Imbalance a black mark for Big Sky

2010-01-10T00:10:00Z Imbalance a black mark for Big SkyBy BILL SPELTZ of the Missolian missoulian.com
January 10, 2010 12:10 am  • 

The backlash has been minimal so far.

But stay tuned.

In case you missed the meeting last May - and I'm fairly sure you did - Big Sky Conference school presidents and athletic directors voted to institute a Friday-Saturday schedule for men's and women's regular-season basketball in an attempt to reduce missed class time and travel costs. It's a great idea, except for the fact everything is out of whack.

"It just doesn't work in our league because they can't make it equal for everyone," Montana women's basketball coach Robin Selvig said.

"There will be weekends we have back-to-backs and teams we're playing do not. It doesn't save diddly for costs and the amount of missed school the old way was not significant."

Selvig is not the only one who sees flaws.

"If our conference schedule is supposed to have parity, both teams should have back-to-backs no matter what," Weber State women's coach Carla Taylor insists. "I saw a thing recently that us and Portland State have five back-to-backs and everybody else has less. It's frustrating."

What Taylor saw was an e-mail that breaks down the imbalance of the new system. It was forwarded to all Big Sky women's coaches in late December by Montana State skipper Tricia Binford.

The Big Sky has its women's teams playing 33 back-to-backs and its men 25, because the men have a television contract for Sunday afternoon games on Altitude. Not exactly fair.

Then you've got the Weber State and Portland State women with five back-to-backs, the Lady Griz four, Montana State's men and women three and Northern Arizona's men and women two.

"I think every coach in the league right now is taking it as it is what it is," Portland State women's coach Sherri Murrell said. "But are we downright mad? Yes."

The disparity between the men and women is more than merely unfair if you take stock in what John Margaritis has to say. He was an assistant women's coach at Northern Arizona for eight seasons, including 2000-01 and 2001-02 when the league last used the back-to-back system.

"I remember it was interesting because the team that played Friday night often won on Saturday with no rest," said Margaritis, who is now head women's coach at UC Riverside. "But there were also more ACL injuries."

Although there's insufficient data to support such a claim, Murrell said injuries are definitely a concern. Not so much now but in mid-February when the players are worn down from a long season.

Of greater immediate concern to Murrell, whose team is picked to win the conference, is the gross imbalance. Consider this future scenario:

Portland State and Montana State, the women's teams most folks agree have the best combination of experience and talent in the league, are slated to meet on Feb. 13. The Vikings will be coming off a tough game at Montana on Feb. 12. The up-tempo Bobcats will not only be facing PSU in Bozeman, but they'll be rested after taking Friday night off.

"You saw what happened to Montana State last week when they had to play back-to-back nights and Idaho State beat them," said Murrell, referring to the Bobcats' surprising 77-73 home loss on Jan. 2. "Idaho State didn't have a Friday game."

The Big Sky loses credibility with imbalances in scheduling. Just like it lost credibility when it placed a limit of 17 on travel parties for away games, forcing coaches like Selvig to make hard decisions on whether to leave a scholarship player or a coach behind.

"That has recruiting implications," Selvig said last summer. "That has all kinds of implications."

Tough times require tough decisions. But there must be better ways to cut costs in the Big Sky.

Sports columnist Bill Speltz can be reached at 523-5255 or at bill.speltz@lee.net.

 

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