Scheduling ACC hoops a long process

Staff WriterSeptember 1, 2010 

The ACC men's basketball schedule is finally set to be released today (or Thursday), seven days (at least) later than last year. What took so long?

Blame the NBA.

Because of the more-star-studded-than-usual pro free-agency period, the regional networks took about a week longer to pick which NBA games they would televise - pushing back those networks' ACC selection process by a week.

"They're not going to make their [NBA] schedule until they know where their stars are going to be - so they can feature those games," said Karl Hicks, the ACC's associate commissioner for men's basketball operations. "... So that just created a ripple effect for us, and it added another wrinkle."

One of many.

Putting together the schedule is a year-long process for Hicks that utilizes two marked-up planning calendars and a phone-book-thick binder filled with multiple e-mails to television partners, correspondence between the ACC and schools and dozens of letters to the guy in Colorado who makes sense of it all via computer program.

The whole procedure begins each fall, mere days after the previous schedule is released.

First, Hicks must decide which teams will play in the four December "early" league games - taking into account nonconference matchups, exam schedules, and which eight teams had to play in the early games in the past. "This is the initial point when people get upset with me - either their opponent, or the frequency, or when it falls," Hicks said.

Then he pencils in the schedules of multi-use public buildings (the RBC Center, Leon County Civic Center, and Lawrence-Joel Coliseum, which might have other events planned); the 12 schools' nonconference game dates; and the pre-designated "rotation" of ACC games (which replaced the round-robin schedule after expansion).

George Johnson, the senior vice president at Raycom who coordinates schedules with ESPN, CBS and Fox Regional Sports Networks, among others, adds his two cents. Then all the information is sent to Arthur Steiker in Colorado, who also uses a computer program to produce schedules for the NBA and NFL.

Hicks gets back the first ACC schedule "shell" in January or February, then he goes to work again.

"It never comes out exactly the way everyone wants it to, but I do use a set of rules to try to make it as fair as possible," he said. For example:

A team won't play more than two conference home games or two conference road games in a row.

Try to schedule a home game just before the football signing period.

There must be a two-week split between rematches - meaning if Boston College plays Miami, the two can't play again for at least two weeks. "I try to get at least three weeks between those games, but that can't always happen," he said.

No team should end the season with two straight road games.

No team should have more than three home ACC games that tip off at 9 p.m. or later

The "softer" rules:

Of the first or last nine ACC games, no more than five should be on the road.

Of the eight ACC home games each team plays, no fewer than four should be scheduled on the weekend.

No team should have more than two "turnaround" situations each season - meaning Thursday-Saturday or Sunday-Tuesday games. Those teams that have two one year won't have two the next.

Sound complicated?

Consider this: All that tinkering goes on before May, when Raycom's Johnson holds a "draft" between the networks for weekend games, then weekday games, tweaking the schedule dates again. (Each television company has a set number of games they can select.)

The results are never perfect for every school, Hicks said. And even as late as last week, he said he knew there would have to be last-minute shuffles - and as well as disgruntled calls from coaches after the schedule is released.

"What I try to tell coaches is, 'If something happens to you in a particular year, it won't happen to you the next year,' " he said. "There's going to be equity that way. We want it to be a fair schedule, and an exciting schedule. That's why so much time and effort is put into it."

And why it sometimes takes longer than usual to be released.

robbi.pickeral@newsobserver.com or 919-829-8944

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