College basketball scheduling has changed significantly in recent years and the folks at home are feeling it the most.
Gone are the days of an abundance of home-and-home scheduling arrangements between college basketball’s bluebloods or other elite teams. Kentucky coach John Calipari, for instance, announced emphatically earlier this month that the Wildcats are “not coming to Indiana” any time soon because he would rather play the Hoosiers on a neutral court.
“Home and home is not happening,” said Calipari, whose program ended such an arrangement with Indiana and coach Tom Crean after a series that lasted from 2007 to 2012.
Big-name coaches realize the benefits for recruiting and attracting big money from national television for showcase neutral site games or tournaments – at ideal locations such as Hawaii, Orlando, Las Vegas, the Bahamas and big cities like New York – without having to play many true road games against top competition.
Arizona plays Gonzaga in Los Angeles this Saturday and the Wildcats face Texas A&M in Houston on Dec. 17.
To Sean Miller’s credit, he has tried to schedule home-and-home arrangements against decent competition.
Arizona completes its home-and-home arrangement with Missouri this season, playing the Tigers of the SEC on Dec. 10 in Columbia, Mo. When that series was scheduled in 2012, Missouri was coming off a 30-5 season in which the Tigers were Big 12 tournament champions under Frank Haith (who left hastily to Tulsa in 2014 amid NCAA violations allegations).
The Wildcats start a home-and-home with New Mexico this season, hosting the Lobos on Dec. 20 and making their first trip in 18 years next season to The Pit in Albuquerque.
They start a two-year series with Connecticut next season with the Huskies visiting McKale Center and Arizona traveling to Storrs, Conn., in 2018-19.
The Wildcats also complete a four-year home-and-home series with UNLV next season with a trip to Las Vegas.
Miller has drawn criticism from some about his scheduling, however, with home games this season against Cal State Bakersfield, Sacred Heart, Northern Colorado, Texas Southern, Cal-Irvine and Grand Canyon.
It is not a fair criticism because that’s the way of the college basketball world. In Lute Olson’s second-to-last season as an active coach in 2005-06, the Wildcats’ non-conference home schedule included Virginia (not what it is today), NAU, St. Mary’s, Sam Houston State and Western Kentucky.
It happens. Miller scheduling UConn to come into McKale next season shows he is at least trying.
Generally, the increasing amount of neutral site games translates into less appealing home non-conference schedules for fans of the top programs. Most athletic department officials know their arenas will be filled anyway because of the popularity of their teams.
The dramatic scheduling changes are filtering all the way to the low-major level, most notably Texas Southern, Arizona’s opponent Wednesday.
Judging from Texas Southern’s unique scheduling – playing its first 16 games on the road – it appears low-majors will start doing what’s right for them financially while attempting to attract better recruits with the lure of traveling and playing in front of big-time college hoops atmospheres and additional pro scouts.
The Tigers, coached by former Indiana coach Mike Davis, have a road gauntlet this season that includes games at Arizona, Louisville, Cincinnati, LSU, TCU and Baylor. They haven’t played a non-conference home game since Nov. 28, 2014.
The fans in Houston must wait a while to see the Tigers play, until Jan. 14 for a Southwest Athletic Conference game against Grambling State, but Davis is not concerned about that.
“To have a home game, you’ve gotta pay the officials $4,000-$5,000,” Davis told the Arizona Daily Star’s Bruce Pascoe. “The people (working the scorers’) table are another $2,500. So, in order to have a home game, we’ve gotta clear $10,000. We’re not gonna clear $10,000. And I don’t want to waste my time playing NAIA teams. If we play a lower team, nobody’s gonna come in and see that. The math is simple.”
Texas Southern’s basketball program reportedly is asked by the school to return only $350,000 of the $900,000 the team will gross this season. Arizona is paying the Tigers $90,000 for its home game Nov. 30. With the surplus of $550,000, Davis and his team are living the high life, staying at nice hotels and eating three quality meals a day.
VIDEO: Texas Southern picks off La Salle at the buzzer https://t.co/lYdCy2uDkY
It is as close to being a high-major that a low-major can be. Davis believes that will pay dividends with recruiting better talent and getting quality transfers who will continue to play against big-name schools. Illinois State transfer Zach Lofton and Pacific transfer Dulani Robinson are actually playing higher caliber programs than they did at their previous mid-major schools.
Davis is not holding back from making Texas Southern a national program. He has recruited 11 of his top 15 players on this year’s roster from outside of Texas. His background with the Hoosiers – coaching in the 2002 national championship game – has made an impact on his live-the-good-life scheduling philosophy.
“We’re not eating pizza,” Davis told Pascoe. “We’re eating the way we ate when I was at Indiana.
“Our guys are getting a great campus experience, plus they’re getting a great life experience by traveling. (The schedule) is appealing to them from a name standpoint, but there’s a commitment and a work ethic you have to have so you’re not embarrassed.”
Expect other low-major programs to follow Davis’ scheduling philosophy from a financial and recruiting standpoint. More is to be gained on the road in sold-out arenas against major competition than playing scaled-down competition in front of small home crowds.
It will take a commitment from the athletic department of the smaller schools to allow for the spending. It will require the understanding from the fans that watching nine conference home games is sufficient rather than 14 or 15 home games overall.
Fans of the major programs will observe these low-major teams at home more so than top-flight competition. At least the home conference games are something to look forward to for everyone.
Home is not where the heart is with today’s college basketball scheduling. It’s where the wallet is at from scheduling non-conference games elsewhere.
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ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon.