Where are the Marquee Home Games? The Difficulty of Putting Together a Non-conference Schedule


This is part IV of the series on the RPI and creating a non-conference schedule in basketball. In this part, I’ll analyze why it has been so difficult to get marquee games scheduled at Hec Ed and how teams try and provide balance to the schedule.

Before I jump directly into the Husky schedule for the 2011-12 season, I wanted to touch upon the last point from the previous article regarding why there are not many marquee games coming to Alaska Airlines Arena at Hec Edmunson Pavillion. I mentioned previously that it is difficult for Top 25 power conference teams to schedule marquee games at home precisely because other Top 25 teams do not want to risk losing on the road. There certainly is some truth to that. But, there are other more important factors, I’ll get to below. Generally speaking, however, it is easier to convince mid-majors to come out for three reasons:

1) They need to play power teams to improve their own SOS and RPI since they play in weaker conferences. It’s also good practice for their players to see that level of competition before their weaker conference schedule begins.

2) These teams get revenue to support their program. They can often make more money with an appearance fee on a road game against a power team than on ticket sales for a home game against an even lower ranked no-name in their own building.

3) They need games to fill out their schedule. This is mostly the case with the really low-level DI schools (see Houston Baptist).

There is one primary reason it is difficult to schedule marquee match ups at home and it comes down to the almighty $$$. If a Top 25 team is going to head away from home and give up revenue from ticket sales and risk losing a game, it better get paid or at least have another fringe benefit such as national exposure and recruiting advantages! This is why there are so many games happening at neutral sites nowadays. Look all around the country and you are seeing games played at major venues with far larger capacity than the local campus arenas can hold. Hec Ed can only hold 10,000 fans. Duke’s Cameron Indoor can only hold 9,800 fans. Madison Square Garden on the otherhand can hold nearly 20,000 fans.

Michigan State really pioneered the super-venue neutral site games in the last decade. In 2003, Michigan State hosted Kentucky at Ford Field in front of 78,000 people in what they called Basketbowl. This year they will play North Carolina on a the USS Carl Vinson… an aircraft carrier…Talk about bold! Gonzaga’s “Kennel” can only hold 6,000 fans, so what does Gonzaga do every year? They play a game or two at Key Arena in Seattle which can seat over 17,000 in their “Battle of Seattle”. It is becoming more and more common for teams to find a nearby NBA arena for a major neutral site game to reach out to major media markets and increase attendance rather than play on campus. For example, Michigan State played Oakland at the Palace of Auburn Hills last year. Kansas plays games in Kansas City (not an NBA arena I know), etc.

In addition, there are those myriad of pre-season neutral site events such as the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic, Jimmy V Classic, and Pre-season NIT all at Madison Square Garden, John Wooden Classic (Anaheim), the Maui Invitational, Great Alaska Shootout, and so forth. In fact, for 2008, I counted no less than 42 “classics” and pre-season tournaments. These are not even counting the “home games” at neutral sites, such as those I listed above.

This year UW will be playing Marquette and Duke at Madison Square Garden. Kansas will also play Kentucky in New York. None of the these teams are anywhere near New York City. But, these games will be in a large venue and on national TV so everyone will get paid handsomely. In 2012 Kentucky will play Duke at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta and Michigan State will play Kentucky at the United Center in Chicago.

So, while the power teams across the country clearly enjoy the exposure of playing 2-3 marquee games during the non-conference season, they would rather play these games at a neutral site because there is a lot more $$$ available from ticket sales, increased media exposure (including usually being nationally televised) and there is less risk of losing those games on a neutral court than going on the road.

But, the question is whether UW could get more major programs coming to Seattle? Perhaps, but it probably will have to involve Key Arena or maybe even the Rose Garden in Portland in the right situation. Seattle is so far up in the corner of the country that one factor really discourages the Duke’s or Kentucky’s of the country from coming to town are the travel time and expenses. Since the NBA has left town, there is a basketball vacuum that Key Arena could fill, if it really chose to. But, that’s a discussion for another time.

However, there is one tried and true method to arranging for true road games…recruiting players from out of state. Almost every major program will make at least one visit to the home town of a major recruit during their playing days. Kentucky played Portland at the Rose Garden last year for Terrance Jones. UW will be visiting St. Louis for Scott Suggs. I would not be shocked to see UW in New Orleans playing Tulane or LSU in a year or two for Jernard Jarreau. But, of course the drawback of such a situation is that you are losing local talent to other teams…Not sure that is worth it.

Now I know many of you are going to ask…Couldn’t we at least get Gonzaga back on the schedule for an exciting match up at Hec Ed?

Glad you asked, that is the focus of my next post on scheduling!