Analysis: Coping with the Schedule

More than a gauntlet is needed for schedule balance


The Ontario SchoolReach provincial championship whittles roughly 40 teams down to three national invites. To coordinate the largest field of any SchoolReach event, teams are split into pools that play amongst each other, with the (usually) top two of eight in each group moving on to the playoffs.

The composition of the pool can play a significant role in how far a team can progress in the tournament. There are good-faith efforts to balance the pools, but historically with no other background information, organizers had to use reputation (and geographical separation) to form the pools. Often, this led to strange results, such as two 2013 national invites coming from the same preliminary group. Ideally, and with more information, teams would be sorted so that they earn a final rank appropriate to their performance.

But I can’t solve that for now. What I can do is look back, thanks to collecting data from past tournaments. I occasionally get asked (or hear complaints) about how teams don’t get a fair shot during provincials, either through losing a playoff spot to a “weaker” team or having to deal with a group of death. I took a look at some numbers.

The analysis is based on teams that had at least 10 appearances at Ontario provincials since 1999. Results from 2003-05 are excluded from the averages because I don’t have pool composition for those tournaments (just points and ranks). 18 schools fit the bill, including most of the modern “usual suspects” for national qualifications.

Fig 1. Average rank and PPG of frequent Ontario SchoolReach championship attendees

First up is a team’s average rank against their average round-robin points per game. See figure 1, and excuse the crowded labels in places; some teams are close together. There is an unsurprising relationship – teams that finish well scored more points to get there. There are four teams that are at least a full standard deviation from the linear trend:

  • UTS earns more points than necessary to get their rank. They are also limited by being unable to go below 1, even though they would fit closer to a theoretical rank of “0”.
  • Lisgar gets the round-robin points to justify an average rank in the 1-3 range. However, they have a history of stumbling in the playoffs, especially the televised ones, which gives them a lower final rank than their seed would suggest.
  • I will get back to Leaside in a later graph. In the early years, the team scored UTS-esque point tallies. In their later years, they had schedule benefits. Their mid-years are excluded (2003-05).
  • Assumption earns fewer points than expected. It will be seen later that one of my past assumptions (pun intended) that they get easy draws is false. Instead, they probably earn lots of close wins in the prelims, operating on razor-thin margins of victory to often get on the better side of the playoff bubble.
Fig 2. Average rank and strength of schedule of frequent Ontario provincials attendees

Next is the comparison of rank and strength of schedule. The relationship is not as strong, but teams with better ranks usually have an easier schedule. This is expected for balanced pools – the top teams in the pools face teams weaker than them, while the bottom teams face opponents stronger than them. Unfortunately, we don’t have information-based balance, so we are starting to see some outliers:

  • Leaside is on the low side of this chart. They were getting statistically significantly easier schedules than their rank would suggest. However, I believe I can explain this – Leaside made the provincial final in all (and only) the three excluded years. Leaside was extremely good in the 2003-05 period. They were also a very strong prelim team before that, but would slip in the playoffs. For their remaining active years (consecutively until 2009), they probably benefited from reputation placing them as expected pool winners, but they never made playoffs again after the 2005 run. If the 2003-05 results could be added, they would have a higher average rank with probably not too much change in SOS.
  • Lisgar appears low, but is within a standard deviation. As mentioned before, their average rank is worse than expected because of historical poor playoff performance.
  • The cluster of Oakville-Trafalgar, Waterloo, and Westdale have a right to gripe. They face statistically significantly tougher schedules than their results would justify – Westdale is almost two standard deviations from the trend. OTHS is particularly surprising: they had good results in the missing years (thanks to University Challenge celebrity Eric Monkman), but don’t appear to have been given a “boost” from that reputation; they seem to be put in pools under the assumption they don’t do well. Westdale’s tough luck was also looked at in an earlier post when I posited (incorrectly) that Hamilton teams in general suffered from bad schedules.
Fig 3. Average strength of schedule and PPG of frequent Ontario provincials attendees

The last graph, comparing SOS and PPG, could be summarized as how teams cope with the schedule they’ve been dealt. Strength of schedule loosely represents pool strength and the potential unbalance, so teams getting PPGs above the trend are punching above their weight to overcome a bad draw. A few teams are outliers:

  • Westdale still stands out (OTHS and Waterloo draw closer to the trend in this analysis). Their single greatest mountain to climb was the 2013 pool: they had a 5-2 record, their second-best ever PPG relative to the set, and a final rank of 11th, all while dealing with two nationals-bound teams and a third team that also got into the playoffs. Westdale also incredibly made playoffs in 2009 with a 1.15 SOS. Westdale often got the worst schedules, but they made every effort to try to get something out of it.
  • Assumption is the outlier on the low end. I don’t wish to suggest that they are a low-effort team, though. They get schedules that are roughly fair for what is expected of them, but the first analysis suggested that they just don’t pick up large margins of victory.
  • UTS is also an outlier. They appear to have an easy slate of opponents, but they are still performing better than their schedule would expect. UTS has had a few years with tough pools (including the 2013 one mentioned earlier) while still consistently putting up points – they have qualified for nationals four times with a preliminary SOS greater than 1. Organizers (unintentionally) throw tough teams at UTS, and they still prevail.

