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Finding the Right Non-Conference College Basketball Schedule: Part II

This is the second in a three part series on non-conference scheduling and some of the challenges schools in the MVC have to deal with. See Part I of this series on ScheduleMatic and how it could help scheduling in college basketball.

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Each year head coaches, conference commissioners and athletic directors try to help their schools put together a basketball schedule that will get them to the NCAA Tournament. Some teams will play any team, any place, or any time. Others will only play teams that are on their level. Some will not leave their home state, much less their home court during the non-conference season. On the flip-side, some teams will schedule the easiest non-conference schedule they can because their conference is perceived to be the highest level competition out there and they say they are just evening the schedule.

I see a disturbing trend in college basketball scheduling. With more focus on the RPI and the ever-changing focus items by the NCAA Selection Committee, some schools are opting out of even trying to schedule Division I teams. Instead of getting that last game on the schedule that may not be an “attractive” game, schools are opting to schedule a nearby school that is not a Division I team. Ultimately, playing those games don’t count against RPI, but are more of another exhibition game during the regular season to get teams more experience.

Schools are generally worried that scheduling another school that would likely have an RPI of 250 or more will hurt their schedule more than one less game looked at by the NCAA Selection Committee if a non D-1 school is scheduled. To me, there are way too many schools looking at the non-D-1 route as a viable solution, while others find that as a last resort while trying to schedule that big money game. Today we look at the argument of whether it is better to schedule a non D-1 school or take whatever D-I school is available so you can fill your schedule.

Non D-1 Dilemma

According to StatSheet, last season there were 365 regular season games that involved a Division I school against a non-D-1 school. The non-D1 schools ranged anywhere from an NCAA Division II team all the way down to NAIA schools. Although you would have a rare victory — Texas State losing to Our Lady of the Lake 127-126 — the Division I schools pretty much dominated these opponents as you would expect, like Charleston Southern destroying Toccoa Falls of the National Christian College Athletic Association, 120-43. Here are the number of games that break down by conference.

  • A-10:  3 games
  • America East:  3 games
  • Atlantic Sun:  3 games
  • Big 10:  2 games
  • Big 12: 8 games
  • Big Sky:  18 games
  • Big South:  23 games
  • Big West:  15 games
  • Cnference USA: 20 games
  • CAA:  4 games
  • Great West:  22 games
  • Horizon:  12 games
  • Ivy: 4 games
  • MAC: 12 games
  • MEAC: 22 games
  • MVC:  5 games
  • Mountain West: 9  games
  • Northeast: 1 game
  • OVC:  23 games
  • Pac-12: 1 game
  • Patriot:  3 games
  • SEC:  1 game
  • Southern: 15 games
  • Southland: 42 games
  • SWAC:  13 games
  • Summit: 16 games
  • Sun Belt: 18 games
  • WAC: 10 games
  • WCC: 12 games
  • Independents: 13 games

*Conferences without non-D1 games:  ACC, Big East, MAAC.

Looking at that list, it is surprising to see a couple of things. First, I would have expected to see the SWAC or even the MEAC being having the schools with the most non-D-1 games on their schedule. However, those schools do hit the road pretty heavily during the non-conference season to pick up guarantee checks to fund their program for the year.

The Great West Conference I can somewhat understand because they are teams that have just transitioned to Division I for the most part — though not included, SIU-Edwardsville and South Dakota had four non-Division I games on their schedule last season but have since joined the OVC and Summit conferences respectively. SIU-E has only one non-D1 game on their schedule this season while South Dakota still has three on theirs.

The Southland Conference sticks out. I start to ask why they are even part of Division I basketball. All twelve of their schools had either three or four non-Division I games on their schedule last season. This season is no different, as the schedules still stack up that way. Granted, this appears to be the only way these schools can get some non-conference home games on the schedule and most of these schools are in the Bible Belt region, but this borders on the ridiculous. For any league, there should be at most two non D-1 schools on the schedule, or they shouldn’t be a part of Division I basketball.

But focusing now on the major college conferences, there should not be any reason schools like Michigan, Michigan St., Baylor, Colorado, Kansas State, Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas A&M, Oregon, or Auburn to be scheduling any Non-D-I school. There really isn’t an excuse. Name a school that has won the NCAA Tournament with a non-Division I school on their schedule. You can’t. There hasn’t been one for at least the past 10 years. So any school that doesn’t have all Division I teams on their regular season schedule you can go ahead and mark off as a team that will not win it all come March Madness. A few of those above mentioned teams are guilty of this again this season.

