Pioneers should take the tough road

DU is coming off a brutal seven-game road stretch. I’d argue that this should be the norm this time of year for DU during their non-conference schedule.

Ideally, with a 13 game non-conference schedule, DU should play only 4 games at Magness, 5 road games against power conference foes, and 4 games against mid-major on the road. 

With the University virtually closed from the week of Thanksgiving until early January, it is nearly impossible to play in front of large crowds while building a profitable basketball brand. According to Mike Davis, head coach of mid-major program Texas Southern “To have a home game, you’ve gotta pay the officials $4,000-$5,000. The people (working the scorers’) table are another $2,500. So, in order to have a home game, we’ve gotta clear $10,000. We’re not gonna clear $10,000. And I don’t want to waste my time playing NAIA teams. If we play a lower team, nobody’s gonna come in and see that. The math is simple.” DU has other expenses such as the conversion of the Magness from hockey to basketball and back again. No one is in town during late November thru December and many of the visiting teams have little or no relevance to regional basketball fans.

According to College AD, Texas Southern is going to earn a whopping $90,000 to travel and play Arizona this year. That gives the program additional operating cash, covers travel expenses, three quality meals per day, and top notch lodging while leaving extra cash for the program to reinvest in their program. The influx not only gives their program greater visibility, the players can travel and train in style.

If you are a competitive athlete, you welcome the opportunity to play large programs in large venues.

DU could secure big paydays ($40,000 – $90,000) for road games against power five conference schools while building strength-of-schedule and visibility at the same time. If DU basketball played Oklahoma State, Cal, Nebraska, Texas Tech, and Georgetown on the road and could win just one of those games, they would get more press in Denver than they would if they managed to go undefeated against fellow mid-major teams during their non-conference schedule.What about the brand value of playing power-five teams in cities where Denver has

What about the brand value of playing power-five teams in cities where Denver has large alumni and future student bases such as Atlanta (Georgia Tech) or Minneapolis (University of Minnesota Twin Cities)?

Fellow Summit League program Omaha took down Iowa in Iowa City several weeks ago…Why shouldn’t DU travel to Ames or Lincoln in the future?

It’s unrealistic to count on large basketball power programs to travel to Denver and play the Pioneers consistently. Generally, larger programs are reluctant to travel to a mid-major for a number of reasons – both financial and reputational. Even 2 for 1 home and away arrangements, popular in the past, are falling out of favor with large programs. Plus, the growth of holiday neutral-court tournaments (Hawaii, Orlando, Las Vegas, the Bahamas and big cities like New York ) is limiting the flexibility and willingness of many large programs to travel to face smaller programs for one-off games.

With the proposed 4 (mid-major road)- 5 (major road)- 4 (mid-major home) schedule, the Pioneers would still be playing eight of their pre-conference games against mid-majors. Assuming they play well, their preseason record does not need to be poor heading into Summit League play and they also would have the experience of playing some great teams with a chance at an upset or two and an improved RPI.

Sure this year’s road trip to Texas A&M was a mismatch but followed with two mid-major road wins, the Pios have shown no ill effects from the trip. Expect DU’s talent and cohesiveness to continue to improve over the next few years.

This year’s team has shown that the long winter break and a heavy road schedule can actually bring the team together, even on the road.

5 thoughts on “Pioneers should take the tough road”

  1. Interesting concept, Tim. I like the idea of DU going on more payday (bodybag?) road trips against big brand name teams, especially when we can generate some DU alumni and fan interest at those games, especially games close to or in major cities – NY, Boston, Philadelphia, Washington, Detroit, Atlanta, Chicago, Milwaukee Twin Cities, Dallas, Houston, LA, SF, Portland, Seattle, etc.

    While you are right that DU campus is dead when the students are away during the winter break, I would imagine that DU needs to play enough home games each year to make the season ticket package financially viable to keep local fan interest. DU doesn’t yet generate any profit on hoops, and likely won’t do so until they can average 4,000ish or so paying fans per home game, plus whatever else they can make on guarantee games, although DU also has to pay out our own (smaller) non-league guarantees to fill out its own schedule.

    Eight Summit League home games are a given, almost all most of which fall in January and February with the students on campus. That leaves five other home games this season, and I’m sure DU would rather have seven or eight of them, but given Joe Scott’s firing, i know they had to scramble a bit just to schedule the non-league home games they got.

    It’s too bad that CSU and CU won’t play us regularly anymore. At least UNC and Wyoming still will, and Air Force hasn’t played in Denver in while. Would like to see them also see if they can get some more name brand schools into Magness, even if the big boys won’t ever come here. DU has had some Pac-12 teams in Magness (Stanford, Oregon State, Cal, etc.) before, as well as some Ivies, and some good mid-majors here too. (St. Joseph’s, Belmont, St. Mary’s, Iona, etc.) Maybe the Pios could get some fellow decently-known privates (DePaul, Drake, Tulsa, SMU, TCU, etc.) to come here, as well as regional schools such as Utah State, UNM, UTEP, etc.

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  2. Puck Swami covered a lot of my thoughts. I think we definitely need to have more than four home OOC games, I was a little frustrated in purchasing season tickets this year that there were only five.

    I definitely agree that we should try to play as many road games against top teams as we can though. The simple fact of the matter is that the Summit is a one bid league, why not take your lumps, make some money, and improve your RPI, so maybe if you win the conference tournament you’re a 13 seed instead of a 15 seed.

    Oh, and I do have to make one correction – Omaha beat Iowa in Iowa City, although they also did play Iowa State in Ames. I know this only because I’m originally from Iowa and the Hawkeyes are my favorite team (with Denver now a close second!) 😦

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    1. You are right Chris – I looked that up and thought I had “Iowa City” – I am an old BiG Eight guy – maybe that explains Ames…I like the games against power teams, too. More likely to generate excitement before the conference games start.

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  3. In the profession, a brand name school having a program like DU visit for basketball is known as “buying a win”. I love the idea of us playing perennial basketball top 50 programs. It keeps us flush in the money and every now and then, you garner a win. ( Northeastern @ Michigan State in the past few days) App St. probably got $1,000,000 for beating Michigan a few years ago in football.
    In college basketball, a school need not be in a power 5 conference to be considered a power conference team. The American Athletic, Missouri Valley, Big East, West Coast, and Mountain West conferences are all accustomed to getting multiple teams in the NCAA Tournament. Multiple bid leagues are a big key in the perception of a League. Nothing small time about having UConn, Wichita State, Villanova, Gonzaga, and UNLV being final four participants.

    Okay I admit it. I just detest the term mid-major. It’s a term made popular by the media. Go ask a basketball player at Princeton or URI how he enjoys playing mid-major college basketball.

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    1. I love mid-major hoops, however you want to tag it. Big East is most certainly a power conference in hoops. The AAC consistently qualifies as well. West Coast is year to year and Mountain West and Missouri Valley as a whole are taking their lumps the past two seasons.

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