July 30, 2014
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – For 25 years, Mark Cline has been scheduling major college basketball games.
In seven stops as an assistant coach, the fifth-year Marshall aide has seen scheduling from all sides. Last week, when the Herd non-conference schedule for new Coach Dan D’Antoni’s first season was revealed, Cline got a break from scheduling, right?
“Scheduling here at Marshall is a year-round job,” Cline said in his Henderson Center office earlier this week. “It’s not easy. Some people just think you do it in the springtime and get it done, but that’s not the case.
“If you do that, you’ll have 8 or 9 games left to get. On the road recruiting this month, you work at it. When you’re running into coaches from other schools and so forth, I ask would they be interested in playing, because I know where the schedule lies, what we’ve got.
“For instance, a lot of what we have (in 2014-15) goes off the schedule so now, all of a sudden, you have a feel for how many elite games you’re going to play – and you can play up to 31 if you’re in an exempt event – and so you’re constantly looking trying to balance whether you have enough home games here at the Henderson Center, or those games coming back the following year.”
The Herd’s 13-game non-league schedule was mostly completed prior to last season. After former Coach Tom Herrion was replaced by D’Antoni – who retained Cline on the staff -- the only two additions to the schedule were home dates against non-Division I foes WVU Tech and King (Tenn.).
Cline said D’Antoni doesn’t want to play sub-Division I opponents, but there also is a financial component involved to scheduling. A low major “buy” game (no return date) in the Henderson Center might cost MU a $70,000 guarantee. A non-Division I foe might get one-tenth of that in some places.
The highlights of this season’s non-league schedule include rare home games with power conference members Penn State and South Carolina, and a date at national power Louisville that is part of the four-game Global Sports Showcase, which is one of those NCAA “exempt” events.
The Herd gets four games in that event, including home games against Jacksonville State, Savannah State and Cleveland State, but the event counts as only one game against the NCAA scheduling maximum.
“This year happened to be an anomaly because we got done so early,” Cline said. “We had so much in place, return games, either here or on road. Nevada pushed back a year, too (for a return game). When you start figuring certain things in, it’s very fortunate we got done as quick as we did.”
While Cline does most of the legwork on the Herd men’s schedule, others involved are the head coach – obviously – along with Jeff O’Malley, MU’s associated athletic director and chief of staff who oversees men’s hoops. Potential deals also are run past AD Mike Hamrick.
“When I came in with Tommy (Herrion) and took over the scheduling, the first person I talked to wasn’t Tom or Jeff, or even Mr. Hamrick,” Cline said. “The first person I talked to was Shawn Finney (former Herd assistant coach and current UCF assistant), because he did the scheduling for Donnie Jones here. Shawn could give me an idea how hard it was, and I just wanted to get a sense of what we were looking at.
“I’ve done scheduling for 25 years or so (at Fayetteville State, North Carolina A&T, Old Dominion, Virginia Tech, VCU and Oklahoma previously) and here at Marshall -- by far -- has been the toughest place to do a schedule.
“You’re trying to balance it out enough to where you can get enough home games. The hardest part – and it’s not a knock on anybody, no school in particular – is people will ask, ‘Why don’t you play a Dayton or Xavier?’ Well, they’ll play, they’ll give us money for a game there, but so far, they’re not willing to come here.
“And then you start dealing with other schools in the vicinity and then it’s always, ‘Well, we’ll start it at our place.’ We can’t start every series on the road. I think our Akron series is very good. Well, for us to get Akron to start here (in 2011-12), a four-year deal, we then had to go there for two, then back here for the fourth.
“I hope we’ll be able to keep the Akron series but I’d like a four-year deal with them, start it there, because they finished here, and then the two middle games would be here, then back at Akron.”
Cline said another reason this season’s schedule fell into place was Conference USA’s increase from 16 to 18 league games (expected to be announced before Sept. 1), leaving Marshall two fewer non-conference dates to chase. And he said while the “geography” in C-USA has become much easier for the Herd, the far-flung league also has an impact on what Marshall wants in its non-league schedule.
“We’d love to be in a position where yearly we’re playing the Wright States, Miami of Ohios, those type of people every year,” Cline said. “Eastern Kentucky is coming on the schedule (home-and-home starting at the Henderson Center in 2015-16). We will try to keep Morehead, get Ohio back, places where we actually go play games and get back here in the same night.
“There’s nothing wrong with playing at an Arkansas State or Nevada. It’s just when you’re in Conference USA, you’re going to UTEP, San Antonio, North Texas, Rice, Louisiana Tech. Travel is hard enough when you get into league play.
“Now, Western Kentucky is a bus ride, Charlotte a bus ride, Middle Tennessee. Old Dominion is closer than other schools, but it’s a 7-hour bus ride, not like going to Miami of Ohio or Ohio. Then, you want to balance it out and have a few marquee games like we have.
“We were very, very fortunate to get Penn State and South Carolina on a home-and-home. I don’t how many people realize how fortunate that was to get two power conference schools to return back to the Henderson Center. We haven’t had any (power conference schools) return back here since Virginia Tech (2006-07). If you look at how many marquee games have come back here, there are not a lot of major schools coming back.