Andy Glockner of Sports Illustrated took a look at this season’s upcoming lackluster schedules and his rules for creating too easy of a schedule. He hit the nail on the head in this one. I am a big proponent of not scheduling non-DI schools. There are almost 350 Division I schools now and a plethora of options when putting together a schedule. In the long run it is better off to schedule a school even with an RPI of 200 or lower instead.

195 schools opted to play a non-Division I school last season. Those are potentially 97 additional Division I games that could have been scheduled between schools on this list.

Scheduling Low Majors Instead of Non-D-I

There are reasons why teams do not like scheduling the Lamar’s, the Florida A&M’s, and the Bethune-Cookman’s of the world. The first is the guarantee money required these days by the schools. Teams from these conferences are going all around the country trying to build up the coffers for their athletic programs collecting paycheck after paycheck. This season, Arkansas Pine-Bluff will not host a home game until their January 14 game against Southern — their fourth game into the conference season. Instead they will be going all around the country from Oklahoma State, to DePaul, to Michigan, collecting paychecks anywhere from $60,000 or more.

The second reason teams won’t schedule Arkansas Pine-Bluff is that they will have an RPI that will loom in the 200 or even 250+ by the time the season is over. But I say that having these games is better than scheduling a Division II team or lower because in the long run there is a certain point that playing even a 250+ school won’t hurt you as much as you would expect, nor keep you from getting an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament, especially for a non-BCS team.

You can easily look back at last season. One theory was that if a school plays more than 5 non-league games against 200+ RPI competition that there would pretty much be no chance to get an at-large bid. Some quick research by a friend of mine came back that it is not the case. VCU played 6, UAB had 6, and UNLV had 5 non-league opponents with a 200+ RPI.

Let’s step back even to the 2009-10 season. UNLV played 6 plus one non-D-I, BYU played 6 + one non-D-I, Richmond had 6, and New Mexico — all five teams  made the NCAA Tournament as at-large selections.

So there really isn’t an excuse to not schedule a team that finished with a 200+ RPI if that is an option compared to a non-D-I opponent.

MVC Implications

Last season, MVC schools played 5 non D-1 opponents. Bradley, Evansville, Indiana State, Northern Iowa, and Wichita State settled in to play teams that did not count for anything for them other than a scrimmage they knew they would win. For Bradley, they were stuck with Texas A&M-Kingsville due to the MTE they were playing in. For Wichita State, since they didn’t win their first game out in Maui, they had to play host Chaminade as their Non-D-I opponent. Northern Iowa seems to be on a tour of Iowa schools on their regular season schedule when they played Grinnell two seasons ago and Coe College last season. Evansville always seems to have Oakland City on their schedule and Indiana State hosted Oakland City as well.

In the past, a couple of member schools have held back scheduling one game late hoping to pick up a game late against a better known school with a higher RPI. It had been somewhat successful with Creighton getting Northwestern and Indiana State getting a one-time shot at Notre Dame. This season, more member schools all held one game hoping for some similar success. It backfired. What has happened this season is that while all the lower RPI schools filled their schedules, so did the high major schools. At the same time, deals like Missouri State trying to get North Carolina State on the schedule or even Wichita State and Indiana State trying to get something lined up, those situations fell through and they couldn’t get the deal done.

So in the end, Missouri State is now opening their home schedule against Emporia State. Indiana State is hosting Maryville. Northern Iowa did get Ohio on the schedule late, but still added a non-D-I game with Loras College in Iowa. Drake opens the season against Upper Iowa. Oakland City is again on Evansville’s slate and Wichita State is hosting nearby Newman College to finish their schedule. Then you have Creighton. After having to reschedule the game against Loyola-Chicago to next season, they had an open date that they did not end up filling. So Creighton plays the season minus one game.

In the end, what does playing a non-Division I team gain schools? It doesn’t help in the RPI, it doesn’t help the fans want to come to games, and it doesn’t create a good college basketball non-conference schedule.

For those interested below is the table of non D-I games that schools scheduled last season.

