Contracts, fear of losing complicate scheduling

The announcement that the Gopher football team will take on perennial powerhouse University of Southern California on campus in 2010 has Gopher fans wondering when the menâÄôs basketball team will follow suit. While conference foes like Wisconsin and Michigan hosted teams like Texas and UCLA , the Gophers best nonconference home game opponent this season was arguably Cornell. The reason? âÄúI think itâÄôs tough to get any good program to go to any other good programâÄôs home court,âÄù Athletics Director Joel Maturi said. âÄúI donâÄôt think itâÄôs a unique situation to Minnesota.âÄù Even if a team is interested in coming to play at Williams Arena, the Athletics Department has to consider if itâÄôs willing to pay the team to come to town. The department pays about $10,000 to $15,000 to local teams, but that number can jump to around $75,000 for teams that need to fly in, Maturi said. Performance on the hardwood has also comes into play âÄî as the Gopher program improves under coach Tubby Smith , it will likely look to host better teams, Maturi said. âÄúTubbyâÄôs not unwilling to do that,âÄù he said. âÄúBut itâÄôs not going to be 10 non-conference games at home, all of the caliber that sometimes our fans would like.âÄù But worrying too much about contracts and sheltering a young team from tough competition could backfire on a program. According to the latest Sagarin ratings , which rank teams based a computerized model of win percentages and schedule factors rather than votes, the GophersâÄô schedule strength is the 69th toughest in the nation âÄî a low number considering the University of Wisconsin is 3rd and Michigan State ranks 5th. That number could potentially determine if a team makes it in to the NCAAâÄôs Division I Basketball Championship . âÄúBoth the conference and the non-conference schedule are certainly huge factors to any [selection] committee member,âÄù David Worlock , associate director for Division I basketball said. With more and more teams worried about potentially losing on the road, Worlock and Maturi said theyâÄôve seen an uptick in the number of neutral site games being played. The Gophers took part in a tournament earlier this season at a neutral site in Glendale, Ariz., and will participate in another in Anaheim , Calif., next season . Expenses and payouts for the events work similar to the way they do for bowl games, Maturi said âÄî meaning the team is allotted money for transportation and housing. While the future might hold higher-caliber opponents for the Gophers, well-known teams like UCLA are in high demand and often need to be scheduled seasons in advance. The BruinsâÄô high profile has made them a target of constant scheduling inquiries, according to UCLA Associate Athletic Director Marc Dellins. âÄúWe have numerous schools interested in playing UCLA,âÄù he said, adding that a home-and-home series with Notre Dame was scheduled about 20 months in advance.