Same-season home-and-home series can ease DI scheduling task
Omaha-Cal State Fullerton, Abilene Christian-Charleston Southern and South Dakota State-Idaho really aren't games fans are demanding to see once, never mind twice.
But with home games hard to secure for low- and mid-major Division I teams, playing two games against the same nonconference opponent in the same season has become a viable option. More than two dozen same-season home-and-home nonconference series were scheduled for 2016-17.
''Schools have a hard time procuring home games whether because of geographic proximity or success on your home court or cost factors associated with travel,'' South Dakota State coach T.J. Otzelberger said. ''What you're seeing are more and more teams willing to play the same team two times in a year.''
Tennessee Tech actually scheduled two opponents, Lipscomb and Alabama A&M, twice, and coach Steve Payne said he would have played a third nonconference opponent twice if it had been the right fit.
''You want to win games, and it's proven 66 percent of the time the home team wins,'' Payne said. ''Everybody has to fill out a schedule and nobody wants to be on the road the entire nonconference.''
Though these matchups are largely borne out of desperation, coaches say there is no downside.
Scheduling two games for the same season instead of a home-and-home over two or more years eliminates the potentially deal-breaking back-and-forth about where the first game will be played. In a same-season two-game series, the site of the first game doesn't matter much because both games will match up the same personnel and it won't knock each school's number of home games out of balance.
Playing twice also simulates the home-and-home structure of conference play. Teams get accustomed to making adjustments based off what happens in the first meeting and try to execute them in the second.
Budgetary concerns require low- and mid-major teams to play a few road games each season against high-major opponents that pay them guarantees, with the going rate about $90,000. After that, the low- and mid-major teams try to find opponents similar to them to round out their nonconference schedules.
The degree of difficulty is greater for teams that have knocked off bigger programs. When Omaha was transitioning from Division II to Division I, coaches from all levels of Division I called offering to play the Mavericks. After Omaha won at Marquette two years ago, the phone didn't ring nearly as much. The Mavericks are in their second season as full-fledged Division I members.
''We have to make all the phone calls now,'' said coach Derrin Hansen, whose team probably added to its future scheduling difficulties by winning at Iowa this month.
Omaha along with four other teams in the far-flung Summit League each have scheduled two nonconference games against the same opponent this season. The most natural of these is North Dakota State-North Dakota. The two used to be conference rivals, but North Dakota State is now in the Summit and North Dakota in the Big Sky. They are in the first season of a four-year contract that has them playing twice a season.
''When you're in Fargo, North Dakota, and you've had some success, getting home games is a difficult task,'' coach Dave Richman said. ''From a budget standpoint, it's 75 miles (to Grand Forks), so we go up the day of the game, and the bus cost is all it entails.''
And the fans?
''They probably enjoy it a little bit,'' Richman said. ''We had 5,000 in here last Wednesday, and I would expect a good crowd up there (Friday) night.''
The oddest same-season home-and-home set might have been between Abilene Christian and Charleston Southern.
''Neither of us could finish our schedule, so we just decided to play twice,'' Charleston Southern coach Barclay Radebaugh said.
The teams from schools almost 1,200 miles apart put on good shows. In Abilene, Texas, Charleston Southern won 66-65 to finish a comeback from a 17-point second-half deficit. In Charleston, South Carolina, Abilene Christian rallied from seven points down in the final 19 seconds of regulation and won 85-82 in overtime.
''Sometimes guarantee games don't prepare you as much because in our league you don't face that kind of size and athleticism,'' said Radebaugh, whose team is in the Big South. ''So games like Abilene Christian greatly benefit us with preparation for league play. While I would have preferred to win both games, looking big picture, I thought it really benefited us this year.''
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