Provo • New BYU basketball coach Mark Pope has called the job he inherited from coach Dave Rose “a monumental task” several times since he was introduced last month.
The new Cougars’ coach is trying to make it even more difficult than that by setting up an even more difficult non-conference schedule.
In an hour-long discussion with reporters recently, Pope said his scheduling philosophy will be to play as many top-tier programs as possible, even if it means not having those programs play in BYU’s 19,000-seat Marriott Center.
“Our scheduling philosophy is pretty much just dumb,” he said. “We just want to go play, right? Let’s go play. And so I think really what that will culminate in is coaches getting fired really fast. But it makes the game fun, right?”
Assistant coach Cody Fueger, who was with Pope at Utah Valley, will handle most of the scheduling, much like assistant Tim LaComb did under Rose the last few years in Provo.
At Utah Valley, Pope and Fueger inherited a 2015-16 schedule from former UVU coach Dick Hunsaker that was devoid of Power 5 programs. Most of the schedule was set, but Pope was able to add a two-for-one agreement with BYU — the first two games in Provo and the third in Orem.
Utah Valley won that second meeting in Provo, surprising BYU 114-101. It could be argued that that win solidified Pope as the primary candidate to replace Rose.
Unlike non-conference college football schedules, which are set up years and years in advance, college basketball schedules are mostly drawn up less than a year before they are played.
Pope’s second season at UVU also included matchups at Gonzaga, Washington State and Utah, with no return games scheduled. In other words, they were “money” games in which UVU was paid by the host school to play in them.
In his third season at UVU, 2017-18, Pope drew national attention when he scheduled games at No. 5 Kentucky and No. 1 Duke on consecutive nights. The Wolverines also played a money game at Hawaii that season, losing 70-69.
Last season, Utah Valley played at Arizona, losing 80-69, and at Fresno State, winning 64-60.
“I know that players love to play [in big games],” Pope said. “I know that fans love to be a part of high-profile games. There is a hit that I am willing to take to be able to get [high-profile] teams in this building. So we are going to try.”
Pope said his staff has already had some conversations with some undisclosed Power 5 teams to get some two-for-one arrangements — two games at the P5 school, one game in Provo — “that are really going to pique peoples’ interest.”
“I am a sucker for blue bloods," he said, referring to teams like Duke and Kentucky. "I am excited to see if we can get some blue bloods in here. I still don’t know yet how impossible that is, but I am dumb enough to want to do it.”
Pope said there are a few openings left, but the 2019-20 schedule that Rose and LaComb left him is a good one. The Cougars will host San Diego State and Nevada and play UNLV and Utah State at Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City. They will play at Houston, at Utah and in the Maui Classic in Hawaii. The bracket for that tournament has not been announced, but other invitees include Kansas, Michigan State. UCLA, Dayton, Chaminade, Georgia and Virginia Tech.
“It is not like our schedule this year is not going to be entertaining,” Pope said. “We are going to get San Diego State and Nevada in our gym, which is so awesome. … It is a great schedule, an unbelievable schedule. So, it is going to be fun.”
Pope said BYU and UVU are working on a “longterm contract” right now, but offered no details. The sides just completed a four-game agreement last November that called for three games at BYU and one at UVU.
“There are some small complications just in terms of, I’ve got some guys over there that, they are in a hot sweat about wanting to just stick it to me,” he said. “So, communication right now, appropriately, has been pretty much shut down. But there are still messages that get through, like, ‘we are coming for you baby, let’s go.’”
In August, the Cougars will make an overseas trip to Italy to play at least four exhibition games.
“One of things that is a bit humbling to me here at BYU is that there are so many resources. Right?” Pope said. “You see all the resources here, and you are like, ‘How do we harness the full potential of everything that is here?’ That feels like a big responsibility, … I don’t want to leave any stone unturned in terms of not utilizing everything we have. And this trip [to Italy] is such a gift. It is going to be really special for our guys.”
Utah Valley’s top non-conference games under Mark Pope
2018-19 — Arizona, BYU, Fresno State
2017-18 — Kentucky, Duke, BYU, Hawaii
2016-17 — Gonzaga, BYU, Washington State, Utah
2015-16 — BYU