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Interesting piece on RPI and guaranteed money budg

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College basketball scheduling remains a mystery

By Emily Badger

The Orlando Sentinel

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — If Abbott and Costello tackled the unnerving topic of the college basketball RPI with the same illogic they once brought to a baseball diamond, it would go something like this: ``See, you're missing the point,'' Florida State Coach Leonard Hamilton was saying.

``You can't make heads or tails of this. So what I'm saying to you is some of these schedules are much more difficult than schedules rated higher.''

Like most coaches, Hamilton currently is finalizing his schedule for the 2006-07 season, and on his desk were a couple of pages of research — a comparison of Connecticut's non-conference schedule in 2004-05 to what it was in 2005-06, and more comparisons of FSU's schedule this past season with those of Hofstra, Missouri State and Georgia Mason.

His point was that none of this RPI stuff made any sense.

``And so you cannot allow yourself to get caught up in it,'' Hamilton said.

Then why all the research?

``The end result of the information I've gathered is it's a moving target,'' Hamilton said.

Didn't he know that?

``I didn't know it was this bad,'' he said.

So, what now?

``What we have to do is worry about the things we can control,'' he said.

Isn't the schedule something you can control?

``Obviously if you looked at this like I did,'' Hamilton said, pointing at the papers on his desk, ``you'd say, `How are you going to make a schedule when it's clear this schedule is much different than this one?'''

That's what we thought we were asking in the first place.

Hamilton has a $516,000 budget this season to lure non-conference opponents to town. His schedule must get his team — one that lost its second-leading scorer to the NBA and its most-touted recruit to cocaine-possession charges — ready for the always-tough ACC slate. He's under pressure to stay away from the kind of lightweight, home-heavy schedule that helped keep the Seminoles out of the NCAA Tournament in March. And he also has to please his athletic director and the conference, and worry about TV considerations and the league's reputation.

Amid this, Hamilton is more confused than ever about the RPI, which was recalculated before the 2004-05 season to give more weight to road games.

FSU's non-conference strength of schedule this past season ranked 316th of 334 Division I programs, and the Seminoles (19-9) wound up in the NIT. So did Colorado (20-9), at 271st, and Hofstra (24-6), at 281st.

Colorado is putting the finishing touches on a 2006-07 schedule that will include road games against UNC-Wilmington, Wyoming, TCU and Utah.

``It's significantly different,'' Colorado AD Mike Bohn said of the program's upcoming schedule and its new scheduling strategy.

In Bohn's eyes, there's nothing particularly mystifying about what the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee wants. But some programs finishing up their non-conference schedules haven't shelved their suspicion about the new RPI formula and who it may favor.

``It sure had an effect on how we approached our schedule,'' Virginia Tech Coach Seth Greenberg said. ``You can't be ignorant to change. You watched the Missouri Valley and the success they had in creating RPIs; obviously, they figured it out.

``We were behind the curve, and certain conferences were ahead of the curve.''

MVC Commissioner Doug Elgin laughs at that suggestion.

``We've broken the code!'' he said. ``We have! There's a secret formula!''

ACC coaches suggested as much this spring when they lamented that the MVC was given three NCAA at-large bids — the same number as the ACC — not because three teams deserved to go, but because the conference successfully played the RPI.

The tweaked formula benefits programs that play a significant number of non-conference games on the road. And mid-majors historically have played more road games than the big boys — largely because they have to. The MVC did nothing new last season.

``There are no secrets in college basketball,'' Elgin said. ``When you look at the committee's evaluation, there are no secrets and there is no place to hide once your resume is complete. They know who you played, where you played and the result of your games.''

The sticky problem is where everyone is playing.

``They refuse to play us in our own buildings, and now they think the playing surface isn't even,'' Rick Boyages, associate commissioner in the Mid-American Conference, said of the power leagues. ``It's absolutely ridiculous when you understand how difficult it is for our conferences to schedule.''

FSU this past season played Alcorn State, Louisiana-Monroe, Texas Southern, Stetson and Campbell at home; all were ``guarantee'' games. Power-league programs such as FSU don't offer non-conference opponents home-and-home series but instead cut a one-time check to bring likely victories to town.

``They learned their lesson, and they'll put together a better non-conference schedule,'' Boyages said of FSU. ``But the question is will they play more non-conference road games?''

``Guarantee'' games have evolved into a high-stakes necessary evil criticized from all corners of college basketball.

Greenberg talked about the ``extortion'' tactics smaller schools use in holding out for guarantees as high as $90,000 a game. Houston Coach Tom Penders, on the other hand, accused deep-pocket programs of ``buying'' their way into the NCAA field.

``They spend a half a million dollars basically to get into the NCAA Tournament,'' Penders said. ``And they're allowed to do that. Therein lies the biggest problem.''

Penders admits to having probably the second-highest guarantee-game budget in Conference USA. But he'd like to see the NCAA outlaw such games for everyone, either legislating guarantees into extinction or requiring that schools play no more than about 60 percent of their non-conference games at home.

That's an extremely unlikely scenario. But through the power of their collective will, mid-majors could start to change how the scheduling game is played.

``Without exactly having collusion,'' Boyages said, ``if the middle third of the 31 conferences decided not to play those games so much, would it change the dynamics?''

The NCAA suggests it is helping to address the inequity with the revised RPI formula. A school may be able to buy a win, but wins aren't weighted equally. The questions have become more urgent after legislation was passed this spring expanding the schedule to 29 regular-season games, even more for teams playing in preseason tournaments.

One theme in the NCAA's response has been prevalent.

``The (selection) committee has been very clear that if in your non-conference schedule you chose not to take on quality competition, then you have to accept the consequences,'' said Greg Shaheen, the NCAA's vice president for Division I men's basketball and championship strategies. ``They're not saying play the top 10 teams in the country. But don't play the bottom 5 percent, don't let them take up the entire portion of your schedule.''

That advice sounds uncomplicated, logical even. But looking at the papers on his desk, Hamilton isn't so sure.

``We are controlling our schedule,'' he said. ``But you don't control how they're evaluating it.''

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