A day after teams opened preseason camp, the Big Sky Conference released its league basketball schedules Thursday, confirming a reported increase in games and a change in travel format as the conference tries to put on a full 2020-21 slate during the coronavirus pandemic and save travel costs for athletic departments hurting financially.
Weber State is set to open with a pair of games against Portland State — the men’s team in Portland, the women’s team in Ogden.
After previously decreasing conference games to 16 in a move intended to provide flexibility to teams in differing circumstances, the conference is back to its usual 20-game schedule in a move supported by coaches who want to lock in as many games as possible. Many teams are having a tough time cobbling together nonconference games as other schools want to limit travel and avoid paying buy-game money.
And how teams like Weber State will travel is changing. Instead of Thursday/Saturday trips or homestands against traveling partner teams — for instance, taking a road trip to Idaho and Eastern Washington in the same weekend, or hosting Montana and Montana State over a weekend — schools will face each other twice on the same trip and in the same location, saving travel costs and limiting possible exposure points during the pandemic.
That format will apply to eight conference foes, while games against the two closest opponents — for Weber State, that’s Idaho State and Southern Utah — will still be played at alternating sites.
In years past, accomplishing a 20-game schedule meant each team usually played two Monday games in addition to the Thursday/Saturday pairings that have long been the norm in the Big Sky. But the change this year to playing two games in one location means those Monday games are gone.
With that change, and in order to play 20 games before conference and NCAA tournament time and still allow teams a bye week, Big Sky teams will play two conference games in early December.
The Weber State men are scheduled to begin their conference schedule with games on Dec. 3 and Dec. 5 at Portland State — though head coach Randy Rahe says the teams are discussing moving those games to allow each to play already-scheduled nonconference games they’d prefer to keep. Idaho State and Northern Colorado, slated to play an early pair that week, have already moved their series to Dec. 9-10.
Rahe says he expects Saturday afternoon games to be the norm this season, allowing schools to play the second game of a series and return home Saturday night, saving one night of hotel expenses each week.
Rahe said WSU is working on ways to allow a limited number of fans at home games, but those plans are preliminary and, like anything in 2020, is subject to change and is at the mercy of our ability to put down the coronavirus.
After the early-December series, the WSU men pick back up Big Sky play at the end of December with two games against Idaho State — one in Pocatello, one in Ogden. The second begins a period of three weeks to start 2021 in which the Wildcats will be in Ogden, later hosting a pair of games against Eastern Washington, having a bye week, then hosting Southern Utah for one game.
WSU MEN’S SCHEDULE
Dec. 3/5: at Portland State
Dec. 31: at Idaho State
Jan. 2: vs. Idaho State
Jan. 7/9: vs. Eastern Washington
Jan. 21: vs. Southern Utah
Jan. 23: at Southern Utah
Jan. 28/30: at Idaho
Feb. 4/6: vs. Montana State
Feb. 11/13: at Montana
Feb. 18/20: vs. Northern Arizona
Feb. 25/27: at Sacramento State
March 4/6: vs. Northern Colorado
March 8-13: Big Sky Tournament in Boise, Idaho
- Dates of Portland State series may change
Note: The women’s schedule is the same order of opponents played at the opposite location of the men.
So what is known about Weber State’s nonconference schedule?
In addition to the aforementioned troubles involving most teams trying to limit travel, and big schools trying to avoid paying smaller schools in “buy-game” scheduling, the NCAA’s decision to decrease the total of allowed games and delay the season by two weeks has sent coaches back to the drawing board.
The NCAA changed the season’s start date from Nov. 10 to Nov. 25, and also reduced the total number of allowed games by four. A team like WSU that is not in a multi-team event can play a maximum of 25 regular-season games. With 20 games set for conference play, that leaves five nonleague games to arrange.
Weber State was scheduled to play in the Paradise Jam, an eight-team event in the U.S. Virgin Islands, from Nov. 20-23. But the new start date meant the event needed to reschedule and more than half of the field, including WSU, pulled out.
According to contracts obtained via open records requests, WSU had two games with UC San Diego scheduled for Nov. 14 in San Diego and Dec. 9 in Ogden. The first game was axed by the new start date, and the second game seems unlikely due to differing travel and health restrictions impacting whether or not the Tritons, a Division II power making the leap to DI, would want to make the trip.
“Still can’t have a full team workout in the state of California, so they’re unsure in regard to when they’ll even be able to play basketball,” Idaho State head coach Ryan Looney told the Idaho State Journal. Idaho State was also scheduled to play UCSD this season.
Rahe and Looney are both uncertain as to whether or not their games against non-Division I teams will be played, expressing doubt about their ability to adhere to coronavirus testing standards that call for DI teams to test three times per week on nonconsecutive days.
So, what does that leave?
As of right now, Weber State is contracted to play a home game against Utah State, a neutral-site game against BYU and a road game at Dixie State.
The Dixie State game can stay as scheduled on Dec. 5 if WSU and Portland State can find matching dates to move their conference-opening series.
Utah State is likely set for the second or third week of December, and WSU is scheduled to play BYU on Dec. 23 at Vivint Smart Home Arena.
If those three games stick, WSU could add two more nonconference games if suitable opponents can be arranged.