College basketball scheduling became a microwave when the coronvirus pandemic hit

Tyler Byrum
·5 min read

CBB scheduling is thrust into a microwave during the pandemic originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

Scheduling a college basketball season is a year-round task for assistant coaches around the country. Their phones always have to be on, they have to be able to balance competing interests and just because one schedule is set, does not mean improvements and negotiations can’t be had for future seasons. 

For the most part, the details of scheduling nonconference games are handled by assistants. Once the basics for the contest/series are set, the remaining details get finalized by the head coach or athletic director, depending on the program. It is a process with a lot of bargaining and in this season in particular there is little time to waste.

The ongoing coronavirus pandemic has heightened the process and everyday work for Richmond men’s basketball associate head coach Marcus Jenkins as he has to prepare the Spiders’ upcoming season. An already arduous task of scheduling at the mid-major level was amplified and put into a microwave.

Things are changing on a weekly, and sometimes daily, basis that affects the decisions on who to play, when and where, more than they ever had before.

“Scheduling is one of those things where it's similar to recruiting, like you never stop scheduling,” Jenkins told NBC Sports Washington. “You're always looking for that next game in order to finalize a contract, or you know to get into your next [multi-team event] that might be a year or two out so there's always something to do with scheduling.”

Richmond enters this season as one of the few expected top 25 programs hailing from a non-power conference. They return essentially their full roster, who had their 2020 postseason and potential NCAA Tournament at-large bid cut short. Aspirations are even higher for the upcoming year as they look to be favorites to win the entire Atlantic 10.

But to stay in the national conversation, Richmond has to schedule well. There have to be marque games and road contests that boost the metrics that many use to evaluate teams for NCAA Tournament selection. Fortunately for the Spiders, they are not afraid of those contests.

A loss of a game, though, could have a dramatic effect on the nonconference scheduling as a whole. When the NCAA pushed back the season’s start date to Nov. 25, several marquee games across the country were lost or had to be rescheduled.

While some teams went scrambling, the phone lines completely opened up.

“What COVID has done, and the move up on the start date, has just forced everyone to have real and transparent conversations. Just being like ‘look here's my schedule, here's what I need, can you play on this day,” Jenkins said.

“Everybody picks up their phone right now. If you call, and you reach whoever does scheduling on that staff, you can get the head coaches involved much quicker than ever before. The assistant or whoever it is doing scheduling, responds to texts or picks up the phone. If I get a phone call and I know it's scheduling related and it might be a team that we need to nail down on a date, or we need to finalize a detail in the contract, I'm having that conversation right now, just because I want to get it done.”

For Jenkins and his Spiders, the NCAA’s schedule adjustment didn’t alter their docket of games much. Other than losing their multi-team event with a preseason Final Four-favorite Kentucky, nothing really got nixed.

An early call to the Wildcats kept the head-to-head in place. Then a contest traveling to the West Virginia Mountaineers that was previously agreed upon was locked in.

Other teams weren’t as fortunate. For programs that must schedule ‘buy games,’ where a smaller school travels to a bigger one and gets paid what is typically a walkover win for the home team, budgets changed and some teams need more funding, others had less to give.

"Everybody started to feel the impact financially and with their budget one way or another,” Jenkins said. “That was probably the biggest thing. All of a sudden, a lot of teams didn't have the same amount of money for guarantees. So, whether those games got pulled or pushed to the next year, that was a big thing. Maybe you still wanted to play the game, but you tried to settle on a different amount for that guarantee.”

The original schedule Richmond was operating with pre-COVID will end up being pretty similar to the one they will end up playing with some minor alterations. Still, Jenkins and his team know that things may change as the year goes on and new developments emerge with the coronavirus. State regulations and restrictions may change, for the better or for the worse. Come the first game, a lot of his attention will be on the states they are traveling to and teams coming to play them.

Ultimately, the team has to operate day-by-day through the pandemic. Even with the schedule leading up A-10 conference play at the end of December/ beginning of January, nothing is as set in stone as it once was. As seen in college football, some games will change after the schedule is built and throughout the season if there are cancelations. It’s a strange year for everyone and college basketball will get their second experience with the virus.

“What this has done is just put everything into a microwave,” Jenkins said. “So instead of having the spring and the summer to really nail down your schedule, we’ve been forced to make these changes in a matter of weeks. And I'll say the one positive thing that's come from this is the transparency, that's out there that isn't always involved in scheduling.”