“Really, that’s not a knock on Marshall. That should be a feather in the cap that these schools don’t want to come in here to play because of the potential for losing. We went to Cincinnati and won, and Cincinnati wanted the return game in Charleston. Well, Cincinnati didn’t want to come back to Henderson Center – not a knock on Marshall. It was just that Cincinnati didn’t want to come back and deal with 9,000 people here and the possibility of not winning the game.
“It’s a two-sided situation there. But that’s just where scheduling is. It’s another part of the smaller schools being left out of the big bowl picture in football. If you look at it on that side of it, it’s the same thing. It’s a very fickle thing. Everybody is trying to figure out a way to get to 20 wins.”
Cline said the Global Sports Shootout deal allows Marshall to get additional home dates for fewer dollars. The Herd pays a promoter – in the case of the Global event it is Maury Hanks of Las Vegas – to get into the event, rather than pay the three visiting schools. The deal was financially sweetened by Louisville from $90,000 to $130,000 when the Cardinals asked to push back a football date at Marshall from 2014 to 2016.
For next season, Cline said Marshall is in talks to play in an exempt event rooted in Las Vegas. The Herd would open with two home games, then join three other teams in Vegas for a tournament-style two dates. The potential opponents are fluid, Cline said, but could include UCF and Wyoming.
“Because of that football game movement, we got a few more dollars for Louisville to ‘buy’ us,” Cline said. “We pay so much to get into the event, and then Louisville buys us and at the end of the day, we get three home games for about the price of one, because of the fact that Louisville is giving us money back. So, it’s why we’ve tried to do one of those every year because it allows us a few more home games for fewer dollars.”
Cline said the Herd “would love” to go to one of the early season marquee tournaments in Hawaii, the Bahamas, Virgin Islands or Orlando, Fla., but it is not financially feasible because of the travel costs and the fact that Marshall could not recoup those dates with home games.
He also said the Herd tries to schedule wisely in terms of no-return guarantee games. Cline said D’Antoni was intrigued by scheduling offers from Tennessee and LSU for the upcoming season, but neither of the SEC schools would return the date.
“It depends on where you are,” Cline said, using his coaching stop prior to Marshall as an example. “In four years at Oklahoma, we bought seven games a year – 28 games, and we lost one. Syracuse doesn’t play a non-conference game away from the Carrier Dome unless it’s a neutral site or one of those big TV events.
“We have eight home games (in the non-conference schedule). It’s not easy. I just make the phone calls see if teams want to play, or they call me. If I like the game, I pass it on and asked Tom before and Dan now if he wanted to do this.
“I see Jeff O’Malley usually every day and if somebody has called, I’ll ask him what he thinks about this or that. There’s a lot to consider. When I was at Old Dominion, we played home-and-home with Texas Tech. Well, we didn’t mind making a trip like that, because we were in the Colonial (Athletic Association) then, and our league games were short trips like VCU, Richmond, William & Mary, George Mason, James Madison, East Carolina.”
Cline said he thinks the Herd’s scheduling philosophy “will change some because Dan doesn’t want to play any ‘non-ones’ (Division I). At the same time, does that mean we play more in the middle of the pack or do we play more teams where we have go get bought? Take LSU and Tennessee for this year; I know Dan wanted to play them on the initial side, but I know they weren’t returning a game here. They were straight buys.”
Teams get no RPI credit for playing non-Division I opponents. Cline pointed out that while conferences don’t want their teams playing teams ranked in the bottom 100 (of 351) of the RPI, even a win over a bad low major team counts for something in the RPI.
My whole thing is, when we went to the NIT in Tom’s regime, we had an RPI in the top 40 but we still didn’t get an NCAA bid,” Cline said. “We played all Division I teams. The reason we didn’t get a bid wasn’t our non-conference; it was because we finished (tied for) sixth in the conference.
Now, you start talking this year, the teams we play, when you start looking at our non-league schedule, it’s very, very challenging. The teams we play outside the power conferences, we’re not playing the bottom-tier teams in their leagues.”
Cline said that despite various comments and reports otherwise, he has no indication that West Virginia wants to quit playing the Herd in the annual Capital Classic at the Charleston Civic Center.
“It’s a year-to-year deal,” the Herd assistant coach said. “Out recruiting, I’ve talked to (WVU) Coach (Bob) Huggins, and I know he’s for the game, likes the game. He’s a proponent of the game.
“The change of it, people complain about going from January back to December, well, it kind of helps Marshall as well. I know our people don’t like it as much, but you’re not in the middle of league play now … same thing with West Virginia in the Big 12.
“It’s the most-heated rivalry of them all, for both schools. I know WVU may build a rivalry with Texas or Oklahoma or Kansas, and we may get one with ODU or Western Kentucky or Charlotte, but when you get right down to it, those still don’t compare to Marshall-West Virginia.
“And if it’s in January, you have to squeeze it into your open week, and you get down to your open week being one of the biggest games of the season in the middle of conference play. That doesn’t help.”
Right now, Cline said the Herd – for 2015-16 – only has a date at Morehead State and home games with Akron and Eastern Kentucky. WVU is an annual renewal. MU is talking with promoters about the Vegas exempt event, and Cline said there also has been “discussions” with Miami (Ohio).
“From this year, Jacksonville State, Savannah State, Louisville, Cleveland State, South Carolina, Penn State, Arkansas State and Nevada and the two non-ones go off the schedule,” Cline said. “We’ve got a lot of work to do.”