Last week, the NCAA Division I Council made every College Basketball fan’s year by announcing the scheduling. There had been so many rumors, from moving the season back to after January 1st, to putting top teams in bubbles for non-conference tournaments to start the season. However, the final decision has been to move the season back to November 25th.
Non-Conference Scheduling A Mess
Getting approval on that start date was a huge step. However, it doesn’t make this season much easier. Things are a mess right now and everyone is willing to admit it. In most normal years, non-conference scheduling can be crazy. Each major basketball program determines who, when, and where they play for the first half of the season.
Fans want the best possible games to see from the start, while some coaches don’t hold that view. Many want to bring their teams along slowly, while others want to challenge them with playing against the different types of offenses and defenses that they may see in their conferences. Others just want to keep their players on or as near campus as possible. Then there are those very few that will play anyone and everyone. Just name the time and place.
Structure? Anyone Heard of It? Not in Basketball Scheduling
The NCAA has given what they think is a structure to the basketball coaches and athletic directors on scheduling. Here it is: Division-I teams can play 24 regular-season games and one 3 game Multi-Team Tournament OR play 25 regular-season games and one 2 game Multi-Team Tournament OR 25 regular-season games with NO Multi-Team Tournament. Confused yet?
You must play a minimum of thirteen games. Practice officially starts on October 14th. (23 days away—yes!) Teams are allowed eight hours a week of on-court workouts starting on September 21st. TODAY!
College Basketball and College Football Couldn’t Be More Different
Many fans automatically think college basketball scheduling is the same as college football and, of course, it isn’t even close. In college football, many games are scheduled years in advance and athletic directors play a huge part in getting that completed for the schools.
However, in the college basketball world, your team can turn on a dime. Think about it: you have a top ten team in the nation coming back, or so you think until three players decide to enter in the NBA Draft. One transfers, and another blows out their knee playing pick up basketball. So coaches have learned, especially in the harder basketball conferences, to leave room in your non-conference schedule to develop and/or challenge your team.
In a normal season (which now is NOT normal), there are some teams that will go into the summer still needing games. If you follow Hoop Dirt on Twitter then you see it all the time. You will also see the trickle effect of a head coaching change. When one head coach is hired then you see many assistants moving up, down, and out for different teams. This leaves people scrambling to fill games that normally may not be in charge of that.
Now, from what I’ve heard, mostly from Jeff Goodman, there are two message boards that most college basketball teams belong to where teams can post what they are looking for in a game, such as any open dates; if you are willing to pay to play, or how much you need to agree to play; home or away, or neutral site considerations; and then some contact information. Then you also just start picking up the phone to ask and bother anyone and everyone you know to see who might be able to play.
I know around the beginning of the season that many announcers are famous for stating that this first game is going to help Team X get into the Tournament. We also hear again and again around NCAA Tournament time that Team Y played this team and that team and will get in. You can’t just play every hard team around. You actually have to beat them or at least come close. Plus, let me let you in on a little secret…there’s a lot more to scheduling than that.
Many teams are actually not scheduling to optimize their NCAA Tournament chances or seeding. See, there are a lot of teams that know they truly have NO chance of getting into the NCAA Tournament, but guess what? They have to fund their athletic department. So, for appropriate monetary compensation, these teams are willing to travel all over the country for two months to get blown out. They are the “cupcake” teams you hear Dickie V screaming about.
The issue is they have to do this. They can’t compete with the big teams, but the guaranteed money they earn goes into the athletic department’s fund to pay for other teams’ budgets besides basketball. Therefore, many basketball teams also negotiate other “incentives” for the basketball, like hotels with team meals included, or travel covered by these top teams needing games.
Other College Basketball Coaching Incentives?
Have you ever thought ‘well, my team isn’t a cupcake and we have a good team…why aren’t we challenging them by playing better teams’? Ok. Have you ever thought of looking into your head coach’s contract? Does he get any bonuses or even kickbacks for playing certain games?
Are they scheduling based on recruiting? It can be a big selling point to have the Maui Invitational or an NBA arena such as Madison Square Garden on the schedule. I know for a fact that Coach Billy Donovan promised all recruits that if they came to Florida then he would play a game as close as he could get to their family and friends.
Affects on This Season
I know many of you are saying ‘great info, Sam, but how does it affect this season’? Well, a lot of coaches want to take the top teams and place them in bubbles to play in a tournament. The Athletic has put out a proposal of 44 bubbles across the nation. Click the link to read. It is, at the very least, interesting.
The problem is that the normal pre-season big tournaments and, of course, TV want their big-name games. So, if you are a team in a bigger conference such as the Big Ten or ACC then you are getting 20 of your games scheduled by your conference. If you play in a Multi-Team Tournament, then that takes three more of your games up. Now you have 23 games out of your 25 games allowed filled.
What Do You Do About Scheduling?
If your conference has a TV challenge like the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, then there’s another game gone. So you have no to little fans at games (no way the NCAA lets 10%-15% of capacity into an arena, but I bet most don’t let any fans in) generating ticket revenue for your program. There is no way you can afford to pay a normal “cupcake” team to come in and play you. None.
So what happens to those programs that have relied for years on that money for their other sports programs? Those programs are losing hundreds of thousands of dollars that go into swimming, wrestling, baseball, softball, and track. Just to name a few. Many universities have already seen the writing on the wall. They have had meetings with minor sports’ student-athletes telling them they won’t be offering their programs next year. How many more will be having these conversations sooner rather than later?