The Times West Virginian

Sports

December 15, 2013

HERTZEL COLUMN: More goes into making schedules than one thinks

MORGANTOWN — On the day West Virginia University and Marshall renewed their series in Charleston, the closest thing to a rivalry the Mountaineers have left on their schedule, it seemed to be a proper time to see just what goes into crafting a basketball schedule.

It is far more complicated than you can imagine, with considerations that do not readily come to the mind of the average fan who would prefer to see most every non-conference game written in at home against either a national power or a team that stands little or no chance of upsetting the hometown favorite.

If only Bob Huggins could pick up a telephone and arrange such a schedule, but there are factors ranging from recruiting situations to the bitter truth, as Huggins puts it, “The truth of the matter is, this isn’t really a destination point. This isn’t New York City. This isn’t Orlando.”

Let’s begin with the thinking behind a home-and-home series with Purdue, a Big Ten school with a rich basketball history, which comes up next for the Mountaineers.

“A lot of it has to do with recruiting,” Huggins said about the series. “I thought the Purdue game was good because there’s so many players in Indiana. Going into the Big 10 and going that way, I thought that was important.”

Hard to argue the point considering Huggins’ top scorer, Eron Harris, is out of Indianapolis and Huggins spent a long time coaching at Cincinnati with Oscar Robertson sitting front row, one of basketball’s all-time greats also out of Indianapolis.

So recruiting plays a part and, in no small way, recruiting for WVU was hurt with the move out of the Big East because the East Coast always was rich recruiting territory.

“We get that way a little bit, but we still have to recruit the East Coast. For whatever anybody wants to think, we’re an East Coast school,” Huggins said. “We need to get into New York and into Philly, but you can’t play on the road all the time. You want to be on national TV; you have to play people. There’s a lot of factors.”

One factor is looking toward tournament time, too. Having a strong RPI requires playing a strong schedule, the key being finding mid-majors to play who will be successful.

“I changed a little coming here (from Cincinnati),” Huggins said. “We used to figure out who was going to win the MAC and the OVC; their RPI would be between 75 and 100. Our strength of schedule was better then than the way we play now, and we’ve played three teams in the top 30.”

Indeed, WVU has played No. 4 Wisconsin, No. 16 Missouri and No. 20 Gonzaga, but it also has had to play the likes of Presbyterian, Loyola (Maryland) and Mount St. Mary’s.

“There’s a lot of things you have to think about. You have to win games. People say play a great schedule and you’ll be rewarded … well, you’re rewarded if you win. You are not rewarded if you lose. Maybe we should have backed it off a little being as young as we are, but the truth is I didn’t know we were going to be this young,” Huggins said.

Huggins, of course, thought he would have a pair of junior college transfers in Jonathon Holton and Elijah Macon, neither of whom became eligible.

Huggins says he talked about scheduling schools like Villanova and St. Joseph’s from Philadelphia, but just because you need a game doesn’t mean a game can be worked out.

“It’s more complicated than that. It’s who they have scheduled, who we have scheduled. I’m not sure our people have figured it out, but you do have to generate some income so you can’t play all your games on the road … although, the way it’s been, maybe it wouldn’t hurt,” Huggins said, referring to a weak start in home attendance.

“We are one of the sports that make money. You can’t play all home-and-home series or you can’t make enough money to meet your budget responsibilities.”

Huggins learned the lessons of scheduling early from a Hall of Fame coach you wouldn’t expect to have been so generous with his time and knowledge to a young coach. It was back when Huggins was starting out at Akron and thought it would be good to schedule Louisville, both being “city” teams.

“Denny Crum wrote me this letter – it was incredible he took the time to do it. It was a 3-page letter explaining to me they play in Freedom Hall; they have 19,000 to 20,000 people in there all the time. They were the sport that generated all the money – their football was bad then – and he broke it all down and explained why they couldn’t go on the road much.

“When they go on the road it has to be for one or two purposes, to recruit a guy in there or for a national television game. There weren’t 600 games on TV then. I saw that and realized he knew what he was doing.”

What’s more, when you are a Louisville or a strong team in a power conference, mid-majors don’t necessarily line up to come in to pad your RPI with a nice home victory.

“When you are pretty good, people don’t want to come in and get beat by 30,” Huggins said. “Why would they come in and play a team that’s pretty good and get beat by 30 rather than play someone a little lower down the food chain and have a chance to win?”

All kinds of things go on today.

“Honestly, you have schools who say, ‘I’ll play you, I’ll play you’ … and they wind up with four contracts sitting on the desk and take the best one,” Huggins said, noting that meant three teams that thought they had a scheduling spot filled were left to go looking for another opponent.

“It used to be schools like us, we controlled the whole deal. Well, we don’t control the whole deal now. They do because everyone has to have games,” Huggins said.

As a way of illustrating how the bigger schools controlled scheduling, Huggins offered another lesson he learned at Akron.

“I had a very famous coach who was into doing treacherous things call me when I was at Akron and say we are going to play home and home, but he said you have to come here first and it’s going to be nationally televised.

“That sounded to good and I’m skeptical, so I called people and they said he does it all the time and then he cancels the second game. They told me if I did it to put a big buyout in there,” Huggins said.

“So I called him and said, ‘Here’s what I need. Put in the contract if it’s not a nationally televised game we’re not coming, and if you don’t come back to our place it’s going to cost you X amount of money.’ He said that’s ridiculous, we are who we are.”

Huggins rolled his eyes as he said this and said, “Sure …”

Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel.

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