Part II: What about that AHL Schedule?
Bill Scott, the General Manager of the Oklahoma City Barons, sat down with me last week to talk about his job as the G.M. of the OKC Barons, the team and its young prospects, and hockey in Oklahoma. This second part of four segments delves into the mysteries and complexities of the AHL schedule. Every year in late July invariably all AHL fans begin to get restless, anxious for hockey to begin and the first sign of that is the release of the AHL schedule. But it is not simply a matter of tossing team names and dates into the air! It is far more complicated. We get the inside story from a man who is an expert. Bill Scott was Director of Hockey Operations for the AHL and this was one of his many responsibilities. To learn more about Scott’s time at the AHL and his early career, see the link to Connecticut Sports Law at the bottom of the interview.
Interview with OKC Barons G.M. Bill Scott – August 28, 2012
PT: Prior to accepting the Barons GM position you were Director of Hockey Operations for the AHL. One of your responsibilities was creating the playing schedule for the league. For those of us who can be a bit frustrated at the relative “late” arrival of the AHL schedule, please describe how the AHL schedule is created and what issues are involved.
Bill Scott: There is always a good article on the AHL website around the time the schedule comes out that gives a great explanation. But the basics of it is that we have a big board up on the wall in the office and it has every day of the season listed [across the top] and down the left hand side is every team in the league. Every team is assigned a magnet – it’s a shape and a color. If you read across a team’s row, Oklahoma City’s row, under each day of the season, if there is a magnet in our row there is a home game on that night against whatever team that magnet corresponds to. If you see our magnet somewhere else on the board, that means we’re on the road visiting that team that particular night.
You end up dealing with 1,100 or 1,200 little tiny magnets that you’re putting onto a board and a lot of people always say why don’t you have a computer program for this? That’s a normal question. But there are so many nuances to each individual team and all the variables that they have in the schedule, particular teams want to play on particular nights, and particular travel preferences that they have. Some teams are willing to fly; some teams will bus everywhere, day of game travel, different things like that certainly play into it. You also have the preference of what night they prefer to play home or road games on – if you look at a team like the Providence Bruins they generally play on Fridays and Sundays. Those nights are their bread and butter.
So, being able to fit all of that in and every year you have different events that teams are trying to put on in their building, whether it is a Faith and Family night, or a Cancer Awareness Night, or different things like that, and a particular date might not be important one year but it is important the next year. And you’ve got their traditional games. So when you’re putting all those magnets up on the board it is very tedious and certainly the schedule comes out later than everybody would like. Our teams would like it earlier but the one thing we deal with at our level is NBA schedules. We’ve got five different teams that play in the same building as an NBA team and certainly in our situation the NBA team plays right across the street. So if we can minimize the number of head-to-head dates we are going to try to do that as much as possible. Until the NBA dates are released back to a building, the AHL can’t move forward on their schedule, certainly for the Western Conference – I don’t think it affects anybody in the East.
The AHL tries to develop the East as much as they can but there is a crossover amongst the conferences so it is not a matter of doing the entire East schedule and releasing that and then doing the West. It just doesn’t work that way. It’s one of those things where it takes longer than everyone hopes or thinks that it should but there is a method to the madness and once you get those dates back from the NBA for the NBA buildings, it still takes a while to produce those schedules because you are pretty much starting from scratch at that point with the NBA teams. And until you know what weeks they are at home and what weeks they are on the road you can’t put up their road games, you can’t put their home games in, so I think the AHL does a pretty good job of it every year. I think it was two weeks after the NBA schedule came out that we got our first draft of it this year, which is pretty good timing to get all that settled.
When you are putting magnets on a board, you have to make sure you are not putting four games in five nights, that’s not allowed anymore, playing four games in a row. Anything like that. You have to make sure you don’t put a home and a road game on the same day. That can happen when you are working on the schedule late at night. There are a lot of steps that the fans don’t see, behind the scenes until it actually comes out for their viewing. But the AHL does a great job of it – they’ve got 30 different teams with 30 different sets of preferences – and I think they do a pretty good job every year trying to meet those needs for everybody.
PT: How much input does a team have? For instance, from the Oklahoma City Barons’ perspective?
Bill Scott: The league requires us to submit a certain number of dates from our building that is available to play. We can categorize those dates as prime dates and secondary dates, obviously the prime dates being the ones we’d really like to have and the secondary dates the ones we’re not quite as worried about. The AHL has taken steps over the years to have us better define even out of those two categories which six prime dates do you really want, and what are your six best secondary dates. We can give them the guidelines on our side, our preferences on that end of it. And they do the best that they can.
There are certainly times where you have to go on the road because it is just your time. You might have been at home for two weeks in a row and usually that third week you are going to go on the road. Otherwise it means you’re going to be on the road three weeks in a row later on down the season which certainly from a hockey side is not a good thing; from a business side it’s not good either. We do have some input but, speaking from experience, being on the other side of it, trying to put those magnets up on the board, they only fit a certain way.
It’s not an exact science by any stretch of the imagination. Could the schedule have been better for someone every year? Probably, but once you start putting magnets up on the board and you start throwing Oklahoma City into Abbotsford and you get a whole weekend set up, and we only go to Abbotsford once, if you want to pull us out of Abbotsford and change things around that means we have to go another time, which means you have to take one team out of a different time and slot them in elsewhere, so it really becomes very complex. The teams are very good about understanding that.
The teams that have been around a little bit longer usually have a little bit better feel for it, and strategize a little more on what dates to submit in their building, but I think everybody after a year or two kind of gets it and understands it and respects the league and what they have to do. But we do get some input and the league reaches out to us, even before we get a paper draft, we get a version of the schedule verbally and they say let us know what you think, what you like, what don’t like and we’ll try to fix it before it ever comes out as a first draft sent out to the teams before the public sees it. It’s a long process but they certainly do their best and we are pretty pleased with our schedule this year. We don’t have anything to complain about.
For more on Scott’s AHL career, see Daniel B. Fitzgerald’s Interview with Bill Scott, AHL Director of Hockey Operations, Dec. 17 and 18, 2009 from Connecticut Sports Law.
- Part I: OKC Barons Bill Scott: What Makes a General Manager?
- Part II: OKC Barons Bill Scott: What about that AHL Schedule?
- Part III: OKC Barons Bill Scott: The Team and its Prospects
- Part IV: OKC Barons Bill Scott: Hockey in Oklahoma.