A really novel concept – a regular season college basketball game played between high-profile teams outdoors on an aircraft carrier – was introduced last season. It really couldn’t have gone any more perfectly. Great weather, heavy media attention, and even President Obama was in attendance.
It worked once, so why not try it again – thrice?
Well, this year it was a disaster. Two games – Florida-Georgetown in Jacksonville and Ohio State-Marquette in Charleston, SC – never made it to completion. Condensation, winds, and other effects of Mother Nature – noticeably absent last season – were the culprits. A third between San Diego State and Syracuse in San Diego had to be pushed back a day due to high winds. (There was another game that went off smoothly – Notre Dame’s women’s basketball team defeated Ohio State on the USS Yorktown in Charleston the day before the Ohio State-Marquette game.)
Any time sporting events are played outside, weather conditions will have an impact on the games. Temperatures, moisture, field conditions, lighting, winds, and visibility will all control what the players wear and the game strategy. Compare this to events held indoors – weather is virtually irrelevant to uniforms and game plans.
This is where failure modes and effects analysis – FMEA (no, not FEMA!) – could have had a big role in telling the NCAA how much of a risk they were running by having indoor games outdoors as a novelty.
FMEA is a tool used to define the level of risk a potential cause of failure could have on a process (PFMEA) or product design (DFMEA). This level of risk is quantified using three ratings – Severity (S), Occurrence (O), and Detection (D) – that are multiplied together to determine the risk priority number (RPN). The higher the RPN, the greater risk of failure.
Severity (S) is a measure of the effect a particular cause can have in failure. Generally on a 0-10 scale, this rating tells you if a cause will completely derail a product or process or simply hinder performance. At an outdoor basketball game on a super smooth basketball court, rain/condensation would rate as a 10 while winds might rate a 3 or 4. Wind affects the game but the game could be played. Rain would shut the game down completely.
Occurrence (O) is the probability of the failure mode occurring. Indoors, there is a 0% chance of rain. Outdoors? The odds go up. In Charleston, on the Atlantic Ocean coast, with heavy humidity? Those odds are even higher. There’s a good likelihood of condensation on the court.
Detection (D) is the ease in which the failure mode could be identified after the failure occurs but before the “customer” is affected. Weather technology and meteorology has gotten better year over year, but there is still no absolute accuracy in the science. Meteorologists still deliver forecasts indicating a non-zero or non-100% chance of rain. In Charleston, rain could quickly spring up and wreak havoc on the game with little chance or time to account for it.
Here are some potential failure modes the NCAA and the games’ planning committees could have considered that go above and beyond those for games held indoors:
– Rain (heavy or light)
– Uneven playing surface (I’ve been on the USS Yorktown, and it is not completely flat – laying the basketball court over it might cause court dips, dead spots, and other playing issues)
– Temperature (too hot or too cold)
– Ambient light
– Rocking boat (causes rocking playing surface)
– Outside noises (passing boats, airplanes, etc)
Playing basketball games outside – especially those that matter for regular season standings – is a novel concept but really not ideal. The weather considerations would be enough to convince me that the risk is not worth the novelty. The NCAA took the risk (to the schedule AND to the players’ safety) and got burned.
Myron Medcalf of ESPN is right – it’s time to get off the boat.