(Un)fair Weather at Shinnecock Hills

Today’s third round of the U.S. Open golf tournament at Shinnecock Hills raises some fairness questions that we’ve seen before, but in a novel context.

The U.S. Open in general, and Shinnecock Hills in particular, seems to take pride in making the course so difficult that even the world’s best golfers begin to post scores not much better than ordinary skillful golfers playing golf under more reasonable conditions. Large parts of the greens are so severely sloped that a golf ball will not stay on them. They are so bumpy that the ball does not roll true on them. The rough is exceptionally rough. And the weather has conspired to exacerbate these problems considerably.

The persons responsible for this travesty claim that the course is difficult, but still “fair”. Let’s test this assertion using each of the three meanings of fairness: fairness (A), where reasonable expectations are honored; fairness (B), where everyone gets an equal chance; and fairness (C), where superior skill is to be rewarded.

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Remaking March Madness, Part III

The official brackets for the NCAA Men’s Basketball tourney have been announced. I won’t bother to redraw them here – they should be all but unavoidable in other sources.

There is, as usual, great wailing and gnashing of teeth about who got in and who got snubbed. I don’t have an opinion about any of that. But there is little or no discussion about some of the worst features of the bracket. Gee, I can hardly wait for the big game between Virginia and U. Maryland Baltimore County. I’m glad it doesn’t conflict with Duke v. Iona, which should be a bark burner! Shades of Bambi v. Godzilla.

As promised, I made a hypothetical draw that avoids such silliness.

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Remaking March Madness, part II

So how can the NCAA basketball tourney be improved? In a couple of ways.

First, it needs to make better use of its seven-round structure. Currently, the first round with its four play-in games is the only early round in which the conventional seeding system doesn’t poison most of the fixtures. So I’ll move more games from the very bad second round to the first.

And next, something needs to be done about the seeding. Here I’ll borrow from the wisdom that informs most professional tennis competitions to moderate the problems with seeding.

Here’s a revised bracket. It covers one of the four regions – the other three will work the same way: NewMM

Continue reading “Remaking March Madness, part II”

Remaking March Madness

The NCAA basketball tournaments are upon us. Soon there will be brackets posted in places where brackets are seldom seen, and millions of fans will be pouring over them. It should be a good moment for Tourneygeek and his fellow tournament mavens, and I suppose it is, to some extent. But it would be much better if the tournaments were more sensibly run.

What’s wrong with March Madness? Essentially, the problem is that it’s organized in such a way as to maximize the number of dull, lop-sided fixtures. Rather than just complain, this year, I’ll suggest some changes that, within the basic parameters of the existing tourney, ought to make for a much more exciting and entertaining tournament. In this post, I’ll begin by describing some features of the current system.

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The Milan Miracle

The 1954 State High School Boys Basketball Tournament, known as the “Milan Miracle”, is a treasured memory in my adopted home state of Indiana. Milan High School, with an enrollment of 161, won nine consecutive games to best 750 other teams and take the state title, a feat that provided the inspiration for the 1986 movie Hoosiers.

Since 1997 the Indiana High School Basketball Championship has been split into four classes, which eliminates the possibility of another such miraculous win. But there are other sporting events that still preserve the possibility. Perhaps the most similar is the FA Cup, contested by 737 teams from nearly all levels of English football.

This post will consider what purpose is served by large tourneys with such heterogeneous participants, and what that means for how they should be run.

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Side Pools

An issue that arises in tournaments where the prizes are funded chiefly by entry fees is whether to have a low entry fee and small prizes, or a large entry fee and larger prizes. The better players often want the bigger prizes, but the players who don’t expect to win anything (or who are just shorter of funds) would often prefer lower fees and smaller prizes. Continue reading “Side Pools”

A Stealth Bracket?

A friend asked me about the brackets in use as a recent backgammon tournament held in California. The tournament is a popular one, but has to be played in two days. The organizers cap entry in the main event at 64 players, though more would like to play. Even with the cap on entries, however, the play ran late on Sunday night. It was a double-elimination format, with a progressive consolation. My friend suggested that the tourney would play more quickly, and accommodate more entries, if it were changed to a main – consolation – last chance format with slightly shorter rounds.

Those changes would make for a shorter tourney. He’d break even on the format changes – the round saved by not giving the middle-bracket winner a second chance at the main title would be offset by the extra round needed to accommodate the extra players. But the shorter rounds would speed things up. There are various other ways to make the event play more quickly also.

The brackets that were actually played have a number of curious features. Perhaps this tourney has an example of a stealth bracket – a bracket intended to conceal some of its features.

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