In the latest step to help schools save money and finance financial losses due to the new coronavirus pandemic, Big Sky Conference announced Friday that the 2020-21 conference schedule for men’s and women’s basketball will be shortened to 16 matches.
Big Sky returned to the 20-game conference schedule for the last two seasons after North Dakota’s departure leaving the conference in 11 basketball members, creating an actual round-robin schedule. But financial losses – the biggest part that came when the 2019 NCAA men’s basketball tournament was canceled and TV revenues distributed across the country would be reduced – had led the conference to make adjustments to the match schedule.
Changes are only for the 2020-21 season and, unlike in other sports for Big Sky, the format of the conference basketball tournament will not change. The tournament will still feature all 11 teams and be held in Boise, Idaho.
“The one-year adjustment for our conference basketball schedule is the right step that provides significant cost savings for our member institutions while giving more flexibility to our basketball programs in scheduling their non-conferences,” Commissioner Tom Wistrcill said in news release. “I commend our school leaders for providing the right balance between giving our athletes-students the opportunity to compete while recognizing the need to make changes for the coming year.”
The announcement said each team would reach 16 conference matches by playing six opponents twice and the remaining four times, and geographical proximity would be the main criteria in establishing a schedule.
The added non-conference flexibility can be used in various ways by the basketball program.
If possible, the easiest way is to replace the four contests with non-conference games. That could include registering to “buy games” with powerful schools to bring in income, or registering for more games against local teams to fill schedules with minimal costs.
For example, Weber State men’s basketball is scheduled to play BYU, Utah State and Utah Valley one time each in the coming season. If these programs ultimately require additional games or find the closest opponent that requires mere bus travel instead of flight and hotel costs, the way to build a cost-effective schedule is to add a second game against some of these opponents.
It also provides greater ability to schedule new or different opponents quickly if some schools cannot play due to state restrictions regarding coronavirus.
For example, Utah is set to host three schools from California (Cal Poly, Fullerton, Fresno State) in Salt Lake City, but the private class status and campus closure in California are uncertain. Weber State is also likely to host Fresno State, which has delayed several seasons to fulfill its journey home from a two-for-one series with WSU.
Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak told the Salt Lake Tribune it is important for the program to have a backup plan to prepare a scenario where the three opponents, for example, cannot travel to Utah and compete in those matches.
Utah is scheduled to play UVU and BYU next season and makes a tradition of avoiding scheduling Weber State but, in times of desperation, WSU might land on its schedule in this backup scenario.
“We have reached a number of local residents. We are playing two schools in Utah and you will probably play more,” Krystkowiak told Tribune.
Another option for the basketball program is to leave some or all of the four available matches unscheduled and save costs in full.
The Big Sky decision is recommended by the Conference Board, which consists of faculty representatives, athletic directors and senior female administrators, and has been approved by the school’s presidential board.
SOCCER: After the usual nine-game conference schedule, the lead points will be appointed as conference champions and qualifiers for the NCAA Tournament. The conference tournament will not be played.
SOFTBALL: After the usual 18 match conference schedule, Weber State will host the top four teams (down from six) in the conference tournament.
ROUTES: Weber State, which will host the canceled 2020 outdoor championship, will host in 2021. The State of Idaho will host the 2021 indoor championship for central travel purposes.
TENNIS: To reduce travel, male and female tennis will be arranged in a division format, with the top two teams from each of the two divisions going forward to the four-team conference tournament.
VOLLEYBALL: The conference schedule was reduced from 18 to 16 matches, with eight opponents each playing twice in consecutive days. This reduces travel from nine trips to four for each school. The conference tournament was reduced from eight teams to four.
NCAA GREEN LIGHTS ALL SPORTS
Two days after the NCAA approved the resumption of voluntary training for soccer and basketball athletes, announced Friday it will allow all Division I athletes to begin voluntary training on June 1. The NCAA previously closed all training activities and games to prevent the spread of the corona virus.
Since Big Sky also votes to make it possible for every school to move forward with athletic activity regardless of the ability of other schools to do so, and the state of Utah has moved to a yellow / low risk stage that allows gathering of up to 50 people, the determination remaining for Weber State athletes allowed to start training is a decision from the university.
Weber State University chose to remain in orange / moderate risk until May 31 when the state announced it would enter yellow / low risk on May 16. The campus building remains closed in the orange stage.
“Assuming states and regions do not see a surge in COVID-19 cases, we anticipate the move to the Low-Risk Yellow Phase 1 June,” a university statement said.
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