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December 6, 2020

A look into the CFL schedule maker’s process

Johany Jutras/CFL.ca

TORONTO — Trevor Hardy has spent almost the entire COVID-19 pandemic making schedules.

Every year, Hardy, the CFL’s AVP of Business Operations and Analytics, is tasked with creating the CFL schedule. But this year’s process was a little different than usual.

Before the official cancellation of the 2020 campaign, Hardy had to put together a multitude of schedules to fit the many different options that the league was looking at if the season was going to happen.

“I’ve got literally hundreds of schedules that I’ve created that haven’t seen the light of day,” Hardy told Donnovan Bennett on this week’s episode of The Waggle podcast, explaining how many schedules he’s made this year.

“The fact that this 2021 schedule was prepared and launched and published a couple weeks ago now, that’s a relief. That one of these schedules actually got to see the light of day.”

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In most schedules that Hardy makes, there are 41 inter-division games. This year, however, he had to make some adjustments, and add in eight more to be played, giving a total of 49.

“That’s one of the big differences between the 2021 schedule that was launched and previous schedules that I’ve worked on at the CFL,” said Hardy. “What we’ve done with the 2021 schedule is we’ve re-adjusted the balance of matchups. The 2021 schedule emphasizes in-division matchups more than it had previously.”

There are many added benefits to having teams play more games within in their own division, including reduced travel, reduced costs and providing fans with more of the exciting matchups that they look forward to every season.

“We’re reducing travel, (which has made) less risk as it relates to the pandemic and what we’re living in right now,” said Hardy. “Another thing it does is it reduces costs. That’s something that all businesses, including the CFL, are becoming increasingly sensitive to post-pandemic, is what can we do to control costs? Another positive by product of focussing on in-division matchups, is it provides fans with more of the kinds of games that they want. The in-division rivalries, (like) your Hamilton and Toronto’s and your Winnipeg and Saskatchewan’s. We’re playing more of those kinds of games this schedule than we ever have.”

Hardy says to make the schedule it’s about 75 per cent science, using a program with data to get the matchups, and about 25 per cent art, adding in the little things to make the schedule fair and balanced.

“The first 75 per cent of this job is actually quite easy but getting the last 25 per cent takes most of the amount of time, the art part of this,” said Hardy. “Once you have a set of schedules that you can work with then it becomes a matter of, can we get this across the finish line? Every club has a vested interest in their own schedule and it seems that every year, I think the running joke in the league is if every team is upset with the result you know you’ve got a schedule that could work.

“What you don’t necessarily want, is you don’t want to have four teams that are ecstatic with the result and five teams that are not happy at all. What you really want is everybody to have the same level of unhappiness because that’s the best way to make sure it’s fair.”

Hardy and the league provide metrics to the nine CFL clubs that they can take a look at to ensure fairness. They provide things like the number of days of rest between each game and another newer metric called marginal days rest. Marginal days rest is the difference in days rest between you and your opponent. These are the metrics that the coaches and general managers really want to see when they’re looking at the new schedule.

“We’ve done some research on the impact that both days rest and marginal days rest have going into games, and our research actually suggests, counterintuitively, that those numbers actually don’t make that big of difference in the success of a team,” admitted Hardy. “They have a small difference but it’s certainly not as much as a general manager or a coach would lead you to believe, at least that’s what the data tells us.”

Now that the 2021 schedule is completed, Hardy can take some much needed rest before his talents will be called upon once again to get started on 2022.

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