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Good OM Reading: Using LP to Schedule NCAA Basketball Tournament Games

March 18, 2012

What could be more timely than an article in the Journal of the Operations Research Society called “Team Assignments and Scheduling for the NCAA Basketball Tournament.”  The paper, by U. of Alabama professors S.H. Melouk and B.B. Keskin, provides a wonderful example to use in class when you teach linear programming, in Module B.

The authors write: “The buzz of the tournament and the fanatical behavior of the followers of the participating teams serve as our motivation to examine and develop a team assignment model that maintains the integrity of the tournament while also attempting to place teams closer to their campus location, thus making it easier for both fans and teams to travel to the game sites. Observation of game venues shows a decrease in the actual attendance at early round tournament games. In 2010, actual attendance at the early round game sites was, on average, 83.5% of capacity. This statistic is surprisingly low. A likely contributing factor is the long distances that fans must travel to attend games.”

The growing NCAA concern is travel expenses of the participating teams, as the NCAA reimburses each team for their travel to tournament games. Given there are 68 tournament teams, it is a significant expense to transport the players, their equipment, and coaching staffs to game sites. In an effort to curb expenses, the NCAA  requires a minimum distance of 350 miles from a game site before air travel is reimbursable.

The article describes the development of an integer LP program designed to optimize team assignments in the sense of minimizing the total distance travelled by teams to game sites. Results of testing the model against actual tournament assignments  show consistent and significant cost savings and reductions in distance travelled. In fact, 28,202 travel miles were saved in 2010 with use of the LP model.


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