MISSOULA — In a cost saving measure, the Big Sky Conference has opted to drop four games from the men's and women's conference basketball schedules for the 2020-21 season, it said on Friday afternoon in a media release.
The move effectively eliminates one road trip for each team.
Big Sky Conference schools will now play 16 conference games instead of 20. All 11 schools will still qualify for the men's and women's Big Sky basketball championship, which will run from March 8-13, 2021, in Boise.
“This one-year adjustment to our conference basketball schedules is an appropriate measure that delivers significant cost savings to our member institutions while providing our basketball programs with more flexibility in their non-conference scheduling,” Big Sky Commissioner Tom Wistrcill said in a release. “I applaud our schools’ leaders for striking the right balance between providing opportunities for our student-athletes to compete while recognizing the need to make changes for the upcoming year.”
Montana athletic director Kent Haslam told 406mtsports.com on Friday afternoon that the move could save roughly $20,000 for both the men's and women's programs.
Cutting an expensive road trip is the primary focus of the move. Haslam explained that trips to schools such as Southern Utah and Northern Arizona are more expensive than trips to Eastern Washington or Idaho.
"I think it’s a good and prudent move to reduce the cost of both the men’s and the women’s side of one road trip," Haslam said. "You know you’re going to miss a road trip and freeing up that weekend in December is nice.”
Montana and Montana State will both likely lose an expensive trip. Geographic proximity will be one of the criteria that will help determine the six opponents teams will play twice and which ones they will play once.
Idaho, Idaho State, Weber State and Eastern Washington all seem to be teams that both the Grizzlies and the Bobcats will face twice.
“Going into this year we are prepared to adapt to the changes. Although we’re disappointed in not having a complete Big Sky schedule, I understand as a conference that we need to consider ways to save money on budgets this year," Montana State women's basketball coach Tricia Binford said in a university release. "I am thankful the Big Sky Tournament has not been impacted and as a team we will focus on what we can control and make the most of every opportunity to compete.”
The Big Sky composite schedule has yet to be released. Haslam said that both Montana head men's coach Travis DeCuire and interim women's coach Michael Petrino are still working on their non-conference slates.
Between classes ending at Thanksgiving next fall instead of running into December and now an extra weekend open, the expectation for many schools is that they will try to schedule extra home games or find a guaranteed money game to fill the slot.
A problem Big Sky teams have run into throughout the years is filling their schedules with enough Division-I home games, which was part of the decision several years ago to switch to a 20 game conference slate — each team was assured 10 Division-I home dates.
The last time the Big Sky played a 16-game schedule was the 2011-12 season. The conference switched from 18 to 20 games ahead of the 2018-19 season and the Big Sky has had 20-, 18-, 16-, and 14-game league schedules over the last two decades.
Each institution will be able to decide if it will fill the four extra games or not.
“It’s just going to look a little different next year,” Haslam said. “That’s just how it is.”