Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who has the fairest schedule of all?
When it comes to Mountain West women’s basketball for 2017-18, University of New Mexico coach Mike Bradbury believes he has the answer. A glance at the conference’s “mirror” men’s and women’s schedules makes the UNLV Lady Rebels look particularly becoming for next season.
“Boise State and New Mexico have the toughest (conference) schedules next season, and UNLV has the easiest,” Bradbury said. “That’s just stating facts.”
The Mountain West released its men’s and women’s basketball schedules this week and, as usual, close inspection by coaches around the league soon followed. Such is inevitable with an 11-team league and unbalanced, 18-game schedules.
The format requires each Mountain West team to face eight of its 10 conference foes twice and the remaining two just once. Men’s and women’s teams from each school play identical mirror schedules, facing the same opponents in the same order.
As one might expect, some schedules end up looking a bit fairer than others. On the women’s side, UNLV’s 2017-18 league schedule is particularly lovely to behold.
The Lady Rebels face Colorado State and Wyoming just once next season. The Rams and Cowgirls finished first and second, respectively, in 2016-17. UNLV, which tied for third place, also has byes immediately preceding road games at Boise State (tied for third) and New Mexico (fifth).
The Lady Rebels’ computer-generated schedule left Bradbury green with envy.
“I think that computer must have graduated from UNLV,” Bradbury said. “The schedule couldn’t have come out any better for them.”
To be, um, fair, Mountain West women’s basketball schedules are unlikely to match up competitively. An 11-team league with mirror scheduling and an 18-game mandate prevents such equality, and Bradbury knows it.
“As long as you have an odd number of teams,” he said, “it’s never going to be completely fair. The only way it could be right now is if we all played 20 conference games. Nobody wants that, so we’re kind of stuck.”
Carolayne Henry, the Mountain West’s senior associate commissioner for compliance and senior woman administrator, said compiling mirrored men’s and women’s basketball schedules with 11 schools is indeed tricky. Accommodating facilities conflicts, avoiding long road trips, doling out byes and attempting to honor specific date requests for rivalry or televised games frequently proves difficult.
“Last year we looked at 13 or 14 schedules before we settled on one,” Henry said. “This year we considered at least 12. With 11 schools playing 18 games on a Wednesday-Saturday format, there’s a lot to take into account.”
Competitive balance, however, is not a scheduling priority.
Henry said MWC officials do attempt to equalize byes so that no team will not face too many opponents coming off open dates. Nor will teams face the same opponents just once on back-to-back seasons. But competitive factors like previous season’s performance or number of returning players are not part of the scheduling formula, Henry said.
Still, a mirror format with unbalanced schedules can and does create competitive disparity.
For example, UNM’s men and women finished with 10-8, fifth-place league records last season and both will play Nevada and San Diego State just once in 2017-18. That would seem to be a bonus for the Lobo men because Nevada won the regular-season title in 2016-17 and UNM avoids an always-tough road game at SDSU.
On the women’s side, UNM gets one game apiece against San Diego State and Nevada teams that finished ninth and 10th, respectively, last season.
Meanwhile, UNLV’s men, who finished tied for last in 2016-17, get just a moderate break by playing CSU (13-5 MWC last season) and Wyoming (8-10) once apiece. But an identical schedule is a big advantage for UNLV’s women.
“They have to be favored to win the league with that schedule,” said Bradbury, who concedes there is no easy fix for the league’s current scheduling.
“I know it wasn’t done intentionally,” he said, “and I’m not complaining because I don’t really know how to solve it. We’ll play the hand we’re dealt.”
Unfortunately for UNM’s women and their fans, the Mountain West’s mirror scheduling is not likely to change anytime soon. Administrators from New Mexico and Wyoming, the league’s top-drawing women’s programs, have argued for separate schedules that would prevent fans from having to choose between watching men’s and women’s games on the same days. Other schools around the league have consistently voted to retain mirror scheduling.
Adding a 12th basketball school to the Mountain West roster could lead to more equitable scheduling, including possible division play, but no immediate conference additions are pending.
“I know the league’s not opposed to adding a school in the future,” Bradbury said, “but for now I guess we just have to hope for a different computer.”
MWC NOTES: UNLV may have a favorable schedule, but its roster took a hit when twin guards Dakota and Dylan Gonzalez opted to forgo their final year of eligibility. The sisters plan to pursue a career in music. … Fresno State’s All-MWC post Bego Faz Davalos recently transferred to Duke, where she will play as a senior graduate.