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:


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

11 thoughts on “Puck Swami: DU and the Elusive Art of Sports Scheduling in Denver”

  1. Michigan can kiss my crimson ass. I hope Vermont sweeps them. I didn’t know the scheduling was so involved. Being a casual fan, I just thought someone at the NCAA oversees the scheduling. Picking and choosing your opponents can impact the pairwise, no? They shouldn’t have the “option” to come here. They just shouldn’t. So what the hell is DU going to do that weekend? Celebrity car wash outside Joy Burns? Or are we going to have to play the UNC Bears DIII team?


    1. All non-league scheduling is done by the schools themselves, not the NCAA, and that is true in all of college sports. The non-league hockey schedule is typically agreed 2-4 years ahead of time, by verbal agreements between the schools, with the contracts and guarantees coming later.

      For example, Wisconsin agreed to a five figure guarantee (to pay) DU to visit the Badgers for a series this season, and that guarantee is likely to be repaid by DU (back to Wisconsin) if/when the Badgers next visit Denver (likely by 2021). Sometimes the guarantees are straight-up payments with no return engagement. The Michigan/DU scenario is unusual.

      DU is usually among the first 5 schools to release its schedule each Spring, but not this year…DU is probably frantically trying to fill the hole, as NCAA teams are allowed to play 34 games during the regular season, not including conference postseason tournaments and the NCAA tournament. Some in-season tournaments, special games and games played in Alaska are exempted from the 34-game limit. Obviously, playing Michigan would have been a big pairwise opportunity that is now gone, as well as a chance for two sellout crowds at DU, which is a big revenue opportunity, as each sellout home game at DU is likely worth somewhere north of $150,000 (6,000 seats times a $25 ticket average).

      The NCHC obviously handles the league schedule, but the schools have some flexibility say in that process, as they submit the open dates they have for their arenas, school breaks, etc.


  2. Minnesota-Mankato has a free weekend in November I think. Perhaps our old friends, the mavs, will come back for an old school retro-wcha weekend. What’s up with Cornell, too? Would love to take them to the woodshed again


  3. It’s not really as much about the open bye weeks as it is about full schedules at the NCAA limit. For example, MSUM already has a 36 game schedule already out for this year which is already at the NCAA outside limit (34 games plus two extra exempt games for MSU’s trip to Fairbanks, Alaska for a total of 36 games). Cornell’s schedule is also out already, and it is already at 30 games, but I believe the Ivy League does not allow it’s teams to schedule the full 34 game limit that the NCAA allows for academic reasons (All the Ivies all start a bit later later in October than the other NCAA teams do)…


  4. In current hockey news, DU had four future Pios taken in the recent NHL draft…And the best 4 year student-athlete in recent times at DU was named to the NHL All-Rookie Team…just thought i’d help out with your lack of substantial hockey reporting. 🤬


    1. Start your own blog, I’m sure it will be wildly successful and you can write whatever articles you want. Give the guys a break, it’s the summer and things are slow.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Speaking of summer – you know what’s funny? I went to a Colorado Rockies game recently and saw some schmuck wearing a CC Tigers Hockey T-shirt. And I was like, hey – didn’t we kick CC’s ass in a hockey game right down there on that very same baseball field once? That’s funny ain’t it? Middle of summer or middle of winter, CC’s suckness always rears it’s ugly head. That’s funny.


    1. If there was ever a year for the Gold Pan going south, this upcoming year is the likely one. CC will likely have the best top line in all of college hockey next year in Nick Halloran, Mason Bergh and Trey Bradley. CC will also be a very experienced team as well, and we all saw the leap the Tigers made last year. Yes, CC sucked for a while, but Havilland has turned that bunch into a likely contender.

      The Pios on the other hand will be a very young team with 20 freshmen and sophomores next year,

      The most interesting twist about the rivalry this year is that DU won’t play CC until January (no fall games). This should give DU’s young players a little bit better chance to grow into college level players before they meet CC.


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