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Georgetown’s pathetic schedule is a symptom of larger, systemic issues in college basketball

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On Tuesday, Georgetown released the worst non-conference schedule that I’ve seen in 10 years of covering college basketball.

It’s atrocious. By one metric, it’s the second-worst non-conference schedule in the KenPom era, which dates all the way back to 2002. They play seven teams that ranked 320th or lower in KenPom last season. That’s hard to do.

But, as I wrote yesterday, it’s happening for a reason: the Hoyas are trying to stack up wins in a year where new head coach Patrick Ewing knows they aren’t going to be very good. It’s better to finish around .500 in a year where you go 3-15 in the Big East than it is to play a tough schedule and win just eight games. In three years, when it comes time to decide whether or not the Hoya legend should be on the hot seat, no one is going to be thinking about how tough the schedule was. They’re going to be referencing his win-loss record.

Gary Parrish over at CBS Sports wrote a similar column, but he made a salient point that needs to be addressed: This kind of scheduling is at the core of what’s ailing college basketball.

Considering just how many Division I basketball teams there are, the number of relevant college basketball games during November and December are miniscule. There are a few exempt events around Thanksgiving, events that are played at neutral sites in exotic locales with almost no one in the crowd, and maybe two dozen marquee games played between top 25 teams, but the overwhelming majority of games that are played prior to the start of the conference season by the best teams in the country are completely non-competitive.

Part of it is so that these coaches can point to their streak of winning 20 games in a season to try and earn an extension. But the more relevant part of it is because the university needs to sell season ticket packages; generally speaking, athletic directors require college basketball coaches to schedule seven or eight home games, and the only way to get that many home games when every high major program in the country is dealing with this same issue is to load up on buy games.

In other words, pay a team that has no chance of winning a game in your building somewhere between $50,000-$100,000 to fly into town, taking a beating and then head home, check in hand.

Duke, North Carolina, Kentucky and Louisville each did that six times last season. Kansas four times. Michigan State seven times. We can go on and on.

That’s the way that the system works, and it’s where the idea of “exploitation” within college athletics really comes into play.

I don’t love using that word in regards to some of the unfair rules and operating procedures of the NCAA. I believe many college athletes on scholarship are getting a pretty good deal. I also believe that many, maybe even a majority, are getting less than they deserve. I can say that I believe a full cost-of-attendance scholarship, a sizable stipend and the removal of amateurism rules is what would actually be fair while saying that there’s enough value in getting a college education paid for to make “exploitation” too strong in most cases.

But when it comes to buy games?

It’s uncomfortable on both sides of the aisle.

On the one hand, the players on the power conference rosters are playing relatively value-less games because their school needs to be able to provide a supply for season ticket holders to spend their money on, which means there’s enough of a budget to pay a visiting team $75,000 but not enough of a budget to pay the players wearing the home team’s uniform for their play?

On the other hand, the low- and mid-major programs across the country turn their fall into a barnstorming tour designed to generate funding for the athletic department throughout the year. Many of the teams that have the wildest non-conference schedules come from notoriously under-funded HBCU programs. Take a look at the non-conference schedule Texas Southern will be playing this season:

Nov. 11 @ Gonzaga
Nov. 13 @ Washington State
Nov. 16 @ Ohio State
Nov. 18 @ Syracuse
Nov. 21 @ Kansas
Nov. 24 @ Clemson
Nov. 30 @ Oakland
Dec. 2 @ Toledo
Dec. 11 @ Oregon
Dec. 14 @ Baylor
Dec. 16 @ Wyoming
Dec. 18 @ TCU
Dec. 23 @ BYU

If the checks for those 13 games average $77,000, an entirely plausible number, then Mike Davis will have generated $1 million for his university in 42 days.

And if you think that’s bad, how about this: Long Beach State head coach Dan Monson, who routinely plays one of the toughest non-conference schedules in the country, has a clause in his contract that says he gets a cut of all of those game checks.

Yikes.

Now look, this isn’t all bad for the players. Playing at Gonzaga or at Syracuse is probably much better than playing home games in front of, what, a couple thousand people? It’s an opportunity to prove themselves in front of pro scouts — and college coaches they may be able to transfer up and play for — and given the rise of online classes, they may not actually be missing all that much school at the end of the day. There is also an issue for programs in the midwest and mountain regions, as there simply aren’t all that many potential opponents locally. As one former HBCU assistant told NBC Sports, “as long as they aren’t cutting corners on travel they probably eat better on the road than they do at home.”

But the larger point remains the same.

Davis and his team just spent six weeks on the road, generated hundreds of thousands of dollars, and the players got … a chance to prove themselves on a bigger and better food than they eat at home while their head coach gets to pocket some of that money?

That’s exploitation.

And it’s bad for the game of college basketball.

The question is whether or not it is fixable, and I just don’t know if it is.

Should Division I cut the bottom 16-20 conferences? Does it make sense for Abilene Christian to be competing at the same level as Duke? But if the NCAA does eliminate those leagues and create a Division I-AA, would it ruin the charm of the NCAA tournament?

What if the power conferences instead opted to expand their conference schedules to, say, 24 or 26 games? That would certainly increase the number of relevant games early in the season, and in the leagues with more than 12 teams — which is every high major conference not named the Big 12 or the Big East — it would create more balanced schedules, but then you run into the issue of playing home conference games during December, when these schools are in the middle of finals and the students are not on campus. What is conference play in college basketball without a rowdy student section?

There is no easy answer.

But that doesn’t mean that the way the current system is set up makes sense.

Bubbles brewing with season on horizon

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
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INDIANAPOLIS — With the coronavirus pandemic already forcing changes for college basketball, a bubble may be brewing in Indianapolis.

