From the Bird’s Nest: Sun Belt Looking at New Schedules and More
Athletic Directors from the Sun Belt Conference will be meeting in New Orleans July 18-20 and there are issues bound to be discussed.
The most high-profile, at least as far as fans are concerned, are possible new scheduling for football and basketball.
AD's will discuss a nine game football conference schedule and, with Denver leaving the conference at the end of the 2011-12 athletics year and new basketball scheduling as well. They also might start exploring something new in baseball's postseason.
Here are the possibilities and my own personal thoughts.
South Alabama joins the Sun Belt Conference for football in 2012. That will give the league ten football-playing schools. With football scheduling being done well in advance, the conference will stay at eight league games for at least the next three seasons, meaning not everyone will play everyone. There will be discussion to change that, beginning in 2015, where a round robin schedule would be played, as has been done in the past in the Pac-10 (now Pac-12) and what will be done beginning this year in the Big XII (which is down to ten teams.)
Do it. Everyone has trouble getting home games. This proposal would insure five league games at home every other year. Schools could schedule one money game, a home and home with another FBS opponent, and then schedule an FCS opponent annually. If schools can make sure the home game of the home-and-home is in the year that teams have only four conference home games, everyone can play six home games every season. This can only help the league get more bowl-eligible teams which will mean more bowl tie-ins. For example, in 2015, UL will play a guarantee game somewhere and will go to Ruston for their return visit at Louisiana Tech. With five home conference games, all the Cajuns have to do is sign an FCS school. Voila! Six home games. The following year, you play a guarantee game, have four home conference games, start a series with someone at home, sign an FCS school and again, you have six home games. With this proposal, there's no reason a school should have to play seven road games.
BASKETBALL: With Denver leaving the league, a few things have to be decided. First, do you keep divisons with just eleven teams? That would give you five in one division (West) and six in the other (East.) Now, there is precedent for this. The league at one time had 13 basketball playing schools when UNO and Denver were both playing. Or, the league could just do awsy with divisions and have an eleven team league.
Then comes the question, how many league games do you play?
The coaches want a double round-robin. Play everyone twice. Twenty conference games.
The last time the league had eleven schools (way back in 1991-92), the teams played an unbalanced schedule of sixteen games. You played the six teams closest to you in geography twice and four other teams once.
Another possibility is an eighteen game conference schedule where you would play eight teams twice and two teams once each.
Complicated to be sure.
JAY SEZ: Proponents of the 20 game conference schedule talk about balance. But the reality is, the Sun Belt has only played a balanced schedule when there were ten basketball schools. So, I'm throwing out that argument. Coaches want to play 20 because scheduling is so difficult, especially when you're looking for non-conference home games. The Sun Belt wants you to play at least half of your games at home or neutral sites. They also want you to schedule non conference in the upper half of the RPI. They also don't want you to play non-Division I schools (that is expected to be modified at the meetings, allowing one game outside Division I each year.) By putting in all of these criteria, is really is difficult to schedule non-conference. A 20 game schedule means schools would only have to schedule nine non-conference games per year.
But I'm against it.
The Sun Belt has seen its RPI ranking plummet over the last few years, residing at #23 last season. The conference RPI isn't going to get any better if you aren't playing non-conference games (and winning a good many of them.) If the Sun Belt is going to improve its RPI, it needs for its member schools to play fewer games against the teams that got their RPI so low to begin with.
The Sun Belt also needs to do away with the silliness of divisions, especially with the league going to eleven teams. Coaches (and to an extent, administrators) like divisons because it looks good to say you're a division champion, even if you only have the fourth-best record in the league. If the coaches want a double-round robin so badly, they need to get away from the divison lineup. Heck, they need to get away with the divsion lineup regardless.
Since the scheduling dilemma is a reality, I'd be okay with no divisons and eighteen conference games. Under that criteria, you would have to schedule eleven out of conference instead of the current 13. I find that to be a good compromise.
But no divsions, okay??
This one may or may not come up for discussion at the meetings.
Talk to anyone who has anything to do with the Sun Belt Conference and they'll tell you baseball coaches are the easiest to deal with. There are few egos in this league. The coaches all get along, they discuss good and bad and usually come to a consensus. And all of them seem to have the league's best interests at heart when they make decisions. No one has an agenda. As a result, coaches generally get their way when it comes to scheduling (playing your geographical rival twice in order to have 30 conference games) and the league tournament (the new format this year.)
You may have noticed the Sun Belt did not award the 2014 tournament to any school at their meetings in Destin, Florida back in May. And, there's a reason for that.
The discussion has started to go to a neutral site for the baseball tournament.
The league will have the tournament in Bowling Green, Kentucky (presumably at the Class A Minor League facility downtown) in 2012. It will be at the (hopefully refurbished) M. L. "Tigue" Moore Field in Lafayette in 2013.
The coaches I've heard from all like the idea of a neutral site tournament. They all have a different idea as to where that tournament should be held.
Before the tournament can be moved to a neutral site, the tournament needs to be grown. If the league is going to continue the tournament in the (new) current format, fans need to get used to that before talking about moving the tournament.
Moreover, I don't think a neutral site would work without keeping the current format. Fans need to be able to plan if they're going to travel to a neutral site, and one of the big pluses of the current format is fans know exactly when their team is going to play.
But I still don't think the Sun Belt is ready for a neutral site yet.
There are only three schools in the league which have a historical, continuous record of good attendance: UL, USA and Troy. I'd personally like to see the tournament at one of these three sites every year, but I know seven league coaches that wouldn't sign off on that.
If the coaches are determined to have a neutral site, that site MUST be selected with attendance in mind.
That means having it close to the schools that have historically good attendance figures.
Zephyr Field in New Orleans, Hank Aaron Stadium in Mobile. Riverwalk Stadium in Montgomery.
Those would be the only three acceptable neutral sites as far as I'm concerned.
But I still think the league needs to wait longer before moving to that step.
Speaking of the current baseball format, I'm waiting for a couple of coaches to return a questionnaire that I sent out. Look for that blog with their thoughts on the tournament format coming soon to a website near you.