In the slightest sense of normalcy in the era of COVID-19, the Atlantic 10 held their (virtual) Spring Meetings early this week. Typically, this is an opportunity for coaches, administrators, and other A-10 folks to gather and hash out the future issues of the A-10 future.
Much of that remained the same, except they didn’t gather in Virginia as they usually do, they Zoomed.
We got some insight as to what the conversations in those virtual calls looked like Thursday and some answers as to how the next athletics year will look. We found out that in seven sports, conference schedules will be reduced by 25%. Championship tournaments in those sports will be confined to four teams, and we learned that the schedules for these sports will be more regionalized to limit travel where possible.
On the basketball front, the Men’s game will hold its Media Day virtually. Both men’s and women’s basketball will retain the same 18-game and 16-game schedule, despite recent rumors that a 20-game men’s schedule was a topic of discussion.
As of today, these all seem like rational and measured moves to make. Short-term sacrifices that still allow for change later should they need it but takes nothing off the table prematurely. It will undoubtedly be a change to those involved, and someone will feel slighted when it happens, but compromise is required in a pandemic.
Saint Louis University though, is put in a unique pickle now. Already as the lonely midwestern island in a dominant east coast conference. The task of “limiting travel” is virtually impossible. With only Dayton to serve a reasonable refuge, taking air travel to games will be a requirement.
The task of understanding just how to “limit travel” and how that may practically function is multi-faceted.
How do you travel (approximately) 819 miles multiple times responsibly? Surely using commercial air travel at that rate isn’t the answer. However, in the current economic state and a state that will undoubtedly impact the universities’ budget for non-revenue sports for years to come, flying private flights may become an unviable solution. Bussing or ground travel of any nature that distance multiple times sounds cruel to the students.
While at this point, there has been no announcement on how the travel initiative may or will impact the basketball seasons of ether sport. Let’s, for the sake of this conversation, assume it will. I am also going to assume that barring a significant turn for the better, games will be played without spectators.
The only way to both reasonably and responsibly get the Billikens out east multiple times this sports season is to build a schedule that maximizes opportunities of competition for visits to each center and accept that local ground travel will simply be a part of life.
The A10 is lucky in the sense that most of their teams are centralized into particular areas. There are four programs in Virginia, a pair in Philadelphia, and a trio in a relative driving distance in Fordham, UMass, and Rhode Island. While the likes of SLU, Davidson, Dayton, St Bonaventure, and Duquesne (ish) are in centers of their own, the east coast nature of all but SLU and Dayton make their problem more solvable.
To function most efficiently and effectively, all of SLU’s teams, basketball included, must be asked to play almost all of their road games in road series and on short rest. Staying on the road is a necessary requirement of play, but limited time on the road will be crucial. The soccer team may be asked to play three games in five days, field hockey playing four times in five days. The baseball team will almost certainly be asked to routinely, or exclusively play double-headers each and every time they travel.
One game in-and-outs would have to be off the table. While I am not privy to insider knowledge of the financial situation at SLU, or within the athletic department, it is public knowledge that SLU expects a 20-million-dollar deficit this year, with upwards of 75 million dollars in losses next year. Financially and logistically, it is no longer feasible to drop in for one game. Especially for non-revenue sports.
Basketball, and particularly the Men’s team, though presents a different kind of situation. This may go without saying, but the men’s team accounts for most of the athletic department’s revenue and thus is given luxuries others are not. That being said, as mentioned earlier, compromise is required in a pandemic. Some of those luxuries may have to be paused or altered for the greater good of the institution.
If the Billikens Men’s basketball pairings are impacted by regionalization and considering travel into scheduling, the Billikens will be in for an interesting season.
When the information from the spring meeting was released yesterday (Thursday, May 14th) via an official press release. I theorized as to potential matchups the Bills may be assigned, with travel limitations in consideration.
The rationale behind the construction of this matchup set is to maximize opponents in a particular area. If there is no partner for the Billikens to drive to in an area, then an away game is not viable there. In my arbitrary view, I set the drivable cap at 3ish hours.
The Virginia programs, in particular, seem like a must with Richmond, VCU, George Mason, and George Washington in driving distance of each other. Fordham and UMass are within my range. As are the Philadelphia based Saint Josephs and La Salle. Dayton, I made a driving exception as the drive is just over 5 hours from St. Louis.
I’ve made that drive, it’s not so bad.
I don’t see how Duquesne, Davidson, or Bonaventure are feasible in this circumstance. They are simply too isolated. These are problems they will face all as well, SLU is clear the most isolated. But in this SLU centric discussion, we won’t wain to far.
I am expecting my predication to be wrong here though on. I am mostly expecting inconsistencies considering I took no one else’s potential schedule issues into account. St Bonaventure, Davidson, and Dayton will need similar provisions. I am also asking in this case, or maybe assuming that the Bills will be ok with (or perhaps forced into) bussing places to save on travel expenses. Already I could see a road/home swap with Bonaventure and Rhode Island (SLU visits URI while already there for UMass), simply to help the Bonnies out with the same problem SLU will face, but beyond that, it’s a guess for me.
This idea, or theory maybe, will exceedingly complicated to organize. Finding dates to make this work exclusively for SLU will be challenging, making it work for everyone would be excruciatingly painful.
However, it has become more apparent that next season would be a challenge no matter what, this is just part of it. It was always going to take creativity to get this done.