So there are some data to ponder. I’m sure there are some less-frequent teams that also struggle or get an easy break, but the teams highlighted here should have enough sample size to stand out. Use your own results to see how your team compares to these provincial regulars.

The 1974 Gonzaga team

With a special appearance by Bob Cole!

The 1974 Gonzaga team is almost certainly the CBC-era Reach for the Top team with the most coverage today. Many Canadians are nostalgic for the games on CBC, whether through playing or watching, but few squads get as much attention as the underdog team from St. John’s. The Telegram ran a retrospective article in 2015 with the four members of the team. CBC published an article this past week in the context of a book launch about the 1974 team. In addition, the whole final match is available on YouTube (part 1, part 2).

1974 was near the beginning of Reach’s prime years. I have previously written about the paradigm shift of 1972/73, and within a year, top teams were all studying hard and becoming the most competitive teams of the CBC era. Archbishop O’Leary HS, which I believe is the birthplace of year-long practices, made it to the 1974 final as a favourite to continue the string of two consecutive titles for Alberta (O’Leary in 1972 and Lorne Jenken HS in 1973). Meanwhile, Gonzaga HS from Newfoundland, receiving a swell of local support thanks to Reach opting to film Nationals in St. John’s in celebration of the 25th anniversary of joining Confederation, was picking off established teams with a group of grade 11 students (Newfoundland, like Quebec, went only to grade 11 in high school at the time). The final was Gonzaga’s “David” to the O’Leary “Goliath”.

The final was a tale of two halves. O’Leary spent the first phase flustered with incorrect buzzes, giving Gonzaga early leads of 65-0 and then 170-30 by mid-game. O’Leary also got burned by a few tough (and possibly inconsistent) calls of “time” in the quick pace moderator Bill Guest was running. However, O’Leary started clawing back with assigned, scramble, and what-am-I questions on geography. About three-quarters of the way through, Gerry of Gonzaga accidentally hit his buzzer at the start of a question and was forced to give an impossible response; he was visibly shaken by this and went from being the most dominant player on the team to failing to give a correct answer for the rest of the match. In the final snappers phase, O’Leary was on fire and held a 280-270 lead with about one minute to go. However, two incorrect O’Leary buzzes (with -5 penalties) and the up-to-now quiet Peter’s answers of “[Beatrix] Potter” and “the” sealed the close 300-270 victory for the home team.

This was Gonzaga’s (and Newfoundland’s) only Reach title. They would continue to make national appearances consecutively until 1979, but not reach a final again. Gonzaga, as well as the whole province of Newfoundland and Labrador, did not continue participation into the SchoolReach era. O’Leary became overshadowed by Lorne Jenken for Alberta representation after this, but that province continued to make regular semifinal appearances through to the 1980s.

The 1974 team’s legacy lives on. Member Tom Harrington, a veteran host of several CBC programs over the years, holds some clout for keeping his team’s success in the public eye. While there have been some other teams of that era with notable members (including Richview’s Stephen Harper, who lost to the eventual 1978 champions), the Gonzaga team gets the spotlight. Perhaps the timing of the team winning at home at the “coming of age” 25th anniversary struck a chord. There may be a strong attachment to the show in the province since nearly every high school would have had to participate in the 1970s to fill up the broadcast schedule (Manitoba also seems to have this connection from high participation due to low population). It is also interesting that the nostalgia has not resulted in any revival of SchoolReach; though it can be difficult to manage out-of-province competition without the logistical support of a TV network.

During this offseason, I will post less often but will continue to look at past results. If there are any requests for particular topics (other than future predictions), feel free to let me know. Happy Canada Day and enjoy the summer!

Old Ontario Scores

When Reach could be picked up with bunny ears

The 2006-2009 gap in Ontario provincial tournaments is now mostly filled up. Thank you to Joe for collecting and saving the results. Here are the pages:

Most notable in these years was deviation from a field size of 40. This forced crossover matches and incomplete round-robins within a pool, which led to some teams getting rather imbalanced schedules. However, top teams usually still found their way to the playoffs, which was a whole different beast with the TVO format.

