Green Bay officially announced its five game non-conference schedule on Monday afternoon, just nine days prior to the season opener against Minnesota this upcoming Wednesday night.
It’s a common theme across the country as college basketball programs grapple with an extremely fluid situation with COVID-19 cases skyrocketing and teams desperately trying to fill their schedules in ways that make practical and economic sense while keeping their players safe.
The Phoenix were pretty much set on the scheduling front prior to the NCAA’s decision to delay the start of the season to November 25th. Green Bay had 11 non-conference games tentatively scheduled including road games against Oklahoma State, Minnesota, Syracuse, LSU, Wisconsin, and Jacksonville State as well as home contests against Montana State, Mercer, Northern Illinois, and Eastern Illinois but the decision to delay the start of the season and a renewed emphasis on playing more regional opponents pretty much wiped the slate clean.
However, Green Bay was able to put together about as good of a schedule as any Phoenix fan could have hoped, all things considered. Teams are allowed to play as many as 27 games this season (down from the normal 31) if they are participating in a multi-team event or up to 25 games this season if they are not, which is the case for Green Bay. With a 20-game Horizon League schedule beginning in mid-December, that left up to five non-conference games to be scheduled.
The Phoenix were able to put together a schedule that features a nice mix of in-state rivals (at Wisconsin – December 1st, at Marquette – December 8th), a regional high major opponent (Minnesota – November 25th), a marquee Midwest mid-major (Northern Iowa – December 12th), and a home game against a winnable mid-major opponent (Eastern Illinois – December 5th).
Home-and-home with Northern Iowa
Perhaps the most pleasant surprise from the non-conference schedule release is that the Northern Iowa game is the start of a two game home-and-home series. The Panthers will be playing the return game on a date to be determined in Green Bay next season according to the signed contract between the two schools.
Northern Iowa is the preseason favorite to win the Missouri Valley Conference this year and has been one of the most consistent mid-major programs in the country over the past 17 years making the NCAA Tournament 7 times during that span.
It is a significant scheduling feat for first year head coach Will Ryan and his staff to land a home game against one of the marquee mid-major programs in the Midwest and hopefully a sign of the program’s future scheduling goals going forward.
Green Bay will play on national TV at least two times
In other good news for Phoenix fans, this year’s games against Wisconsin and Marquette will both be broadcast on national TV.
The game against the Badgers is slated to air on the Big Ten Network on December 1st in what will be a Tuesday matinee with a tipoff time of 4:00 PM. The game at Marquette, a week later on December 8, tips off at 8:00 PM and will air on FS1.
The season opener at Minnesota is scheduled for a 6:00 PM tip time and will be streamed behind BTN’s paywall on BTN+. Broadcast information has not yet been released for the Eastern Illinois or Northern Iowa games.
The Horizon League is also expected to keep its Friday night primetime television slot on ESPN2 or ESPNU again this season so it is possible that the Phoenix could appear on national TV a few more times. Details for those nationally televised games have not yet been released by the Horizon League or ESPN.
Guarantees down significantly due to COVID-19
Besides the headaches of having to scramble to put a non-conference schedule together, mid-major programs like Green Bay are also having to deal with the going rates of guarantee games against high major opponents dropping substantially this year due to no fans being allowed in the arenas.
High major opponents often schedule mid-major and low-major opponents and offer “guarantees”, or money that is paid to come play a road game at their home arena no matter what the outcome of the game is. High majors make significant amounts of money from ticket sales in their big arenas so the revenue from the home game far exceeds the cost of paying an opponent to come play.
But what happens when there are no fans allowed in the arena?
In the original agreement for the Minnesota game, Green Bay was scheduled to receive a guaranteed payment of $95,000 for their non-conference matchup. But in the amended agreement signed earlier this month, that guarantee has dropped to $35,000. Similarly, the Phoenix will earn $30,000 for the game at Marquette on December 8, down considerably from the $82,000 they were slated to get for playing at Oklahoma State.
It is not a catastrophic difference but it is a bit of a blow as that guarantee money helps to fund things like the men’s basketball program recruiting expenses and assistant coach salaries. Programs and athletic departments across the country are feeling financial the strain of the pandemic.