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For mid-major NCAA basketball teams, scheduling is a major issue

Morrill is holding one open date for next season, hoping to play a power-conference team -- and he'll even go on the road to play.

At many power-conference schools, coaches can schedule judiciously because they can play their way into the NCAA tournament with nothing more than a respectable performance in their conference, so their nonconference schedule doesn't need to be too difficult. At the other end of the food chain, low-major programs often need to go on the road to play several "guarantee games," sometimes receiving upwards of $80,000 for the chance to get pummeled by superior teams, all so they can financially sustain their program.

"That's what it comes down to, it's the haves and the have nots in college basketball," Marshall said. "It's a caste system. There is a pecking order."

Morrill always tells young coaches two factors to remember before taking a Division I head coaching job: Can you get players into school and do you control your own schedule? "If you can control your own schedule," he said, "nobody is going to schedule you out of a job and make you play six money games and get your brains beat out and not have any confidence for your team."

But among competitive mid-major teams, the challenge is unique. Perennial national contenders such as Gonzaga, Memphis during the Coach John Calipari years or, to a lesser extent, Butler in recent years have dominated their respective conferences. For them, elite nonconferences games work more toward helping to improve NCAA tournament seeding.

At other mid-major schools, piecing together a smart schedule could prove the difference between an NCAA tournament berth and, in some cases, unemployment. Persuading a competitive team to play will improve one's position in the Ratings Percentage Index, a mathematical measurement of a team's strength that accounts for strength of schedule.

But there is little incentive for coaches in power conferences to play strong teams from non-major conferences. It all comes down to what coaches call self-preservation and the need to serve their own self-interests. Kampe, the Oakland coach, said his scheduling challenge is easier than most because "I don't care." After 26 seasons at the school and with strong job security, he tries to win the Summit League and schedules a who's who of power-conference teams in nonleague road games, record be damned. Next season's slate includes West Virginia, Tennessee, Illinois, Purdue and Michigan State (at a neutral site).

But there are still issues. Kampe has had trouble scheduling Detroit. Finally, after Oakland center Keith Benson declared for the NBA draft, Detroit called and asked to start a series; Kampe agreed. The next week, Benson withdrew and the phone rang. It was Detroit, saying they have a scheduling conflict.

"That's the crap that happens," Kampe said.

"Guys will out and out lie to you," said Morrill, who sometimes includes a $75,000 no-appearance clause in contracts in case a team, after playing the Aggies at their arena, decides not to play a return game in Utah. "You don't know that you have a game scheduled until the contract is sitting in front of you, signed and done."

Meantime, at Wichita State, Marshall waits for his phone to ring. Wichita State has just two home games -- University of Missouri-Kansas City and Tulsa -- secured right now. He'd love to have a two-for-one series with Kansas or Kansas State, where he'd play home, road and neutral-site games against a well-known in-state team. Keep dreaming, he said.

He is still searching for four games for next season.

"It's going to take a while," Marshall said.

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