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Spring 2021 Scheduling: Losses By Sport

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What sports are affected the most in the cancellation of fall competition?

2018 NCAA Division I Men’s and Women’s Cross Country Championship Photo by Joe Koshollek/NCAA Photos via Getty Images

Fall sports have been cancelled. Big 10 coaches have already started sketching out ideas for moving their sports to the spring while knocking on wood. But there’s only so many months in the spring collegiate competition calendar. In Wisconsin, January, February and a lot of March aren’t really spring months. So, what sports would be affected the most?

Our Goals

  • Adhere to as much of the original scheduling system as possible. There will be one football game a week, two men’s basketball games a week, hockey plays two games a weekend series, you get the picture.
  • Make sure that athletes get to play enough to make a season worthwhile. This is going to be a bit of a judgement call, but at a bare minimum we want to see a full conference slate for each sport to declare a Big 10 Champion. Ideally, we’d like to have some non-conference games as well.

Now, in order to least to most affected...

Volleyball

Drew Hamm’s post noted that many coaches have already worked out the logistics of a spring schedule. If the NCAA hadn’t already cancelled all fall championships, the 2019 National Runner-Up not having a chance to take the crown for the first time in school history would have been much further down this list. With Minnesota, Wisconsin, Penn State and Nebraska all major volleyball powers, I’d fully expect any spring NCAA women’s volleyball tournament to accommodate the Big 10’s 20 game, 10 week conference schedule, with a possibility of four weeks of non-conference warmups as well.

Tennis, Rowing, Golf, Swimming & Diving

These are all spring sports with their own facilities, but they have some fall matches that would be affected. The conference schedule would be intact. Golf may lose out more, as traveling to a place where you can play golf from Madison in February gets expensive. They may be practicing with a snow wedge to cut costs.

Soccer & Softball

Following the “snow wedge” idea, these are outdoor sports that would require significant travel costs to get to somewhere where you can play games in winter. Soccer is a little heartier, and has the advantage of “well, when should we start playing games?” with no schedule in place right now. But I’ve gone to some of the NCAA tournament games held at McClimon in November. That wind coming off Lake Mendota gets brutal quick.

Wrestling

The next five sports all have conference games during fall semester, all generate at least some revenue, and all have an NCAA championship that starts in March. We’re going to start seeing some issues in how we can schedule enough games, as well as schedule events on campus, the rest of the way through this thought exercise.

Wrestling benefits greatly from being in the Big 10. It’s one of the few conferences that sponsors the sport without pulling in non-core members (like Notre Dame in Big 10 Hockey) and has a huge amount of All-American level talent. Scheduling the usual nine Big 10 duals in January and February to seed for the Big 10 Championship in March to qualify for the NCAA meet is very feasible, especially since competing on Friday and Sunday in a single weekend is fairly common. Some non-conference matches could even be on the table.

Basketball

The big question around basketball is “when do you start playing?” Based on current scheduling, to fit 18 women’s conference games and 20 men’s conference games before tournament play starts would require starting in December. The women’s tournament could move and play the same weekend as the men’s if needed, possibly at a school site if Banker’s Life Fieldhouse can’t accommodate the switch. (But if an extra week is important enough to change plans, it’s probably good to ask why.)

Men’s basketball doesn’t have that same week off between conference and national tournaments, so fitting 20 games in the 4.5 weeks of January, four weeks of February and first week of March means playing between Christmas and New Years, and possibly even removing any semblance of a “bye” if it can’t be moved forward.

Hockey

Hockey’s more screwed. Both the Big 10 and WCHA tournaments are two weekends long, and have 12 weekends of conference play. Conference games will be lopped off to begin with, and let’s throw out the initial best-of-three series of the tournament as well. Complicating matters, the seven teams in each conference can’t all be in action against each other every weekend. Now, there’s two ways to fix that - go up or down a team. I could go either way in men’s hockey - drop Notre Dame or add Arizona State for a season. Women’s hockey actually has a clearer path - St. Thomas, you’re getting the call-up a year early.

Football

Matt Belz already covered it: six games. Possible conference championship, possible Rose Bowl in April because the Pac 12’s in the same boat.

Cross Country and Track and Field

Yes, I’m surprised to see this after football too. The real issue is how all three sports currently operate. For a long time, I thought that hockey was the sport that had the longest season. It starts in late September or early October and ends in March for all but the Frozen Four participants, with some time off in December during winter break.

But while digging into the logistics of moving all these sports around, I found out that track and field is absolutely brutal. From mid-January to the last week of February it’s indoor track season, traveling around the country competing and finishing with the Big 10 Championships. Then, a week off until the NCAA Championships. Then two weeks until the outdoor track and field season, which is another continual grind until May. The good news is that no events would need to be cancelled.

The bad news is, you can’t fit cross country anywhere in that schedule. 14 of the 20 men and 22 of the 27 women listed as Cross Country athletes are also on the Track and Field roster. All 11 not listed in both places are new to Madison - it’s entirely possible they all should be but nobody’s updated the listing yet. Additionally, both cross-country programs are stellar. The men’s squad has dominated the conference for almost 50 years and has several national titles. The women’s squad has fallen off since a dominate run in the 90s, but still has top 10 national finishes in the last few years.

That’s why this is the toughest decision on campus. With an abbreviated football schedule, you just sigh and wish you had more games to play. But because of distance runners competing all year long, they have their own decisions to make. Do you attempt to continue dominating cross-country, while hurting the track and field’s team chance at a title? As far as I can tell, this is the only decision that isn’t up to the NCAA or the Big 10. It’s up to each school, each coach, and each athlete.