One side effect of the coronavirus crisis is that it could change how college athletic programs schedule. With money tight and travel dangerous, heading to faraway places makes less and less sense these days.
“I do think there’ll be a little bit of a reset,” Arizona Wildcats athletic director Dave Heeke said Thursday. “We’ve done to that a degree.”
Heeke said Arizona has been “ramping up” its scheduling of opponents from nearby regions like New Mexico, Utah, Nevada and South California “across the board for our programs.”
That was already true for football. In 2020, the Wildcats will complete a home-and-home with Texas Tech from relatively close Lubbock, Texas. In 2021, they will face BYU (from Utah), San Diego State and Northern Arizona in the non-conference season.
Both the men’s and women’s basketball teams will face Gonzaga this season—the men on the road and the women at home.
“Some of those can be done with ground transportation, on bus transportation, or pretty direct quick commercial flights, so that helps with with the with the travel and the costs,” Heeke said. “So I think that will be a byproduct of the reductions that programs are trying to find in their operating budgets to manage through this really unstable time.”
Another byproduct? It could strengthen the regional rivalries that make college sports special but had been replaced by national, sometimes neutral-site, events.
Think Arizona vs. New Mexico—a once intense Border Conference and WAC rivalry that has been pretty dormant in recent years.
“I’m all for marquee premier events that put our brand on the top, from golf, to basketball, to football, whatever it is, but I think maybe sometimes we continue to grow those events or we grow that kind of concept, to probably beyond where we really need to,” Heeke said. “And we can play some more localized games that are really good interest for our fans, and are less of a burden on our student-athletes.”
Here are some notable distant road trips Arizona’s programs made (or were scheduled to make) in the non-conference season during the 2019-20 sports calendar:
- Volleyball to Lawrence, Kansas
- Women’s basketball to Austin, Texas; Chicago, Illinois
- Men’s basketball to Waco, Texas
- Baseball to Austin, Texas
- Men’s golf to Lihue, Hawaii; Cabo San Lucas, Mexico; Augusta, Georgia
- Women’s golf to Minneapolis, Minnesota; Skokie, Illinois; Atlanta, Georgia; Kailua, Hawaii; Coral Gables, Florida
- Softball to Tuscaloosa, Alabama
- Football to Honolulu, Hawaii
- Beach volleyball to Fort Worth, Texas
- Men’s and women’s swimming and diving to Minneapolis, Minnesota; Austin, Texas
- Men’s tennis to Fort Worth, Texas; Montgomery, Alabama; Honolulu, Hawaii
- Women’s tennis to Montgomery, Alabama
- Gymnastics to Baton Rouge, Louisiana; Boise, Idaho
- Track and field to Iowa City, Iowa; Lubbock, Texas