The inevitability of some teams receiving useless, and potentially detrimental, byes isn’t the only negative scheduling consequence of having an odd number of teams.
Since the two conference format was established in 2020, each teams schedule has featured a home-and-away series against each conference rival and a match up against each team of the 6 teams in the opposing conference (3 at home and 3 away). In 2022, the tradition of each team seeing each other team at least once goes away.
Unbalanced conferences (7 in the West, 6 in the East) teams meant something had to break. MLR has opted for the following solution:
- Each team will play 12 conference matches (up from 10)
- Each team in the West will play all other Western teams home and away
- Each team in the West will face 4 teams from the East (2 at home and 2 away)
- Each team in the East will face 3 other Eastern teams home and away
- Each team in the East will face the remaining 2 other Eastern teams a total of 3 times
For examples sake let’s look at some team schedules.
San Diego Legion (Western Conference)
- Home and away against LA, Seattle, Utah, Houston, Austin, and Dallas
- Home against Atlanta and DC
- Away against RUNY and NOLA
New England Free Jacks (Eastern Conference)
- Home and away against Toronto, Atlanta, and DC
- 2 Home and 1 away against NOLA
- 1 home and 2 away against RUNY
- Home against Seattle and Utah
- Away against LA and Austin
- Will not see San Diego, Houston, or Dallas in the regular season
See? Super simple.
There was an alternative route that I expected to see. The NHL deals with 2 conferences. Each conference has 2 divisions made of 8 teams. Every side plays teams from the other conference home and away. Teams from the same conference but not the same division face off 3 times. Meanwhile, teams face 5 sides in their division 4 times and the other 2 sides 3 times.
The MLR could’ve chosen a similar route, It could’ve maintained the status quo for inter-Conference games and the Eastern Conference home-and-away. The only change would’ve been Western Conference teams facing 4 opponents home-and-away and facing the remaining two opponents once a year.
The argument against that is twofold: money and expansion.
Money is an obvious concern for the growing, but not terribly profitable, league. By focusing on more matches within conference, teams avoid the largest travel expenses. Reducing cross country travel also provides some player welfare benefits, but let’s call a spade a spade.
Its well known that continued expansion is expected over the next several years. There’s a path to 20 teams in the next 5-10 years. Once the league hits 16 teams, the addition of divisions within the conferences seems likely. Instead of attempting to perfect the scheduling structure for a few years, Major League Rugby accepted that its all bound to be thrown out in short order and not overexert itself on a less than vital matter.