C-USA to expand league basketball schedule
By GARY PARRISH
Scripps Howard News Service
DESTIN, Fla. -- Last year John Calipari fought against it and won. But now he's conceding on the issue of playing 16 Conference USA basketball games _ against his personal wishes and best interest _ in the spirit of aiding the rest of the league.
"There was some talk about keeping it at 14 games, but I think what's happened is that it's just so hard for some of these schools to get non-conference games," Calipari said Tuesday after emerging from a five-hour debate here at the C-USA Spring Meetings.
"I understand what some of these other schools are going through, so it's hard for me to sit there and argue with them ... even though I did because it could hurt me. But I'm fine with it, and we'll be fine."
When the NCAA raised the limit of regular-season games by one to 29 this offseason, C-USA was put in a position where it almost had to increase the number of league games from 14 to 16.
Otherwise, member schools would find themselves playing 14 conference games and 15 non-conference games, a ratio that is rare in modern-day college basketball and difficult to achieve for everybody in C-USA not named Memphis.
For example, a school like Central Florida can't get home-and-home deals with many quality opponents.
Furthermore, paying teams to visit Orlando _ a practice commonly referred to as "buy games" that can cost anywhere from $40,000 to $80,000 _ is a financial nightmare because the money can't be recouped from a sparse crowd.
So for UCF, the more league games, the better.
"Scheduling has become very, very difficult, and this would be two less games that you have to schedule," said UCF coach Kirk Speraw. "It would be easier on some teams."
On the flipside is Memphis, a high-profile program that has no problem scheduling home-and-home series, evidence being current agreements with schools like Arizona, Gonzaga, Tennessee and Cincinnati.
Furthermore, buy games are huge cash-flow producers at FedExForum, considering the Tigers will likely sell at least 15,000 season tickets this season. Using an average ticket price of $20, that's $300,000 in revenue. Subtract the estimated $80,000 that would go to the opponent, and Memphis would still turn a net profit of $220,000 per buy game.
So for Memphis, the fewer league games the better.
"With 16 (conference) games I can't go get another (non-conference premier) home game," Calipari said. "I was going to get a home game (with another premier school), but I can't do that now. Now we just better hold tight where we are."
The switch to 16 league games means C-USA will move to a format under which every member plays every other member once and five particular members a second time.
That means Memphis will continue a home-and-home set-up with UAB, Southern Miss and Tulsa and add two more schools to that list. All Calipari is asking is that one of them be Houston, which at this point projects as the second-best team in C-USA.
"We'll accept what the league does, but I just hope the league protects us," Calipari said. "The idea is to keep the top strong and bring everybody else up."
Chris Woolard agrees, but he's making no promises.
"There's a consensus that we need to move to 16 league games, but then the question is how do you add the additional games; that's why our meeting ran so long," said Woolard, the C-USA associate commissioner who serves as a liaison to men's basketball.
"Every guy is looking for something different, and that's where you've got 12 guys with 12 agendas, and that's when we have to step in and do what's best for the conference and have those guys trust that we're going to put in the time and effort to come up with the right matchups.
"I guarantee you all 12 teams won't like the two teams they get. But we'll do it in a fair and equitable way."
(Contact Gary Parrish of The Commercial Appeal in Memphis, Tenn., at www.commercialappeal.com.)