Tuesday, February 20, 2007

BC's Schedule and Other Thoughts

The number of people that find this post interesting might fit in a phone booth, but I have a friend of mine who was whining the other day about BC dropping Holy Cross from its schedule and ending a long series rivalry, a topic covered by Bob Ryan in the Boston Globe last year. My friend took the position that BC is "afraid" to schedule the Crusaders because they are a solid mid-major team that could give the Eagles trouble. In support, he pointed to their RPI, which is around 60.

As a threshold matter, HC's RPI has been elevated principally by playing (and losing) to the likes of Duke, Syracuse and Providence, that's how the RPI works. But RPI really has nothing to do with it. Schedules are pretty formulaic. Big time programs play their conference schedule, plus 2-3 big time programs out of conference, and then fill in the balance with area schools of lesser caliber, i.e. mid-majors. Everyone does that. This year, BC plays their 16 conference games, plus Kansas, Michigan State and Providence. After that, three A-10 programs (UMass, URI, Duquesne) requiring home-and-home contracts, plus 7 mid-majors. Holy Cross is one of the mid-majors. As a practical matter, I make no distinction between them and the other 6. That was my point in response to his. The fact that the two schools have played for a long time does not mean that there is a "rivalry," it just means that there was a rivalry once upon a time, the last vestiges of which were in the 1970s. There is no rivalry now; as is well-documented, BC and HC went in very different directions when HC declined a bid to the Big East in 1981. They continued the series as a matter of geographical convenience.

The notion that BC is "scared" of Holy Cross is laughable. Playing HC is fraught with the same risk of playing any other schedule-filling mid-major: the occasional upset is very damaging to BC (see Vermont), whereas it does nothing for the mid-major (no resume boost b/c only the conference winner gets the NCAA bid). Accordingly, HC poses no greater or lesser danger to BC than the rest of the mid-majors on BC's slate. Indeed, if BC dropped HC out of fear, why would they use the slot to pick up a home and home series against Kansas? And why would BC schedule three local A-10 teams who come from a much better conference and are far more dangerous? If it were just about the Ws, I'd rather have BC drop URI than HC for instance.

Furthermore, if you look at BC's schedules over the past few years, they are clearly just rotating the local schools in and out of those 6-7 available mid-major slots. For example, they played Holy Cross, Maine, Yale, New Hampshire, Harvard and BU in 2005. Then they played Holy Cross, Sacred Heart, Harvard and Dartmouth in 2006 (the schedule was truncated by the Las Vegas tourney). This year they played Yale, New Hampshire, Vermont, Sacred Heart, Hartford, Northeastern, & Fairfield (I'm sure scheduling Northeastern and Fairfield over HC had something to do with Skinner's old assistants being first year head coaches at those schools). As for some of those other teams' competitiveness, Northeastern memorably knocked off BC a few years ago, Harvard beat them in 2000, and Yale took BC to double-overtime in 2005. BC hasn't hesitated putting them back on the schedule for "fear" of losing to them.

If the real reason is not just rotation but that the HC games had gotten increasingly chippy over the past few years (Ryan's theory), can you blame BC for dropping the game? There are probably 20 mid-major D-1 programs in New England eager to play the Eagles, and all BC needs to fill its schedule is take 6-7 of them. Programs like HC are, in other words, a dime a dozen. So all things being equal, if the BC-HC games were indeed devolving into heated affairs (and that is my recollection), it made sense to take a break, especially in a year that Skinner wanted to schedule his former assistants Bill Coen and Ed Cooley.

Parenthetically, I think this year's non-conference schedule has proven to be the toughest in memory for BC. Kansas is Kansas, Providence is 17-9 and in the hunt for a tourney bid after beating No. 18 West Virginia tonight , Michigan State just upset No. 2 Wisconsin, UMass and URI are battling for the A-10 lead, Vermont is in the RPI Top 100 and leading the America East Conference, and even Duquesne is respectable, sitting in the middle of the pack of the A-10. In fact, right now, 15 of BC's 24 opponents have a very good chance at either an automatic bid or an at-large bid to the NCAA tourney. I know it's been a topsy turvy year for BC, but if you take a good hard look at who they've played, you gotta feel pretty good about 18-8. Let's hope the Selection Committee feels the same way.

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