The Dukes will complete two home and away deals with BCS teams this season ending a two year agreement with West Virginia and a four year series with Penn St. In general, I could see why both schools would want to move on. While the public colleges have large alumni bases in Pittsburgh, they don’t need to play Duquesne. A quick trip down I-79 puts WVU alums right in their home arena and the Nittany Lions now face a sexier opponent in the ACC – Big 10 challenge. At the moment, a win against Duquesne on the road doesn’t mean much for either school, but as both programs have found out recently, a costly loss can happen.
When it comes to scheduling out of conference games for the Consol, West Virginia and Penn St are the lowest hanging fruit with great proximity and the aforementioned financial benefits of playing here. If one or both moves on, they’ll leave the Dukes with a difficult to fill void and the need to find replacement games to play at the CEC for a few reasons. First, the Dukes get increased ticket sales from the opposing and neutral fans who just come for the marque opponent at Consol padding both revenue and the attendance numbers. Second, the Consol has become an important recruiting tool. If the current schedule stands up, the Dukes could play Dayton there one year and VCU the next to go with the city game. However, I think the second true home game against a name opponent really helps. Finally, these games are higher profile and they tend to get more attention than the average Dukes’ home game might. It’s a great reminder to the haters that we still field a Division I basketball team.
Of course, the Dukes might have a difficult time luring a new opponent to the CEC. For one, big name schools that could fill the Consol don’t like to go on the road and especially not when they might risk losing without the possibility of a nice RPI resume building road win. Sometimes, schools will make trips to recruiting hotbeds just to get a toe hold, but WPIAL falls way short of that mark. It won’t be easy, but there are opportunities.
Look Bigger Name / Smaller Budget
Last year, West Virginia only spent about $500,000 more on basketball than Duquesne did. With their coffers swollen with Big 12 money, the Mountaineers nearly doubled their hoops budget. Not only were they local, but they were also a school that didn’t have the spare dough laying around for a ton of buy games (games where you pay a team to come to you without providing a return game). Utah, Rutgers, Iowa St, Temple, Houston and SMU all fit the bill for a team with a bigger name than their budget might suggest, but none have a Consol worthy brand. You could try to do a four year deal with one of them hedging that they’ll improve in stature by the time their second leg comes around, but that doesn’t do the Dukes any good for two or three years.
Off the top of my head only one school really fits the bill, BYU. While much of their brand’s appeal dwells west of the Mississippi, the Cougars almost always field a competitive team and they’d generate enough interest to oversell the AJ Palumbo Center. Besides how often does Brigham Young come to Pittsburgh?
Look Outside the BCS
The top pure mid and high major conferences in the country have some exciting teams. The Big East is loaded. Gonzaga and the aforementioned BYU loom large over the WCC. The Mountatin West has some big players. Problem is that the biggest of the small still schedule like their top BCS counterparts.
Wichita St doesn’t and could provide the Dukes with an alternative to scheduling the Mountaineers and Lions. Move over Butler and VCU, the Shockers are the sexiest mid major in America thanks to their Final Four run last year. They’d make a solid addition and a great draw as masochistic Pitt fans seem to flock to games featuring teams that beat them in the NCAA tournament.
Buy a Game or get creative
There are bigger name schools who will go on the road at a cost, but I simply can’t see the Dukes paying the cheese to buy a brand worthy of the CEC. For one, they won’t likely recoup their investment. Further, they don’t have the money to sink into something like that anyway.
The Dukes could get creative with some offers, but they’ll have to give up a lot more than their targeted opponent. They might need to go on the road immediately and then offer some scheduling flexibility on the return game. They might need to go with a straight two road for one home deal. Of course, they could also offer a home, away and neutral package. Toronto seems like it could provide an interesting opportunity for both teams with its recruiting depth and untapped market. Of course, the Dukes could allow their opponent to choose the neutral site.
Look to high profile old friends (*cough* Xavier *cough*)
A series renewal with Xavier makes more sense for us than it does them. Maybe Greg Amodio calls in a favor or comes up with some kind of long term partnership that goes beyond men’s basketball. Still, it would be nice to find a way to make the ties between the athletic departments work to our advantage.
WVU or Penn St vs Duquesne at the Consol makes the most sense and the Dukes could still find someone should they terminate the relationship. If Duquesne can’t, they’d need to beef up their schedule instead with some of the good but not good enough for the Consol types I listed above. Atlantic 10 teams don’t need to field challenging out of conference schedules but the Dukes need to put together an exciting slate to make up for some of the what they lack elsewhere. It helps even the playing field with recruiting and gives a necessary boost to perception.