Think college basketball scheduling is just calling up any other school and asking for a game That may work for playing pickup ball, but the puzzle of an NCAA schedule is far more complicated. Assistant coach Greg Gard has the responsibility of shaping the Badgers calendar and he explains the finer points with uwbadgers.com
UWBadgers.com: Can you walk us through all of the details that go into making the mens basketball schedule
Greg Gard: The first thing we start with is we know we have 28 games that were allowed to schedule. Of those, 18 of them go to the Big Ten schedule right off the bat. So there are 10 that we have to play with to make up our non-conference schedule. Then, we have three automatic games in UW-Milwaukee, UW-Green Bay and Marquette. We are also able to play in an exempt event every year. It used to be that you could play in a preseason tournament once every four years, now its every year. So we have the Virgin Islands Paradise Jam tournament plugged in for this year and the Maui Invitational already for next year. We will get three games in those tournaments, but it only counts as one towards our 28 games. Finally, we have a Big Ten/ACC Challenge game that is automatically built it. This year we were thrown a curve in that game because we thought we were getting a home game and had it already built it. Turns out were going to Virginia Tech, so we had to adjust a bit.
So after all those are plugged in, we are left with five games to work with. Of those, we have to try to schedule as many home games as possible to meet the revenue requirements. Also, if we play at home it means we travel less and the student-athletes dont miss as much class time. This year we have a carry-over game from a home-and-home series with Texas, so that gives us a home game. We try to have at least one home-and-home with a marquee opponent. So next year well see how things fall into place and try to schedule another one.
UW: What about working around other events like hockey and womens basketball
GG: We definitely all have to work together on the scheduling of the Kohl Center facility. We need to work with hockey and womens basketball when they are home and even when football is home. We try not to do more than one major event like a football or basketball game on the same day. That pares down our dates even further. So we focus on opponents that can come in on those dates that we have available. With guarantee games, we have to look at the dollar amount that we have available in the budget and find an opponent that is willing to come in for that amount.
The other factor we deal with is the Native American nickname policy that we have in place as a university. We are not permitted to play an opponent that has what is viewed as an offensive Native American nickname. The Fighting Illini is exempt for us and the North Dakota Fight Sioux is exempt for hockey since they are in our conference, but it applies to non-conference, non-tournament games. So that eliminates Utah, Bradley, Florida State, etc. We played Florida State in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge, but that was given to us, so we were granted permission for that.
UW: Is scheduling the guarantee paid games a tricky business
GG: It can be. The price tags on the guaranteed games are going through the roof in terms of what other schools are offering with plane flights, hotels and meals in addition to a straight guaranteed payment. A lot of the schools that are accepting these games are holding out for the highest bidder and theyll drag it out into July and August. Thats where it helps to have those contracts with the in-state schools because it starts to narrow down the field as far as how many of games we have to schedule.
UW: So how do you go about finding schools that will come in for a guaranteed game that fits your calendar
GG: It seems like its always different. Sometimes its luck of the draw. They might cold call you looking for a game. Sometimes schools will have a local player from Wisconsin that they want to bring back home for a game. Sometimes the coaches have connections with our staff and Coach Ryan.
UW: Do you do some of that too Like trying to play games where some of your students or staff are from
GG: In Coach Ryans first couple years we went out to Philadelphia to play both Temple and Penn. Weve looked at trying to get a game out East for Trevon Hughes to play closer to home, but you have to find teams available and teams that are willing to play you. Just because you pick out a team and say `It would be nice to play them, doesnt always mean it can happen. The date may not fit or they may be totally unwilling to play you. I get a lot of `Theres no way were playing you. Youre too good. Or Ill hear, `Theres no way were coming to the Kohl Center, nobody wins there. I get a lot of those. I sometimes wish I could publish the emails or phone calls I get back. Sometimes they will just laugh and say, `Wisconsin Are you kidding me Were not going to play you. We wouldnt have a chance. Thats a credit to our players and to the fans for the environment they have created here. But, if Im on the outside looking in, Im not sure I want to come to Wisconsin to play either.
UW: Its somewhat funny that the programs success actually makes life harder in some ways isnt it
GG: Yeah, from that standpoint it kind of is.
UW: Is there any rhyme or reason to the scheduling of the in-state opponents
GG: We usually play UW-Green Bay and UW-Milwaukee right around finals week, because they have the same finals week. So were able to structure things right before or right after finals with those two schools. We cant play during finals week. Other schools have different policies and can play during that week, but we dont play at all during finals week. In fact, the day before finals week which is a study day we can play, but it has to be a home game. Then coming out of finals, we usually play on the last day of finals week, but University policy states that the game has to be after 5:00 p.m.
UW: Do you take an overall look at how tough the non-conference schedule is and how many difficult matchups it features
GG: We definitely do. We know starting off that were going to have a high quality opponent in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge. We know with these exempt tournaments that there will be some big matchups. With the Paradise Jam tournament this year we know were going to get somebody tough. Miami (Fl.) and UConn are both going to be ranked teams. Valpo is going to be very good this year. We know the schedule will always have Marquette, who is good. The UWGB and UW-Milwaukee games are also very hard games to play. For players at those schools, having Wisconsin on the schedule is a big deal. I know what it was like to play Wisconsin when I was at Milwaukee. It was a rivalry game that we circled and knew it was our chance to knock off a big school. We knew we were going to give it our best shot.
UW: Do you like this part of the job, putting together the puzzle
GG: I do. Its fun to look at what opponents we can put on the schedule. Obviously we try to make it as competitive as possible. There are a lot of factors to consider, but yeah, its kind of fun.
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