May 24, 2014
By Erin Ensley
Grady Sports Media
ATHENS, Ga. — In a sport where the highest score is 40, a mathematician’s skills would not seem to be necessary. But in the case of the 2014 NCAA tennis championships, those skills are crucial.
With singles and doubles underway at the Dan Magill Tennis Complex, the PA announcements of court assignments come frequently.
While from an outside perspective it might seem like the match times are set randomly and simply according to the draw, Brian Garman, a theoretical mathematician and creator of the Garman System, knows better.
The math professor from the University of Tampa has been around tennis for more than 30 years, since he began umpiring in 1980. As his experience as an umpire began to grow, Garman’s role shifted to focusing more on directing tournaments and scheduling matches.
After years of being dissatisfied with the inefficiency of court scheduling, he created the Garman System in 1984. Garman has been using the system to schedule the NCAA tennis championships for 25 years.
Garman described it as a mathematical formula that considers how many courts are available, and the average time it takes to conclude a match, which could vary by location.
“I figured out a method that told how many matches to put on every half hour,” said Garman. “So for example, you start with 12 of them (matches) at 8 a.m. and then you put say a third -- or four of them -- on at 9 a.m. and then four more at 9:30 a.m. and so on.”
In 2006, the first NCAA tennis championships that combined the men’s and women’s draws was held at Stanford University. The Garman System was put into effect and, out of 64 matches, 60 finished on time, two matches missed by five minutes, and two missed by 10 minutes, Garman said.
“As soon as a match finishes, you need to be able to have that information,” Garman said. If you can’t see all the courts you need to have someone radio in to say that match on (this court) is finished, so that you can immediately send somebody out, because the longer it takes for the next person to get onto the court, it just adds time in there.”
Garman said that there are still tournament directors who don’t know about the system, and that it is designed specifically for junior and college tennis. The Garman System won’t be making an appearance in the upcoming French Open, because in a major pro tournament, it’s all about who is playing on Centre Court, not how quickly they play.
As for the NCAA tournament in Athens, the system has been an incredibly useful tool in time management, and has helped create the easy-going vibe that Athens is known for. For Garman, combining his love of tennis with his math expertise just adds up.
Ensley is a student in Grady Sports Media, a program at UGA's Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication.