The Challenges Facing A Mid-Major Coach

By Ryan McNeill

I know that I’ve been writing about Michael Litos book “Cinderella: Inside The Rise of Mid-Major College Basketball” a lot lately but his book has done a great job of opening my eyes to some of the struggles that mid-major programs face. One of those struggles involves making a schedule for your program and chapter three opened up with a bang as it explains some of the struggles that Jeff Capel faced while at Virginia Commonwealth setting a schedule for his basketball team.

Litos documented that frustrations that comes along with making a schedule when he wrote:

There is a thin line that separates creativity from desperation. In many cases for college basketball coaches, the departure of genuis and futility is determined solely by whether a particular act or decision is successful. It could be the lineup change when a star player is injured. Perhaps it’s the decision to schedule a November road game at Cameron Indoor Stadium against Duke instead of facing the regional rival. Whatever the case, coaching college basketball in the twenty-first century has become a profession of risk. It is scored increasingly on the bottom line – wins and losses – and that simply blurs the line between the crafty vagabond and the luckless desperado.

Sometimes, though, success is born from both.

One important, hazy, and frustrating challenge for a mid-major coach is his quest to schedule the approximately ten games each season that will round out his team’s opponents – the nonconference schedule.

“For me, it’s the number one pain,” says Jeff Capel, who was getting ready to begin his final campaign before being hired to replace Kelvin Sampson at Oklahoma. “If fans knew how tough it is…”

Capel’s voice trails off and he shakes his head and laughs. “You have nine or ten nonconference games and basically late November and December to play them.”

You look around Jeff Capel’s office and you see order. The kind of order that lets you knw he’s thought deeply about this. It’s also the kind of order that borders on overorganization. There are the stacks of paper and videos; the white board is neatly erased; and there’s just enough space from his desk to the round table to use as a research facility.

When you look just a little more closely, however, the frusteration is evident. The edge to his voice tells the truth when he discusses scheduling: He’s made the calls and heard the excuses.

Capel pauses for another moment as he considers the intricacies of whoe he wants to play, who will take his calls, and who will fit ini terns of how he wants to bring his team along prior to the grueling CAA conference season. His mind then thinks logistics.

“You need (corresponding open) datres for starters. We also try to be cognizant of needing attractive match-ups for fans.”

This basic issue is often overlooked when scheduling. The logistics issue Capel refers to is only exacerabted when factoring in holidays, exam schedules, and other obligations (most coaches try to keep their players legs fresh early in the season, as well as spend some tme interacting within their community). Outside of any creative methodology, such as conference versus conference challenges or exempt tournaments quickly becoming the exclusive domains of the power conferences, you must simply have open dates that align with a prospective opponent’s open dates.

I couldn’t help but chuckle while reading through this section because for the past couple of weeks I’ve been complaining to anyone that will listen about how frustrating it is to schedule games for the elementary school team I coach. My big struggle is organizing rides to the games for my students as I can easily pickup a phone and schedule a game with another school in my board. Capel on the other hand gets bogged down with scheduling teams that VCU can beat, that will be box office draws and that will help boost his RPI. After reading through the struggles that Capel faces while organizing games for VCU I couldn’t help but laugh at myself and what I viewed as coaching struggles because I quickly realized that my problems were nothing compared to what a legit coach faces.

If your looking for a way to get your college hoops fix now that the season has wrapped up I’d highly recommend that you read “Cinderella: Inside The Rise of Mid-Major College Basketball.”


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