College basketball can learn a lot from international football on scheduling
College basketball can — and should — be better. There’s a lot that’s right with the sport. Look at the parity and balance across the country. Look at the fact that we will have at least two first-time teams at the 2023 Final Four, and maybe three. Teams across the country, from various conferences outside the Power Fives, have a real chance to do well. This is not the world of college football in which only four or five teams have a real shot at the national championship, and why TCU 2022 is such a wildly improbable story. There is plenty to like in college hoops. Yet, the sport can and should be better.
There are a lot of teams which don’t get into the NCAA Tournament because they play in a smaller conference and don’t get to play the big boys. There are a lot of teams (cough, Big Ten, cough) which get into the NCAA Tournament despite losing 10 to 13 games and finishing near .500 in their conference. That doesn’t seem right or fair.
This could all be better.
Obviously, we need to create ways for the small-conference teams to play the big-conference teams more often each season. That’s one part of reforming the sport, and we wrote about that topic. We also need to put the smaller-conference teams in a position to get more attention from the selection committee so that they are not “out of sight, out of mind” on Selection Sunday.
If you follow international football, you know that teams play several games at a time in their local club leagues, such as the Premier League in England or Ligue 1 in France or La Liga in Spain (etc.). After playing several games in a club league, teams will play in an international competition such as the Champions League or the Europa League. Separate from that, international football (soccer) involves national competitions such as the Euro 2024 qualifiers going on right now in late March, or the CONCACAF matches the United States is playing in. There is a constant rotation of club matches, international club matches, and national team matches.
College basketball has operated under a scheduling structure in which nearly all nonconference games are played in the first two months of a season (November and December), and nearly all conference games are played from January through Selection Sunday.
We don’t have to keep doing things that way.
Teams are different in January compared to early November. Teams evolve. Teams get healthy or get hurt. Teams learn what does and doesn’t work for them.
Simply stated, teams should have to play conference games in November, and they should have to play nonconference games in late February. We should be mixing up the kinds of games teams play throughout the season, so that if we count every game from early November through early March, we are looking at a mixture of games spread out over the season.
Teams play nonconference games in November, when we have no idea how good the teams are. Imagine if some of those nonconference games were played in late February.
We should flip some February conference games into the first month of the season and flip non-con games into the latter part of the season as an NCAA Tournament audition or preview. The imbalanced season schedule needs to give way to the international football model. We will get better, richer data points for teams, and the nonconference games played late in February will generate far more national interest compared to the current mid-November setup in which most people are thinking about football, not hoops.
College basketball can be better. International football provides a much better scheduling framework for hoops.
More 1967 national championship!
Former USC defensive coordinator Dick Coury dies at 91