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New Year's wish list: better home schedule

Posted on December 31, 2015 at 11:05 AM

Alec Brown shoots a free throw in Green Bay's 2012 victory over Marquette

Photo via Green Bay Athletics

 

To nobody’s surprise, lowered expectations coupled with a below average home schedule has resulted in less folks in the seats at the Resch Center this season.

 

Green Bay (7-5) finished the home non-conference portion of its schedule averaging 2,339 fans per game for five games the past two months, down 23.9% compared to last year when the Phoenix drew 3,072 to its non-conference home games.

 

A key factor is the recalibration of expectations Green Bay fans needed prior to this season. After 24 wins in each of the past two seasons, the Phoenix graduated four seniors, including fan favorite and all-time great Keifer Sykes, and underwent a coaching change that has resulted in a philosophy change on the court.

 

Still, Green Bay is playing an exciting style of basketball, has won 7 of its last 9 games, and went 4-1 at home during the non-conference portion of their schedule with the lone loss coming at the buzzer against Toledo.

 

The main factor very well may be the home schedule. While hardcore college basketball fans know that Akron and Toledo are solid mid-major teams with NCAA Tournament aspirations this season and that Pacific plays in a challenging league with Gonzaga and St Mary’s, those match-ups aren’t going to get the casual fan to flock to the Resch Center. Games against two non-Division I schools are even worse.

 

“There’s a lot of things that go into scheduling,” Green Bay head coach Linc Darner told Matt Menzl during his latest appearance on WNFL’s Inside Phoenix Basketball. “First off, and a lot of people don’t know this, when you play in a preseason tournament one of your other games is against a non-Division I.”

 

The fact that the Phoenix have won 48 games the last two years and appeared in the NIT two straight seasons doesn’t exactly have teams clamoring to make a trip to face Green Bay at the Resch Center.

 

“For us, the challenge is Green Bay has been very good,” Darner said. “Teams don’t want to go play good teams. If we had a real bad year this year we’d probably have everybody in America call us and want to schedule us.

 

“We have a lot of teams that at the beginning of this year we called about and they said ‘well, we want to see how you guys do. We’re going to wait and see how you do before we decide what we’re going to do.”

 

Add to the equation that the Phoenix don’t control the Resch Center scheduling and dates can be hard to come by. Last season, Green Bay had several Saturday non-conference games, an ideal day to draw attendance during football season. The Phoenix have played no Saturday home games so far this season and have actually played three games on football Sundays.

 

“With the Resch Center you’ve got other events in there,” said Darner. “You’ve got concerts, you’ve got hockey, you’ve got the state volleyball tournament…different things come in so now you have to juggle different dates. Sometimes a date that might work for a team to come here we can’t find a date available at the Resch Center.

 

“Then you’ve got the Packers. It’s hard to schedule a Saturday game when the Packers play on Sunday. It’s hard for teams to find hotels. So sometimes we have to wait and see what the Packers schedule is to try to figure out okay, who can we bring in, who can play.”

 

In the past few years, Green Bay has had marquee home games with three different Power 5 conference teams at the Resch Center: Wisconsin in 2009, Marquette in 2012, Wisconsin in 2013, and Virginia in 2013. 

 

But that is not likely in the future. The recent contract signed by the Badgers and Phoenix is only for 3 games over 6 years, all in Madison. Marquette and Virginia both suffered losses in Green Bay and are unlikely to return anytime soon.

 

“One thing is you don’t get a lot of power conference teams to go on the road,” Darner said. “If you look at the scheduling by the Power 5 conferences, most of their road games are neutral games. They go to somewhere else to play and they’re playing another high powered team. They’re not going to go on the road.

 

“You’re don’t see Purdue going to Ball State to play, I’ll use that since I’m from Indiana and played at Purdue, you don’t see that. You used to, but you don’t see that anymore. The revenue they can make on a home game, they don’t want to lose that revenue. They would rather pay teams to come instead of going on the road.”

 

ESPN’s Bracketbusters event was also a good way for mid-major programs to add quality non-conference competition, but the network discontinued the event in February 2013. Many coaches had an issue of the timing of the competition happening right during the middle of their conference seasons, but it provided a home-and-home series against similar competition.

 

“The Bracketbusters used to be great,” said Darner. “That was always played in late February where then they would try to match two teams that are playing really well, but you would get a home game every other year there.”

 

One idea being floated around to help with non-conference scheduling is for the Horizon League to take part in a conference challenge, similar to the ACC / Big Ten Challenge or SEC / Big 12 Challenge. The Missouri Valley Conference and Mountain West Conference also announced this past April a renewal of their conference challenge. 

 

“You’ve got the different challenges, which would be great for us if we could get with another conference and could do a conference challenge to where you would get a home game every other year against another league,” Darner said.

 

There seemed to be some momentum towards a challenge back in March when Horizon League commissioner Jon LeCrone gave his annual press conference at the conference tournament. He spoke of the changing landscape of college athletics regarding realignment and scheduling and how a conference challenge could help some conference members.

 

“I think we might have some news on that,” LeCrone said in March. “I think that could be a good strategy, a good tactic for us to thrive in this new world order. We think we may have identified a receptive partner.

 

I would put that on the list of things we desire, but we have to have a receptive partner who wants to do it with us. So they need to have the desire and the need that we have.” 

 

Horizon League teams already play good portions of their non-conference schedule against Summit League and MAC teams so a conference challenge against those leagues is possible. It also makes sense to have the challenge against a different league like the CAA, WCC, or Big West in order to gain solid non-conference opponents and still play MAC and Summit teams. 

 

“I think we might be close but we’ve got a number of hurdles to get through on that as well,” LeCrone said.

 

There’s no doubt that college basketball scheduling, especially for mid-majors, is difficult. Still, there needs to be ways to find attractive non-conference opponents to add to the schedule and limit the number of non-Division I games being played.

 

Several conferences, including the Missouri Valley and Atlantic 10, have scheduling mandates or guidelines that require their teams to schedule in certain ways, whether it is RPI requirements, no non-Division I games, ect. The Horizon League should look to implement or strengthen their scheduling standards.

 

As for Green Bay, the non-conference schedule as a whole this year wasn’t terrible. Three high majors, four mid-majors, and three low-majors is a decent blend. But a home slate that lacks a marquee name plus two games against non-Division I teams should be a non-starter.

 

“It isn’t easy,” Darner said. “We’re trying to bring good, quality teams in here to play us but that’s a tough thing.”

 

 

 

2015 Horizon League attendance (through 12/31/15)

  

3,737 – Wright State

3,342 – UIC

2,748 – Valparaiso

2,610 – Oakland

2,339 – Green Bay

2,135 – Northern Kentucky

2,061 – Cleveland State

1,900 – Milwaukee

1,587 – Detroit

1,389 - Youngstown State

 

 

Categories: Linc Darner

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