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October 16, 2012

We are playing who?

Schedules are trickling out and fans are eager to learn the teams on their program's schedule. Will it be a home-heavy slate filled with matchups few want to see? Will the traditional rivals face each other?

Fans moan when the schedule comes out and there is an abundance of cold-weather schools only Eric Sorenson has heard of. When Coach said he was bringing in the Yankees, this wasn't what we had in mind.

That said, baseball schedules should be judged by several factors.

Opponents should provide enough competition to prepare the team for conference play. The slate should also feature some programs that get the home fans excited. Do this by playing the local teams, playing someone the fans have heard of, and by playing programs that traditionally match up well with your program.

Each coach has to build a schedule that fits his team. Unlike college football where games for 2023 are already being brokered (and often subsequently bought out), many of our diamond friends fill their dance cards during the summer and finalize the details in the fall.

Coaches typically have some idea if their team will be young and should be brought along slowly or if they figure to be a more veteran squad that would benefit from being tested.

Last season for example, Kentucky missed out on a #1 seed and Regional host largely because of their soft non-SEC schedule. Why didn't Kentucky schedule the Cincinnati Reds in February and March? Well, Gary Henderson's job status wasn't the sturdiest in the South and the Wildcats needed to build some early success. It worked for them, despite getting the shaft on Memorial Day.

However, Vanderbilt's Tim Corbin has as much job security as any coach in America. Unless he slugs a reporter for asking a stupid question after a loss (always at least even odds), Corbin should be a fixture at Hawkins Field for as long as he chooses.

Last year he picked a very challenging early season schedule and his talented but inexperienced team took a lot of early lumps. By the end of the season the Commodores were playing as well as anyone and not only made the postseason but almost won a tough Regional (and would have likely won some other Regionals out there). That strong showing makes them one of the preseason favorites Nationally in 2013. Again, Corbin knew his team and made the schedule work for him.

Other programs are forced to schedule a set amount of home dates and filling those slots doesn't always equate with an exciting opponent list.

Many less affluent programs can't get the teams their fans would get excited about seeing to even schedule them - much less do a home and home. They have two options: schedule whoever will visit and take the RPI hit or ... crash the travel budget and follow the road to resume riches.

If a team is going to hit the road for a series, there better be something in for them. They should either play a team that will help their RPI rank, play against an opponent, style, or in a venue that will prepare them for the rest of the season. Or perhaps it is a chance to boost their recruiting profile in an area. If the trip doesn't meet one of those criteria, then it is just a chance to miss doing the dishes for a night.

Another factor to consider is how the non-conference opposition compliments conference play. If you play in the Big South, your two avenues to the postseason are to win the automatic bid or beat a bunch of good teams outside the league. The benefit is often greater to play and win a Tuesday night game at Clemson than sweeping a conference series against a lower-tier league mate. The penalty for losing is infinitely less and the gain for winning is obvious.

If you are an SEC or ACC program, the non-conference is a way to boost your resume if you don't 'kick and take' in league play. You can still get a nice bid (see Kentucky last year) by doing well in conference even if you fail to schedule aggressively. You can also make up for a disappointing conference finish with a strong RPI boosted by non-league wins (think Arkansas last year).

So the schedules are not just about filling your refrigerator magnet with names like Texas, Florida, and South Carolina. It is about maximizing the most you can out of the resources you have.

Other the next few days we will look at who gets the most of their schedules - both annually and in 2013.



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