School w 1/game
Conf
School w/2 Gms.
Conf
School w/3 Gms.
Conf
school w/4 gms.
Conf
DuquesneA-10Eastern WashingtonBig SkyWeber St.Big SkyCharleston SouthernBig South
Saint LouisA-10Idaho St.Big SkyLibertyBig SouthCoastal CarolinaBig South
UmassA-10MontanaBig SkyRadfordBig SouthVMIBig South
MaineAmerica EastMontana St.Big SkyUNC-AshvilleBig SouthNew Jersey TechGreat West
New HampshireAmerica EastNorthern ArizonaBig SkyEast CarolinaC-USANorth DakotaGreat West
Stony BrookAmerica EastNorthern ColoradoBig SkySMUC-USAUtah ValleyGreat West
East Tennessee St.Atlantic SunSacramento St.Big SkyTulaneC-USALongwoodIndependent
JacksonvilleAtlantic SunGardner-WebbBig SouthChicago St.Great WestNorth Carolina CentralIndependent
Kennesaw StAtlantic SunWinthropBig SouthTexas-Pan AmericanGreat WestSavannah St.Independent
LipscombAtlantic SunCal State-NorthridgeBig WestEastern MichiganMACBethune-CookmanMEAC
MercerAtlantic SunLong Beach St.Big WestCoppin St.MEACSouth Carolina St.MEAC
StetsonAtlantic SunPacificBig WestNorth Carolina A&TMEACFlorida A&MMEAC
MichiganBig 10UC-DavisBig WestTennessee TechOVCSIU-EdwardsvilleOVC
Michigan St.Big 10UC-RiversideBig WestElonSouthernLamarSouthland
BaylorBig 12UC-Santa BarbaraBig WestGeorgia SouthernSouthernMcNeese St.Southland
ColoradoBig 12HoustonC-USACentral ArkansasSouthlandNIcholls St.Southland
Kansas St.Big 12MarshallC-USANorthwestern St.SouthlandSam Houston St.Southland
MissouriBig 12RiceC-USASoutheastern LouisianaSouthlandStephen F. AustinSouthland
OklahomaBig 12Southern MissC-USATexas A&M CCSouthlandTexas-ArlingtonSouthland
Texas A&MBig 12DelawareColonialTexas StSouthlandSouth DakotaSummit
Portland St.Big SkyHouston BaptistGreat WestUTSASouthland
CampbellBig SouthNorth Dakota St.Great WestWestern IllinoisSummit
Cal State FullertonBig WestCleveland St.HorizonAlabama A & MSWAC
Cal-PolyBig WestValpoHorizonPrairie View St.SWAC
UC-IrvineBig WestWright St.HorizonSouthernSWAC
Southern MissC-USAYoungstown St.Horizon
UCFC-USAHarvardIvy
UTEPC-USABall St.MAC
HofstraCAAMaryland-Eastern ShoreMEAC
William & MaryCAASan Diego StMWC
ButlerHorizonWyomingMWC
DetroitHorizonAir ForceMWC
Green BayHorizonBryantNortheast
UICHorizonAusin PeayOVC
LongwoodIndependentEastern IlinoisOVC
BrownIvyEastern KentuckyOVC
ColumbiaIvyMorehead St.OVC
PrincetonIvyMurray St.OVC
YaleIvyTennessee St.OVC
AkronMACTennessee-MartinOVC
Bowling GreenMACChattanoogaSouthern
BuffaloMACCitadelSouthern
Central MichiganMACFurmanSouthern
Kent St.MACSamfordSouthern
Miami (OH)MACIUPUISummit
Northern IllinoisMACSouth DakotaSummit
ToledoMACSouthern UtahSummit
Western MichiganMACArkansas St.Sun Belt
Coppin St.MEACArkansas-LRSun Belt
HamptonMEACFlorida AtlanticSun Belt
BradleyMVCFlorida InternationalSun Belt
EvansvilleMVCLouisiana-LafayetteSun Belt
Indiana StMVCLouisiana-MonroeSun Belt
Northern IowaMVCNorth TexasSun Belt
Wichita StateMVCSouth AlabamaSun Belt
BYUMWCAlabama StateSWAC
Colorado StMWCJackson St.SWAC
New MexicoMWCNew Mexico St.WAC
Jacksonville St.OVCLoyola MarymountWCC
Southeast Missouri St.OVCSan DiegoWCC
OregonPac-12San FranciscoWCC
ArmyPatriotSanta ClaraWCC
LafayettePatriotSt. Mary'sWCC
NavyPatriot
AuburnSEC
Western CarolinaSouthern
IPFWSummit
OaklandSummit
UMKCSummit
Middle Tennessee St.Sun Belt
TroySun Belt
Boise St.WAC
Fresno St.WAC
HawaiiWAC
IdahoWAC
Louisiana TechWAC
NevadaWAC
San Jose St.WAC
Utah St.WAC
GonzagaWCC
PepperdineWCC
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