College basketball has a scheduling problem
College basketball has one of, if not the best, postseason in sports. A single-elimination tournament that lasts a full month and grips the attention of the entire nation.
The regular season could still use some work.
Recently, the Big 10 and ACC had a “Tekken 2” style team battle in which all of their teams squared off for conference supremacy and ESPN programing. It ended in a 7-7 stalemate but the Miami Hurricanes could’ve given their conference the edge but dropped the ball in a 57-54 loss to Rutgers at home.
To make it even more disappointing for Canes fans, that was the only non-conference matchup with a power-conference program this season.
Fortunately Miami plays in the ACC so nearly all of the conference games are interesting. However for fans of power-conference programs, the first two months of the season might as well be the longest preseason in sports. All the teams you’d expect your team to beat by 50 come to town and lose by 30. If you wanted to see your team face off with another high stature program, it had to be at a far away land like Hawaii or Brooklyn.
After the Hurricanes dominated Stephen F. Austin by nearly 40 points on Nov. 13, head coach Jim Larrañaga detailed how scheduling works in today’s college basketball landscape.
“You have a 30-game schedule during the regular season and you have 12 non-conference games,” he said. “What we try to do in the non-conference, is play the high-major opponents and teams that come from a variety of leagues that we think will do very well in their own conference. So Stephen F. Austin is picked to win the Southland Conference. Lehigh is picked to win the Patriot League. We’re going to play Bethune Cookman on Saturday, they’re picked to win the MEAC. Then the next games are in California and now we’re looking to play high-major teams. We play La Salle, that’s Atlantic 10. On our side of the bracket is a Northwestern, a Seton Hall, a Utah. We have a lot of high-major teams from the BIG EAST, from the Big 10 and from the Pac-12. That gives us the balance where you’re playing against teams from what is called the Mid-Major, but are supposed to be really good in their conference and high-majors, which are supposed to be the power teams. That balance should prepare us for an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament, should we not win the ACC Tournament.”
The biggest problem with the regular season is it seems as if those interesting non-conference matchups have to happen in a random tournament somewhere else in the country. For Miami, a home & home agreement with a Big 10 team seemingly can’t happen unless a powerful television network like ESPN comes in and makes it so.
“It’s impossible,” Larrañaga said. “No, they’re not going to come here. Scheduling is like recruiting. Trying to get a kid to sign with you is really hard. Trying to get a major team to come here and play home & home, you know who we get? The ACC-Big 10 team. That’s it. Why? Because it’s mandatory. What you are looking at are exempt events the things that are hosted by special events.”
Makes you wonder why this has become the case. Larrañaga’s theory is that the sport has been over saturated and adopting a system similar to college football that splits them up in sub divisions would be ideal.
“In my opinion, 351 Division I schools for basketball is way too many,” Larrañaga said. “If there were 130 Division 1 basketball teams then we’d all be forced to play each other. That would be outstanding.”
He’s not wrong. There are so many Division I programs that look like they have no business being such. I’ve been to high school gyms in Oklahoma that are bigger than what some of these mid-major teams on the east coast are playing in. There are teams around New England that play in tiny basketball gyms because they couldn’t fill their hockey arena.
From November through February, college basketball seems to be a hyper regional sport, far more than people say baseball is. The Maui Invitational looks good because they are in a Division II gym in an exotic location. Are these other pro arenas getting packed because of these matchups?
The Miami Heat’s American Airlines Arena played host to a basketball quadruple-header on Saturday and the highest attended game that day was 500 New Yorkers cheering on a St Johns comeback against Georgia Tech. UM losing to Yale brought out the least amount of spectators in attendance. While Memphis vs. Texas Tech and North Carolina State vs. Vanderbilt were intriguing matches but they didn’t bring anyone to the arena.
Attendance seems to be a hidden issue all around college basketball with the exception of the flagship schools and how they schedule their non-conference opponents is big part of the problem.