Dayton Athletic Director Neil Sullivan watches a game against Saint Louis on Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2016, at Chaifetz Arena in St. Louis, Mo. David Jablonski/Staff

Non-conference scheduling about to get tougher for Dayton Flyers

Decisions by Big Ten, ACC will have trickle-down effect on A-10

Dayton Athletic Director Neil Sullivan has often said there’s not a secret formula with scheduling. He wants to schedule as many non-conference games as possible against programs contending for NCAA tournament at-large bids. That’s going to be a tough task in future seasons as the pool of available games shrinks.

“It’s obviously early to see the full impact,” Sullivan said Monday, “but mathematically, the 20-game model by the Big Ten and ACC just simply removes non-conference game opportunities from the scheduling ecosystem, and that’s an environment that’s already stressed. We’ll have to see where those reductions in non-conference games come from — whether it’s the buy games or (early-season exempt) tournaments or other matchups — but the fact is dozens of games will be removed from the system. It’s not just about those games. It can be about the downstream effect of those games.”

TOP 10: Ranking UD’s non-conference games

By that, Sullivan means even if a program like Dayton reaches the NCAA tournament, its seeding could be affected if it can’t prove itself in the regular season against teams like Vanderbilt or Georgia Tech — to use two examples of teams Dayton has beaten on the road in recent season.

That happened to Wichita State last season. The Shockers earned a No. 10 seed and played No. 7 Dayton, winning 64-58 in the first round, despite being ranked No. 8 in the Ken Pomeroy ratings.

“Most people felt Wichita was under-seeded,” Sullivan said, “and clearly when you see them play, you feel that way. One of the knocks against Wichita and supposedly why they got a 10 seed is they couldn’t get enough top-50, top-100 opponents to prove their worth, if you will.”

The A-10 moved from a 16-game to 18-game schedule in the 2014-15 season. That has not resulted in more NCAA tournament bids. Since sending five teams to the big dance in 2013 and six in 2014, the A-10 has seen three teams advance in each of the past three seasons. Sullivan said the A-10 will have to at least have a discussion about moving to a 20-game schedule.

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As for the non-conference schedule, Sullivan said Dayton will react by “continuing to make an effort to play teams in the American (Athletic Conference), teams in the West Coast (Conference), other teams in similar situations, trying to get these high-quality games.”

Dayton plays West Coast preseason favorite Saint Mary’s for the second straight season. Last season, the Gaels traveled to Dayton and won 61-57. This season, the Flyers travel to Moraga, Calif., for their premier non-conference game. Although the matchup makes sense, the distance doesn’t.

“I can tell you (Saint Mary’s coach) Randy Bennett wasn’t thrilled about coming to Dayton, Ohio,” Sullivan said, “and quite frankly, we’re not terribly excited to fly across the country for a basketball game. But Saint Mary’s and Dayton were two preseason top-30 caliber teams. We had an opportunity to play, and we had to play.”

The Big Ten begins a 20-game schedule in the 2018-19 season. The ACC follows in 2019-20. Sullivan won’t be surprised if the Southeastern Conference and Pac 12, the other conferences with more than 10 members, make the same move soon.

“Typically, when these things happen, you start to see those leagues do the same thing,” Sullivan said, “because they don’t want to be the outlier. You saw that with Big 12 football. ‘Should we have a conference championship game? Everyone else has a conference championship. We were left out.’”

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Last season, Dayton got a Big Ten team on the schedule, Northwestern, because it was willing to play on a neutral court in Chicago. Sullivan could see more games like that happening in the future. He said he’s already trying to find something for next season.

“I think (coach) Anthony (Grant) and I will do whatever’s in the best interest of getting an at-large bid,” Sullivan said. “Sometimes you have to think multiple years out versus any one year just taking a shotgun approach. Our task is to set up a schedule that provides our team, if they do the things they can do, an opportunity to be successful. I think everything’s on the table. Everything’s’s always been on the table. I do think to get four straight at-large bids, we’ve done well. We’ve made those decisions in the right way.”

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