In a normal non-2020, non-pandemic type of year, putting together a basketball schedule isn’t very dramatic stuff.
"It’s a crazy, Wild-West type of feel right now,'' says an administrator at one Big 5 school.
"Everything is a moving target,'' says a tournament organizer who holds multiple events, noting all the uncertainty because conferences hadn’t decided their own schedules. “A lot of moving targets.”
La Salle, for instance, had a nice, eight-team preseason tournament scheduled for its men’s hoop team. Originally scheduled for the Cayman Islands. Then, COVID hit, and the idea was to hold the tournament in Florida. Now?
"Not going to happen,'' says La Salle coach Ashley Howard. “We are in the process of joining another.”
Originally, Villanova was going to play a big-time men’s tournament at Madison Square Garden in November also featuring Michigan, Baylor, and North Carolina State. This one had enough value that it is still slated to take place, just moving back six days, switching locations to the Mohegan Sun casino resort in Connecticut, and replacing North Carolina State with Boston College. Even that field isn’t cast in stone. Nothing right now is cast in stone.
Some new tournaments are popping up on the fly, some schools looking to host on campus. A number of tournaments are making pandemic-related moves. Temple’s men were supposed to go to Hawaii. The tournament now will be in Orlando.
"Scheduling [right now] is like making adjustments in a game,'' says Drexel women’s head coach Amy Mallon. “It can change in minutes.”
With various city and state guidelines changing so much, Mallon says it’s really hard to think too far ahead. St. Joseph’s men’s coach Billy Lange makes the point that moving the start of the season back just by a couple of weeks means mandatory changes in all schedules.
"It’s perplexing that the NCAA, after six months to plan, feels that postponing by simply 15 days gives us more safety vs. the perils of COVID 19,'' Lange says.
The man has a point.
“What the postponement has done,'' Lange says, "has led to an immense amount of work for staffs already trying to navigate the new compliance and protocols that are necessary for the virus.”
Lange isn’t questioning the protocols.
"Just seems like a lot of work and cannibalization for just 15 days,'' says Lange, who has made top assistant John Griffin his point man on schedules.
Denise Dillon says she was lucky that top assistant Joe Mullaney already was doing the heavy lifting on scheduling under Harry Perretta. She inherited Mullaney and that acumen when she moved from Drexel to Villanova this year.
The complications, Dillon says, start with how many Big East games would be played, and when. The league decided on 20 games, but there also was a request from the conference office not to overload December weekends with nonconference games, in case early postponements needed new dates.
Villanova was supposed to play Penn in January during a Big East bye week, Dillon says. But will there even be a bye week?
Meanwhile, Penn’s men’s and women’s coaches are waiting to find out when they can begin play, with the Ivy League not holding any athletics for the fall semester. (There went the Princeton-Villanova women’s game, for instance, since it was supposed to be in November.)
There have been other wrinkles. One school loses a bunch of home dates, so it is looking to switch a Big 5 game from road to home.
Since there will be fewer games than a usual year — four less on the men’s side — the wrinkles all bring ramifications. If Villanova can’t reschedule its early season Howard game, for instance, that’s a major hit for Howard’s program. Then there’s a big game like Villanova-Virginia. Everyone wants that game to happen.
"I do think it’s going to come down to me and Tony figuring it out, how are we going to get this done?'' Jay Wright said on a recent Zoom call, referring to Virginia coach Tony Bennett.
It was on that same call that Wright made the point that Big 5 games might need to be looked at as individual games more than as the City Series as a whole. If Penn isn’t playing until January, it’s difficult to see a full round-robin happening.
"Toughest part of scheduling is waiting for everyone to hear from their conferences about whether they are expanding conference play or not,'' Ashley Howard says. “It impacts the games you can schedule, including your [exempt tournament.] Also, making sure we have testing protocols across the board so you are protecting everyone.”
The basketball coaches have noticed all the football games that have been postponed. They all seem to understand the need to be nimble.
"The craziest thing about scheduling,'' Dillon says: “Will we actually play the games?”