There is still some missing information on a few pages, but the database now has Ontario tournaments from 1999 to the present. Back in 1999, none of the 2018 playoff teams even participated. Things have changed!

Reach Scores Audio #22

2018 Lisgar Tournament, CB vs LCI C

Final match of the day. From the 2018 Lisgar Reach-style tournament, this round 12 match has Colonel By SS against Lisgar CI “C”. Moderating and production by Ben Smith.

Here is the link to the episode.


  • I don’t know what I was thinking of for my comments about the 28-3 comeback game. It was Super Bowl LI. Perhaps I was sarcastically surprised it was a question about the 2017 Bowl rather than the numerous ones about the 2018 one that happened about two weeks earlier at the time.
  • The Dutch basketball team is not great, despite the height of their citizenry. They have never made the Olympics, and have infrequent qualifications to the European championships.
  • Once again, the aesthenosphere pops up. The poorly-written question suggested it was part of the crust.

Thanks for listening! This ends the series of recordings for the 2018 Lisgar tournament. As a final reminder, listening to any of these games will prevent you from playing on the questions competitively, however I suspect the circulation of this set is finished. If Lisgar writes again next year, I may reconsider recording: it was not very appropriate to hold back recordings of other people for such a long time, but releasing audio would complicate the use of the set elsewhere. I hope other regions will be open to trying an independent tournament next year as a way to improve their circuit.

Reach Scores Audio #21

2018 Lisgar Tournament, LCI B vs LCI C

From the 2018 Lisgar Reach-style tournament, this round 11 match has Lisgar CI “B” and “C”. Moderating and production by Ben Smith.

Here is the link to the episode.


  • A much more straightforward match compared to the last one, at least until the end.
  • Will Smith is “Will Smith” on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. A question on the character would accept “Will”, while a question on the actor needs “Smith”.
  • I called “time” before a (correct) response, and this point swing affected the outcome of the match. It was more notable because it was the last question of the game. A moderator calling “time” cannot be protested, but thanks to this audio recording, I can show that it was fair. The buzz was at 24:13.9, I called “time” at 24:19.8 (5.9 seconds available for an answer), and the answer was given at 24:20.1.

Thanks for listening!

Reach Scores Audio #20

2018 Lisgar Tournament, LCI B vs CB

Time for the playoffs. I read in the middle bracket. From the 2018 Lisgar Reach-style tournament, this round 10 match has Lisgar CI “B” against Colonel By SS. Moderating and production by Ben Smith.

Here is the link to the episode.


  • This game is a mess. Long, distracted, riddled with errors leading to protests, and a potential tie. Fatigue was catching up to me; this was the equivalent of reading at 3AM for an average person.
  • Tracks on DAMN are not in all-caps. I don’t know why the question writers did this.
  • “Paper” for the fiber question should not have been prompted. Lisgar should have been docked 10 points, but as shown later, it didn’t change the outcome in the close match.
  • As mentioned in the previous match, a team scramble was eventually thrown out and replaced with a scramble of the four tiebreakers. There were incorrect facts for both the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers as potential answers. I originally left Colonel By’s answer (and the pack’s answer) of “Mississippi” proceed if it didn’t affect the outcome of the match. It did. The original game ended in a tie (including Lisgar’s “paper” answer which wasn’t caught at this point), but Colonel By went on to earn the replacement team scramble and pick up more points, giving them an outright victory.

Thanks for listening!

Reach Scores Audio #19

2018 Lisgar Tournament, Glebe vs UTS A

We’re at the end of the preliminary round-robin. From the 2018 Lisgar Reach-style tournament, this round 9 match has Glebe CI against UTS “A”. Moderating and production by Ben Smith.

Here is the link to the episode.


  • The Rhodesia question was a bit misleading because “Rhodesia” did not have its nationhood well-recognized, and because Mugabe overthrew the briefly-rerecognized colony of “Southern Rhodesia”. I accepted the latter answer and nobody felt the need to protest in this matchup.
  • There is a German performance of “As Slow As Possible” on an organ that is playing its 13th note until September 2020. It still has more than 600 years to go.
  • A team scramble was a repeat. I imagine this was a mess to sort out in closer rooms; I threw it out. Without replacement team scrambles on hand, the only way to resolve it is to awkwardly read the first tiebreaker with team scramble procedure, then continue the three unrelated tiebreakers just to the team that answers.
  • A Mersenne prime is, indeed, of the form of one less than a power of 2 (3, 7, 31, etc).

Thanks for listening!