Pac-12 adopts scheduling standards for nonconference men’s basketball games

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Utes forward Donnie Tillman (3) puts pressure on Mississippi Valley State Delta Devils guard Michael Green (15), in basketball action between Utah Utes and Mississippi Valley State Delta Devils at the Jon M. Huntsman Center, Thursday, Nov. 15, 2018.

The likes of Mississippi Valley State and Florida A&M will appear far less frequently on Utah's nonconference men's basketball schedules, beginning in the 2020-21 season.

The Pac-12′s move to a 20-game conference schedule is being complemented by requirements for nonconference games. That will reduce the number of spots for lower-tier opponents, the conference announced Monday.

Pac-12 schools have scheduled below the new criteria “on occasion, but not as a regular occurrence,” commissioner Larry Scott said in a media teleconference. The standards are designed to help the Pac-12 land more teams in the NCAA Tournament field, via stronger schedules.

Using a five-year rolling formula, a school's opponents in one season collectively must rank in the top 175 of the NET rating. And with two fewer nonconference games, that average is more strongly affected by one or two teams ranked in the 300s. Based on a one-year snapshot of the new NET ratings, Utah hosted three such teams last season: Maine, Mississippi Valley State and Florida A&M. Northern Arizona finished barely above No. 300 in 2018-19.

Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak is an advocate of the 20-game conference schedule, partly because of the challenge involved with booking nonconference games. The two extra Pac-12 games likely will be scheduled in late or November or early December, when students are on campus, Ute athletic director Mark Harlan said on his monthly podcast. That will help drive interest early in the season, when crowds typically are low. Utah used curtains in the upper bowl of the Huntsman Center for some nonconference games last year.

Not counting Grand Canyon and Northwestern, teams that Utah ended up playing in a November tournament, the Utes' other 10 opponents in 2018-19 had a 174.3 NET average. That number was skewed by highly ranked Kentucky's presence on the schedule.

Because the NET rating is new, another calculation such as kenpom.com will be used in the five-year period that applies to 2020-21 schedules, Scott said.

Most of Utah’s 2018-19 schedule is set, starting with games from last season against opponents such as Kentucky (in Las Vegas), Nevada (road) and Minnesota (home).

The Pac-12 also liberalized the rules for transfers within the conference. Athletes previously lost a year’s eligibility when moving to another Pac-12 school. Former Ute defensive end Kylie Fitts, for example, would have played only a combined three seasons at UCLA and Utah, if not for receiving an extra year due to injury. Athletes still would have to sit out one year to establish residency.

The conference extended by five years the annual $3.6 funding of the Student-Athlete Health and Well-Being Initiative. In addition, the conference’s CEO Group voted an increase to the $1.1 million in funding for campus use in treating athletes in need of mental health services.

In response to criticism about how the conference has masked the Pac-12 Networks’ lack of revenue, the report for the 2017-18 fiscal year separates that subject from overall revenue. The conference reported revenues of $370 million and operating expenses of $40 million, along with Pac-12 Networks revenues of $127 million and operating expenses of $101 million.