In many collegiate sports, the scheduling of out of conference opponents can be one of the most crucial acts in coaching, or sport administration. In conference schedules are a done deal. There is no avoiding conference foes once your conference affiliation is decided. The movement to other conferences is fraught with fiscal penalties and rewards. The move of Rutgers and Maryland to the Big Ten for example was an exercise motivated by the potential TV markets the Big Ten network wanted to enter. Considering the penalties that were exacted by splitting from the their old conferences, it easy to understand the hundreds of millions of dollars involved in that decision.
The decision of course is driven by the big money makers men’s football and basketball, but it does drag the other “non-revenue sports” with them without regard to long standing rivalries. It also drags non-conference scheduling with it into the mix. In 2007 Appalachian State ( the FCS champion) beat the University of Michigan football team, which led to a reconsideration by all Big Ten teams scheduling FCS teams on a regular basis. They were trying to protect their brand.
I have felt for years that scheduling had several elements to it that had reflected “brand protection,” attributes to it in many sports. Many people do not realize that many larger schools will pay for an out of conference to team to play them. It may be because they are remote, or because they want to raise or protect their RPI which will be used in seeding for NCAA national tournaments. Patriot League fans will groan every time a Patriot League basketball team must play a top team in an early round during March Madness. However, early games in the season can be found and are sources of revenue, as they use lesser skilled teams to establish a rhythm. Lafayette often times can find a game with a Kentucky or Villanova early on. I wonder if by some miracle how easy those games would come, if Lafayette won three games in the tournament the previous March?
I get amused by the policies of some schools regarding the release of schedules. Football schedules are released two and three years in advance, basketball schedules seem to have out of conference opponents added on an ad hoc basis. Coaches of course don’t want to “overface” their teams, losing seasons do not translate into job longevity. However, in sports like field hockey the RPI of the overall league can be crucial in post season success, so there is peer pressure to schedule better teams to raise the competitive level of the league as a whole.
One thing that interests me is the out of conference schedule as an indicator of what the coach thinks of her team, especially in a league like the Patriot League. BU has several nationally ranked teams on the schedule, Maine, UCONN, Boston College, Princeton, UMASS, Ohio State, and Harvard. Yes, many of the teams are in proximity to Boston, but some are not. Why shouldn’t Lafayette be playing teams in their backyard like St. Joes, Princeton, Rutgers and Delaware?? All are within a bus ride from Easton. Bucknell seems to have lightened their schedule, but they do have JMU, Syracuse and Penn State scheduled for next year. Colgate has announced their schedule and their opponents are predicable, and should prepare them for the league which will. be more competitive. They are returning a lot of veterans for this rebuilding program. A game with Syracuse should be interesting. Syracuse still lists an open Nov 2 date. Having lived in Buffalo for a number of years I would imagine upstate New York weather can be iffy!!
The Lafayette schedule is either not complete, or just not announced for next year as is Lehigh’s, Holy Cross, and American. Certainly the in-league games will be challenging as always, our out of conference games appear on the respective schedules of Penn, Liberty, Providence, Monmouth, and Temple. I suspect we will see a Richmond, Albany, Fairfield, Drexel or Columbia in the mix. It would be fun to play a Delaware ( short ride for me), or a Rutgers who also haven’t posted schedules, nor have we played them in years. With 11 games known, as of this writing it’ll be fun to see who the 7 out of conference remaining games will be as those games may set the Lafayette RPI, should we have a successful Patriot League run.