Well, not quite. Kansas State will take on Northern Iowa, South Dakota, Auburn-Montgomery and Wisconsin-Parkside. UAB will face Roosevelt, Chico (Calif.) State, Utica (N.Y.) College, and Mississippi Valley State. Even Blazer Coach Gene Bartow admits, "We do have some dogs."
Though Notre Dame plays all the usual famous suspects, what about the others, Digger Phelps? Northern Illinois, Valparaiso, Idaho, Maine, Northern Iowa? "Hey, Idaho was third in shooting percentage last year and has three starters back," Phelps says. "I want 14 power games, 11 got-to-win games and two others that can go either way but aren't considered power games. If you win 50% of your power games and all the rest, you have a 20-victory season. It's called marketing." It's also called power-mongering.
Villanova Coach Rollie Massimino speaks for most coaches when he defines the happy medium of scheduling. "I think as a means of trying to get wins, people do schedule wins," he says. "Either by giving big money guarantees to get a certain number of built-in home-court wins or by playing small schools. But you can't play 26 top teams. Either you'd be exhausted or you wouldn't have a chance to qualify for the tournament."
Massimino likes his teams to play in big cities, in warm weather, where his athletes can get "educational exposure." Huh? "I call it the Wheel of Fortune," he says. "You need wins. How do you get wins? You've got to have the players. How do you get players? You've got to get exposure. How do you get exposure? You play on television. You appear on television, you make money. You make money, you can recruit. You recruit well, you win. It's the Wheel of Fortune.' Massimino will prepare the Wildcats for their Dec. 4 clash against Boston College by playing Merrimack and St. Francis. And people criticize Larry Holmes?
"My ideal schedule would be 15 home games with a split on the road between league and non-league games," says West Virginia Coach Gale Catlett. "At least three of those road games should be against 'quality' opponents. But you have to prepare for your league opponents, so 'breathers' have to be fitted into the schedule. This year's schedule is more difficult than the ones I had in my first three years here." With the terrifying likes of St. Leo's, Robert Morris, Wisconsin-Superior, Youngstown State and Stetson currently on the West Virginia log, it is mind-boggling to consider the decrepitude of the Mountaineers' schedule last season when Dr. Gordon Wise, the marketing and hoops expert from Wright State in Dayton, rated Catlett's schedule the 214th strongest in the land.
Louisville Coach Denny Crum says he schedules the toughest teams he can find. "You've got to get the kinds of teams you'll meet in the NCAA tournament," Crum says. North Carolina's Smith says he schedules a "difficult December," the better to learn what his team must work on before the wrenching ACC season begins. Yet here again, a fine line. Kentucky Athletic Director Cliff Hagan points out, "You need one or two teams you can beat at home without even having to return the game. For teams like that we'll pay a little extra money. Coach [Joe B. Hall] needs to catch his breath by not having to play a top-five team every game."
This is known as buying a victory. Washington State Coach George Raveling once called up Ben Jobe of the University of Denver to ask Jobe to play in Pullman, Wash. Jobe said sure, but he wanted a $10,000 guarantee. "If we're going to sell a win," Jobe said, "we want to be well paid for it." The game never made the schedule.
"There are always ambitious teams that want to play you at your place to break into the national spotlight," says Raveling. "U.S. International in California [ San Diego] will play four games a week on the road. That team puts on more miles than United Airlines. I guarantee they know the names of a lot of skycaps. People probably call them and ask when the next flight is leaving for Kansas.
"There's an art to scheduling," continues the Rave. "My usual rule is only one road game per season against non-conference schools. That way you never schedule yourself out of a job. What you should do is win 18 or 19 games a season. That allows the fans to get excited about what might happen if you win 20. Once you hit that 20 plateau, though, they start to expect too much and you can be gone. [In his last six seasons Raveling has averaged 18 victories.] There are a lot of guys working for McDonald's now who played the top teams in the country. The name of the game is survival. A good schedule lets you survive."
Another rule is: Any team can find any excuse to play anywhere. Last season South Carolina and Florida State switched their game to Miami so they could watch the Seminole football team play in the Orange Bowl. The Gamecocks also saw the Orange Bowl parade. "How many times does a basketball coach get to see a bowl game?" says South Carolina's Bill Foster. "That's what I consider good scheduling."