Indiana Sports Corp. released a 16-page proposal Friday that calls for turning the city convention center’s exhibition halls and meeting rooms into basketball courts and locker rooms. There would be expansive safety measures and daily COVID-19 testing.

The all-inclusive price starts at $90,000 per team and would cover 20 hotel rooms per traveling party, testing, daily food vouchers ranging from $30-$50 and the cost of game officials. Sports Corp. President Ryan Vaughn said the price depends on what offerings teams or leagues choose.

“The interest has been high,” Vaughn said. “I think as conferences figure out what conference and non-conference schedules are going to look like, we’re we’re a very good option for folks. I would tell you we’ve had conversations with the power six conferences, mid-majors, it’s really kind of all over the Division I spectrum.”

Small wonder: The NCAA this week announced teams could start ramping up workouts Monday, with preseason practices set to begin Oct. 14. Season openers, however, were pushed back to Nov. 25 amid wide-ranging uncertainty about campus safety and team travel in the pandemic.

There is already scrambling going on and some of the marquee early-season tournaments have already been impacted.

The Maui Invitational will be moved from Hawaii to Asheville, North Carolina, with dates still to be determined and organizers clear that everyone involved “will be in a bubble environment that limits their movement and interaction outside the venue.” The Batttle 4 Atlantis has been canceled. The Cancun Challenge will be held in Melbourne, Florida, not Mexico.

More changes almost certainly will be coming, including what to do with the ACC-Big Ten Challenge.

“I think we’re past the guesswork on whether we play 20 conference games or more than that,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said Friday. “We’re trying to get everybody set like in terms of MTEs (multi-team events), figuring out when to play the ACC-Big Ten challenge.”

Painter, who was part of the NCAA committee that recommended how to start the season, noted part of the uncertainty stems from differing protocols imposed by campus, city and state officials.

In Indianapolis, Vaughn believes the convention center, nearby hotels, restaurants and downtown businesses, many within walking distance of the venue, could safely accommodate up to 24 teams. The 745,000-square foot facility would feature six basketball courts and two competition courts.

Anyone entering the convention center would undergo saliva-based rapid response testing, which would be sent to a third-party lab for results. Others venues could be added, too, potentially with more fans, if the case numbers decline.

If there is a taker, the event also could serve as a dry run for the 2021 Final Four, also slated for Indy.

“It’s not going to hurt,” Vaughn said. “I can tell you all the planning we’re doing right now is the same for a Final Four that’s been scheduled here for any other year. But it would be nice to have this experience under our belt to see if it can be done.”

Maui Invitational moving to North Carolina during pandemic

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
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ASHEVILLE, N.C. — The Maui Invitational is moving to the mainland during the coronavirus pandemic.

One of the premier preseason tournaments on the college basketball schedule, the Maui Invitational will be played at the Harrah’s Cherokee Center in downtown Asheville, North Carolina.

Dates for the tournament announced Friday have yet to be finalized. The NCAA announced Wednesday that the college basketball season will begin Nov. 25.

This year’s Maui Invitational field includes Alabama, Davidson, Indiana, North Carolina, Providence, Stanford, Texas and UNLV.

All teams, staff, officials, and personnel will be in a bubble environment that limits their movement and interaction outside the venue.

Burton eligible at Texas Tech after 2 seasons at Wichita State

Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports
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LUBBOCK, Texas — Junior guard Jamarius Burton has been granted a waiver from the NCAA that makes him eligible to play this season for Texas Tech after starting 52 games the past two seasons for Wichita State.

Texas Tech coach Chris Beard announced the waiver Thursday, which came five months after Burton signed with the Big 12 team.

Burton has two seasons of eligibility remaining, as well as a redshirt season he could utilize. He averaged 10.3 points and 3.4 assists per game as a sophomore at Wichita State, where he played 67 games overall.

Burton is from Charlotte. He helped lead Independence High School to a 31-1 record and the North Carolina Class 4A state championship as a senior there.

NCAA season set to open day before Thanksgiving

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The NCAA men’s and women’s basketball season will begin on Nov. 25, the day before Thanksgiving.

The Division I Council voted Wednesday to push the start date back from the originally scheduled Nov. 10 as one of several precautions against the spread of coronavirus.

The later start date coincides with the decision most schools made to send students home from Thanksgiving until January out of concern about a potential late-fall and early-winter flareup of COVID-19. Closed campuses could serve as a quasi bubble for players and provide a window for non-conference games.

The maximum number of regular-season games has been reduced from 31 to 27. The minimum number of games for consideration for the NCAA Tournament was cut from 25 to 13.

Teams can start preseason practices Oct. 14 but will be allowed to work out 12 hours per week beginning Monday.

No scrimmages against other teams or exhibitions are allowed.

In other action, the council voted to extend the recruiting dead period for all sports through Dec. 31. In-person recruiting is not allowed during a dead period, though phone calls and other correspondence are allowed.

The men’s and women’s basketball oversight committees had jointly recommended a start date of Nov. 21, which would have allowed for games to be played on the weekend before Thanksgiving. The council opted not to do that to avoid a conflict with regular-season football games.

The council is scheduled to meet again Oct. 13-14 and could delay the start date and change other pieces of the basketball framework if circumstances surrounding the virus warrant.

UConn’s Tyrese Martin granted waiver to play this season

David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports
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STORRS, Conn. — UConn swingman Tyrese Martin, who transferred from Rhode Island in April, has been granted a waiver that will allow him to play for the Huskies this season.

The 6-foot-6 junior averaged 12.8 points and 7.1 rebounds and started every game last season for URI, where he was recruited by current UConn coach Dan Hurley.

NCAA rules require undergraduate transfers to sit out a season, but the organization has been more lenient in granting waivers during the pandemic.

Martin, 21, is expected to compete for playing time at UConn on the wing as both a guard and small forward.