Coronavirus complicates scheduling process for Dayton Flyers

Dayton players (left to right) Trey Landers, Ibi Watson and Jalen Crutcher react after a victory against Saint Mary’s on Sunday, Dec. 8, 2019, at Talking Stick Resort Arena in Phoenix, Ariz. David Jablonski/Staff
Dayton players (left to right) Trey Landers, Ibi Watson and Jalen Crutcher react after a victory against Saint Mary’s on Sunday, Dec. 8, 2019, at Talking Stick Resort Arena in Phoenix, Ariz. David Jablonski/Staff

Neil Sullivan: All you can do is plan “as if there’s going to be the traditional basketball season’

Putting together the Dayton Flyers men’s basketball schedule always represents one of the biggest challenges for Athletic Director Neil Sullivan and the coaching staff. Sullivan said he, assistant coach Darren Hertz and director of basketball operations James Haring work on the schedule every day.

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The coronavirus pandemic has added to the difficulty. It’s much too early to say what next season will look like. Will it start on time? Will there be fans in the stands? Will the team’s travel plans be impacted?

“I think all you can do right now is plan as if there’s going to be the traditional basketball season,” Sullivan said Wednesday. “November is 165 or so days away. It just develops over time. Clearly, there are some complications and some challenges associated with scheduling and trying to forecast what November through March looks like. We’re doing the best we can to focus on the process and be prepared. We know it’s a constantly evolving environment.”

At this point, Sullivan is putting together a schedule as he normally would. He said there’s a laser focus on working the process, meaning he’s trying to compile a schedule that will give Dayton the best chance to build a NCAA tournament resume. That’s the goal every year, and last season, the team rode non-conference victories over Georgia, Virginia Tech and Saint Mary’s and then an 18-0 conference finish to a 29-2 record and a No. 3 ranking.

If not for the COVID-19 crisis resulting in the cancellation of the Atlantic 10 Conference tournament and the NCAA tournament, Dayton may have earned a No. 1 seed in the big dance for the first time.

Asked if the historic season opened any doors in scheduling, Sullivan said, “It’s neutral. We clearly had an extraordinary season, but we’ve been a NCAA tournamnent program five of the last seven years — assuming this year — and many times before that. We have long offered any perennial at-large caliber opponent a challenge that will help build their NCAA tournament resume. Our program and UD Arena has not been a secret. We’ve been on the map. So I do not think scheduling will get any easier. All told, the conference challenges, scheduling alliances and the 20-game conference schedules will continue to disrupt the scheduling ecosystem, but we’ll fight through it.”

At this point, the 2020-21 schedule looks at least as good as last season's if not better, though as always, the strength of the schedule will depend in part on what teams Dayton faces in its November tournament. The Flyers will play in the Myrtle Beach Invitational, and the possible opponents are Charlotte, Loyola, Missouri, Nebraska, Penn, Pittsburgh and Utah State.

The pandemic has created one issue for UD. Dayton was going to play Mississippi in Chicago in December. Sullivan said that game is now off the schedule “due to some complications with the coronavirus and the facilities.” He said it’s too early to say if UD and Ole Miss will find another place to play.

“That’s a top-50 game that we’ll continue to work on,” Sullivan said.

The non-conference schedule also includes a game Dec. 6 against Nevada in Reno, Nev. That game is part of a scheduling partnership between the Atlantic 10 Conference and the Mountain West Conference.

The Flyers will play Mississippi State on Dec. 12 at State Farm Arena in Atlanta as part of a four-game Hoopsgiving event. Sullivan called that a "great opportunity."

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There was one other game announced spring. The Flyers will play Southern Methodist at UD Arena on Nov. 29.

Asked how that game came about, Sullivan said, “Just a lot of texts and messages flying back and forth. Every now and then you get some leeway and start looking at dates and opponents and things matching up. We were happy to get that game.”

The Atlantic 10 Conference schedule has not been announced, but the A-10 will stick with an 18-game schedule. Commissioner Bernadette McGlade had said the league was considering moving to a 20-game schedule.

The Mountain West Conference is moving to a 20-game schedule in 2022-23. The Big Ten and Atlantic Coast Conference are already playing 20 games.

“I believe we have the appropriate schedule model in the A-10 currently,” Sullivan said “I’ll defer to the league on their approach to that.”