hour. And I am no one special here - don't get me wrong. Any of you reading this can generate an acceptable NFL schedule, especially with those computers than can pinpoint moving satellite locations.

There should never, ever be an occasion where an NFL team plays three games in a row at home or on the road. Ever! Memo to computer guy: "No more than two consecutive home or road games." Unlike our children, those crazy machines actually listen and do what they're told. For the Houston Texans to play three in a row on the road is just shameful. I don't know who else may have that condition - I haven't scoured everyone else's schedule, but once is too many.

I did pay attention to two schedules in particular, Pittsburgh and Baltimore. It's pathetic. The Ravens play three of their first four games at home - all in prime time. That's unfair. I realize the home and road will eventually even out, but to allow Baltimore to play three of four total prime time games at home is not fair. And once again, for what seems like the gazillionth time in a row, the Steelers play a majority of their prime time games (three of five in 2012) on the road. The NFL does this to us every year. Steeler Nation shows up more in enemy stadiums than any other fan base. That's documented every time they play and the announcers make a point of talking about "all the Terrible Towels here..." Networks love that kind of thing. It makes great television. The Steelers pay the price by having to play against fired up teams in their home stadiums with their own fans going crazy. It's harder to win those games. Good teams get better and weak teams rise to the occasion, playing in their de facto Super Bowl. Pittsburgh escaped two such games last year in Indianapolis and Kansas City. Ask Baltimore how their trip to Jacksonville turned out. Memo to computer guy: "Prime time games must be split equally, home and road, or if playing an odd number, can only be one off." Voila. I do it all the time.

There are some things you cannot regulate, and we live with those things. I'm not happy that Baltimore plays three of its four games against playoff teams (not counting Division) at home and only one on the road. That makes three of four at home when looking at both prime time AND playoff teams. It's a darn good thing the Ravens play at Pittsburgh in prime time or else I would be convinced Steve Biscotti has some incriminating evidence against Roger Goodell.

But you do regulate what you can regulate. Mrs. Computer: "Division rivals must play at least three different opponents before playing each other again. Now there's a novel concept. How on this green earth can the Steelers and the Ravens play twice in 15 days? That is flat out moronic. To those who say that there is no advantage since both teams are under the same conditions, or unique quirky things are neat, I say to you, stupid is stupid. How about let's have the Steelers and Ravens open with each other back-to-back? That's unique.

The NFL schedule is constructed so that every team plays within its division twice (six games), plays a division in the opposite conference (four games), plays a division in its own conference (four games) and plays two "match games" with the other two divisions in its conference (matching first place, second, third and fourth). Would it make too much sense that when you play against a division (two home, two road), that the next time you play against that division, you switch home and road sites? Is that too much to ask? The Steelers played in Denver, a difficult place to play due to altitude (an impossible place to play for starting safety Ryan Clark), in 2007. In 2009, Denver appeared again in the rotation. Where was the game played? Denver. Now we get the 2012 schedule. Peyton Manning goes to Denver and so the NFL decides to pull the Steeler Nation road warrior thing again. Opening game, prime time, against Manning, without Clark, a guy hired to defend Manning. In Denver, three scheduled games in a row. There are probably teams that traveled to Pittsburgh three times in a row. I'm sure it works both ways. Point is, it's wrong both ways! Memo to computer guy: "When a team plays against an entire division, either in its conference or the other, switch the home and road sites from the last time they played." Rocket science.

Again, I am not going to scour every team's schedule in an effort to find problems. I don't have time to do that. I shouldn't have spent this much time already. All I am saying is that someone should tell the multi-billion dollar NFL that computers exist that can do amazing things. Use them in the essence of fairness. The NFL prides itself in being across-the-board fair. The next great horizon for them is the technology to make scheduling fair across-the-board.

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