Even though the addition of Pacific enabled the WCC to adopt a true double round robin league scheduling format next season, the return of travel partners apparently did not ensure 10 evenly matched conference slates.
Portland, in particular, has the most to gripe about as a result of a WCC schedule that's almost comically back-loaded.
The Pilots will open WCC play with five straight home games, all of which will take place before Portland students return to campus from winter break on Jan. 13. The downside to so many early home games then comes in the second half of league play when the Pilots finish with seven of nine games on the road.
"I would worry about any schedule that is unbalanced between home [and] away, [but you] never know the real ramifications until the season," Portland coach Eric Reveno said via text. "Starting with five games at home could be great or it might be tough with the fans [gone] and academically with so much time on the the road."
Of course, Portland isn't the only team who can complain about a scheduling quirk.
As KSL.com's Greg Wrubell notes, eight of the WCC's 10 teams will play four straight road games at some point during league play. Gonzaga's schedule is almost as ugly as Portland's as the Zags open with four straight home games before students are back on campus and close with four straight on the road including fellow league title contenders Saint Mary's and BYU.
Why couldn't the WCC assemble a simpler round robin schedule in which no team plays more than three straight home or road games? Conference spokesman Jeff Tourial told the Spokane Spokesman-Review that the issue was demands by ESPN to have premier matchups on certain dates.
"With the return to our travel pair model this year, we are very limited in terms of leeway to move games around," Tourial told the newspaper. "For example, if ESPN takes a Gonzaga-BYU game on a given date, then that affects Portland and San Diego's games for that weekend, too. Then, on the other day that weekend, if they grab Santa Clara vs. Saint Mary's, then that locks in Pacific and San Francisco's games as well. Suddenly, the only teams “left” in this scenario are LMU and Pepperdine – who would play each other. Suddenly, our flexibility is all but gone.
"For ESPN Networks, their radars are heightened by new competition from other networks and so their need to have the "best games” has never been greater."
The explanation from Tourial is not only reasonable but also a great window into some of the challenges conferences face assembling their schedules. In this case, the WCC had to sacrifice balance to generate as much exposure and TV revenue as possible.