College basketball’s non-conference portion of the season has drawn considerable criticism in recent years. Too few on-campus games between heavyweights and too many cupcakes populating the schedule, is the typical refrain.
What marquee matchups the months of November and December do bring could be imperiled by major conferences transitioning to 20-game league schedules and television networks are to blame, according to Kentucky coach John Calipari.
“They need more inventory for their own network so you just play more league games and then you have more inventory for your network to put on,” Calipari said on a teleconference Tuesday, according to the Louisville Courier-Journal. “Hopefully in our case in this league (the Southeastern Conference) we stay where we are and if we don’t, we’ll make it work.”
The argument Calipari makes is that the two extra league games will come at the expense of high-major opponents in the non-con, rather than the buy-games that make up the bulk of many teams’ schedules.
“I think teams can use those last two games to put their own schedule together,” Calipari said. “If you need a tougher game, if you have a rivalry game, if you need an easier game, if your team needs a team they can beat or a team they’re challenged by, if they need a road game, you can do it with those two games.”
Calipari probably isn’t wrong here, in some regard. Coaches are likely to be less aggressive with their scheduling with two additional games against high-major competition built into the schedule. Coaches, on the whole, are risk averse, and putting more games that are in doubt – or at least considerably more difficult than scheduling a couple of SWAC teams – isn’t something they’ll be inclined to do, most likely.
There are a couple of curious points here, though. First off, the bulk of non-conference scheduling is awful and boring. Subtracting two games from programs’ scheduling discretion probably isn’t going to cost the sport a ton of non-conference matchups, anyway. Sure, there may be fewer of them, but the ACC and, potentially, the Big Ten adding two more league games should offset that on the whole. To the point about TV, that seems like an odd finger to point given that some of the best non-conference matchups year-in and year-out are facilitated by TV networks.
Putting another two games on the league schedule also insures an extra game at home against high-major opponents, something that some programs don’t offer at all in their non-conference schedules.
While putting an extra two conference games on the schedule may have some unintended consequences, on the whole it’s providing college basketball with more high-level games on campus. Hard to argue against that.