Ed. Note: This article is presented as a part of our Voices of the Industry series which is published the first week of each month. These articles are written by senior athletic department personnel and intended to shine a light on issues throughout the college athletics industry. If you are interested in writing for this series, drop us a line and we will be happy to help your voice be heard.
By Dr. Richard Sander
This time of the year, as we start to schedule basketball games for next season, one thing becomes very apparent. Athletic Directors (and I am one of them) really made a major mistake somewhere along the way by relinquishing the job of basketball scheduling to the coaches. Pretty much all football scheduling is done by AD’s, yet for the most part scheduling for basketball falls on the shoulders of an assistant basketball coach or director of operations.
In discussing this situation with our coaching staff, they emphasized what I have known for a long time; the major criteria for scheduling by coaches is, “how is a game against XYZ University going to help me keep my job?” It is almost funny to see how coaches will go to the web to see how good a team might be next year before even contemplating a potential series. Who do they have coming back, what was their record, what transfers are sitting out, who have they signed, all become research topics for that staff before they schedule.
As an athletic director we look at other factors before we would schedule like: 1) how will XYZ affect the gate, 2) how will a game against XYZ affect our RPI, 3) how much is it going to cost to travel to return the game to XYZ, 4) is there any interest in XYZ in the media, 5) is XYZ a traditional rival. As athletic directors we know what programs make good sense for us to schedule and truthfully that game will make just as much sense for the other school also. Yet if one of the coaches does not feel it is his personal best interest, the game is not going to happen.
It is hard to understand how regionally geographic programs do not consistently play one another. You would think you would want to play schools who have a recognizable name with your fan base, are located close to facilitate easy travel and minimal expense while allowing fans to travel to away games. Yet, if you analyzed non-conference schedules, you will see that there are plenty of opportunities to play games that make a lot of sense but rarely happen.
I remember years ago we were pretty good at VCU and were struggling to find another mid-major to start a home and home series. I saw a fax that indicated Davidson was looking to start a home and home series. When I went to the assistant coach on our staff, his comment was that the date they had available did not work. The truth was that our coaching staff did not want to play against Bob McKillop’s very finely coached squad. The VCU-Davidson series would have been good for both programs, yet our coaching staff would have nothing to do with that series. The same situation that occurred in our VCU-Davidson situation happens more often than not at basketball offices across the country.
We as athletic directors probably need to re-think the responsibility for basketball scheduling. I know it takes a considerable amount of time that many of us would find hard to carve out of the day, but the benefit would be significant. Until we do, mid-major programs will always struggle putting together a quality schedule.
Dr. Richard Sander, led Virginia Commonwealth’s athletic program for 20 years, and was introduced as ETSU’s Director of Intercollegiate Athletics in 2013. Prior to his time at VCU, Sander served as Assistant Athletic Director and was responsible for athletic fundraising at Memphis State University (now The University of Memphis). Sander earned a B.S. in Business Administration from the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga in 1968. He received a M.S. in Physical Education from Xavier University in 1974, and a Ph.D. in Education from the University of Cincinnati in 1980.