Puck Swami: DU and the Elusive Art of Sports Scheduling in Denver

desk calendar with days and dates in July 2016, flip the calendar page

Sports scheduling for the Denver Pioneers, in all sports, is often an elusive and frustrating exercise.

Being located in Denver is the largest problem, as playing here requires plane rides and hotel stays for all but a handful of DU’s D-I opponents, which is tough for non-revenue sports. We don’t have the exact figures, but it’s probably a safe bet that about 85% of DU’s opponents must fly here to play us, and likewise, DU needs to fly its own mostly non-revenue sports teams to 85% of its opponents — a dynamic that puts a lot of pressure on athletic budgets and eliminates many opponents for cost reasons.

Then there is the mile-high altitude here, a factor that still scares a number of opposing coaches from flatter places. For example, in 2004, the University of Virginia men’s lacrosse team, ranked #1 nationally at the time, came out here to play both DU and Air Force, and lost both games. The Cavaliers’ coach publicly blamed the altitude for their stumbles, and the Cavaliers have not appeared on the DU home schedule since then. Who knows how many other opposing coaches privately loathe our altitude?

There is also the reality that even though DU is successful in a number of sports, many of the big time schools from power conferences prefer to play more home games to raise more revenue for themselves. They don’t play many non-league “mid-majors” on the road because they just don’t have to do so. This makes it much harder for DU to schedule brand name schools in some sports, particularly in basketball. For example, Stanford basketball agreed to play DU in Denver a few years ago only once, in return for three home games in Palo Alto, Calif. (against DU). And many big time schools just won’t play here at all…

There are also times where big time schools finally do schedule DU in Denver, and then break their agreements when better opportunities come along. For example, the University of Michigan, which hasn’t played at DU in hockey since 1980, was finally scheduled to play here this fall. But at the last minute, Michigan backed out of signing the contract on the two-game series, instead scheduling Vermont at home in Ann Arbor, Mich. to gain extra home revenue. Not only did the Pioneers lose a marquee home opponent and two games of home revenue, but now DU is having a very hard time filling the unexpected hole in their schedule, which are made years in advance, which is one of the reasons why this year’s hockey schedule still hasn’t been released as of June 15.

Which brings me to the good news of this little piece — and that is the masterful scheduling that DU soccer coach Jamie Franks and his staff were able to secure for the upcoming 2018 season. DU will play a record eight NCAA tournament teams from last season to help build the Pioneers’ RPI this year. Perhaps more importantly, DU will play 11 home games, many of them against schools you’ve actually heard of, such as the University of Washington, Colgate, San Francisco and Harvard, with additional road games against SMU, Virginia, Maryland, Stanford and Creighton, to name a few. There are also games against top soccer schools like North Florida, St. Louis, Tulsa and Monmouth, to go along with the usual Summit League games. DU was able to schedule all of these because the Pioneers are expected to be a national top 25 program next season. And with shutouts of Northwestern and Creighton this past spring in practice games, there is reason to be optimistic that the Pioneers can be in the hunt for another trip to the NCAA College Cup by season’s end.  This Twitter quote from DU soccer coach Jamie Franks said it all:

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Let’s hope that some of the other DU sports can schedule as well as DU soccer has this year!

Big-time opponents elevate not only schedules, but the entire perception of our school.  

Go Pios!

Puck Swami is the Internet moniker of a long-time DU fan and alumnus. He shares his views here periodically here at LetsGoDU.com