What does “strength of schedule” mean and how does it work in sports playoffs?

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Not really sure on the best flair for this?

So I’m actually wondering about this in a non-physical sport context (namely, debate), and the way I understand it in this—and other—contexts is that in playoffs, you’re essentially matched against competitors who are performing at similar levels (a team with 2 wins and 1 loss will be matched against a team with 2 wins and 1 loss, moving the resulting winner up to the 3 win bracket and the loser stays in the 2 win bracket).

I’ve heard of strength of schedule—which I have been told means something like “we factor in not only how many games you’ve won, but we also factor in WHO you played against, such that team who beat teams who ended up placing 5-1 at the end of the tournament will be ranked higher than a team who only beat low-scoring/non-ranking teams.”

But I don’t understand enough about (a) if this is accurate, (b) what role it plays (I assume it matters for elimination rounds and not really as much for playoffs), and (c) HOW this works. How is this calculated?

Thanks!!

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In professional sports and NCAA sports it’s mostly used in discussion, but doesn’t have a lot of practical importance. Supposedly the playoff committee uses the metric but school history appears to matter more.

In high school sports it is generally calculated into a thing called power points which helps rank teams. Depending on how much your state goes in, it can be a vast net or a much smaller. Here in AZ, the AIA will calculate any in season games that may include teams out of state and their strength of schedule – teams they beat and lost too. I believe MaxPreps uses a similar nationwide formula to rank teams nationally.

Imagine you’re a football team. Your record is 1-0. There’s another team with a 1-0 record also. They beat South Dakota State (no offense), but you beat Alabama. Most people would say that your win was a ‘higher quality’ win. This is the concept of strength of schedule. Playing against tougher competition should be rewarded vs. Playing against poor teams just so you can rack up wins.

I’m…not sure I managed to get this to the right level for this sub, but I highly recommend reviewing the examples in the links.

The formula varies from sport to sport and even tournament to tournament, which is why there isn’t a simple answer. [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Strength_of_schedule](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Strength_of_schedule) has some examples.

However, there are two common concepts:

* The team’s record throughout a recent season. That is, if they won most of their games prior to this competition, they are considered a more difficult component in the competition, even if the have the same number of wins within just the competition itself.
* The team’s *opponent’s* strength

The main goal is to **approximate** **how hard it would have been to win against the opponents you faced**, *not* whether or not you actually beat them.

The “simple” method: they essentially take the win-loss-tie of all the teams played against and add them up to find the overall win-loss-tie ratio of *all* their opponents during the season, then turn it into a percentage: (opponent wins)/(total games played). In the wiki example, the *opponents* of the team had 43.9% win rate, which means that the team you’re looking at won

The more complicated methods can also take into account the *opponents* opponents win record. The idea is “OK, maybe your opponents beat 70% of their other opponents, but how hard were *they*?”

[http://www.nationalchamps.net/NCAA/BCS/strength_of_schedule_explain.htm](http://www.nationalchamps.net/NCAA/BCS/strength_of_schedule_explain.htm) has a good example of this.

You start by doing same calculation as above for *every team* played against. So, if you’re trying to calculate the opponents’ opponent’s win record for Team A, you *also* find the opponents record for Team B, Team C, Team D…. etc…. then add *those* all up to get the average opponents’ opponents win/games ratio.

*Then* you get to the (2*(OR)+(OOR))/3 formula. This is a bit hard to read, but it’s a “weighted average”, where the opponents’ records are given 2x the weight of the opponent’s opponents. This places more emphasis on your *direct* opponents’ records over your opponents’ opponents.

**How is this used?** As a method of ranking teams when they haven’t all played each other and as a tiebreaker, most often, though not the first tiebreaker. It’s used both when determining who plays who (divisions and matchups) and when determining winners, alongside a LOT of other factors (see [https://www.liveabout.com/about-football-glossary-strength-of-victory-1334108](https://www.liveabout.com/about-football-glossary-strength-of-victory-1334108) for example, where strength of schedule is the *sixth* thing they look at, right after strength of victory.

Strength of victory is also useful to understand: instead of looking at ALL your opponents’ win ratio, you look *only* at the win ratio of teams *you* won against. So, if you won 40 out of 80 games, you calculate the strength of your opponents *only from those 40 games* to get your strength of victory. This is in contrast to strength of schedule, which also includes teams you lost or tied with. It’s “how hard to play were the teams you *won* against?”

If the only team you beat lost every other game, then you have a low strength of victory (0 actually): you beat the *only* team worse than you. However, if the only team you beat won about half their matches, you have a higher strength of victory (.5), despite winning the same number of games, because you played against a stronger opponent.

**Strength of schedule is most useful when not everyone has played each other.** So if in a random matchup, the Team A plays the 5 *worst* teams and Team B plays the 5 *best* teams, then Team B had a harder set of games, so the same overall score is more impressive for team B and thus Team B is considered to have done better. Team B might still rank higher than team A even if they won fewer matches, due to strength of schedule. Beating 5/5 of the worst teams is less challenging than beating 4/5 of the best teams.