Scheduling has posed challenges for far too long in the mid-major ranks. Finding that balance of testing your limits against the nation’s top programs while still scheduling competitive matchups can be a tough line to walk.
“Scheduling has become one of the most difficult [things] and certainly one of the most important things you do,” Fordham head coach Keith Urgo said during Mid-Major Madness’ Atlantic 10 Conference Preview. “Most think it’s as easy as one, two, three. You invite a team to play, and that’s what happens. That’s really not the case — you have to do all sorts of studies.”
It’s why some coaches have long envied Philadelphia’s Big 5. The grouping provides mid-major teams in the City of Brotherly Love such as Temple, Saint Joseph’s, La Salle, Penn, and recently added Drexel (why not call it the Big 6 now, we don’t know) consistent scheduling opportunities against successful local programs.
Of course, with not-a-mid-major Villanova headlining the group, this annual round-robin turned triple-header, gives those aforementioned mid-major programs resume-building opportunities.
“Team’s like the Philadelphia Big 5, they’re up to 28 or 29 games before they even schedule an additional two or three to get to 31 total games,” Urgo said. “They’re not going to then come try and play a team out of the Atlantic 10 like Fordham on a neutral site or at [Rose Hill Gym].”
So, this got us at MMM thinking: Why doesn’t the New York City area have something similar to Philadelphia’s Big 5? The city has the historic programs, venues, basketball culture, and fandom to pull it off.
“I would love to see something similar to the Big 5 [in New York],” Urgo said. “It immediately takes a lot of pressure off of non-conference games you have to get scheduled, and I think it would be great for New York City basketball and college basketball as a whole.”
So, which programs feature resumes big enough to represent the biggest city in the country by joining a hypothetical “New York City 5”?
We spoke to several head coaches from New York programs to get their thoughts on a potential NYC5.
St. John’s Red Storm (Big East)
As the only high-major program based within NYC, the Johnnies are an easy inclusion in any potential New York City 5.
To that point, St. John’s scheduling of local program’s has only increased with the hiring of Long Island, NY, native Rick Pitino as head coach. During the 2023-24 campaign, Pitino and Co. will battle with Stony Brook, Fordham and Hofstra. They’ll play several games at local professional venues, including Madison Square Garden, Barclays Center and UBS Arena.
As Hofstra Head Coach Speedy Claxton explained, Pitino has been a big proponent of scheduling the local programs.
“I’ve been preaching that we should be doing [a New York City 5], and when Pitino was at Iona, he would pretty much play anybody,” Claxton said.
Hofstra will play against St. John’s on Dec. 30 in the “Battle at Belmont” at UBS Arena.
The Johnnies will also play Fordham, which is a showdown Urgo expressed joy about getting on the schedule in a follow-up interview. The Rams and Red Storm will play at Madison Square Garden on Dec. 16.
“We’re extremely grateful to St. John’s playing us in the Garden,” Urgo said. “It’s great for us. Hopefully we can lock that in for years to come.”
With a push for more home games away from Carnesecca Arena this upcoming season, it’s obvious Pitino is on a mission to return the Red Storm to notoriety within the city. A way to do that would be with the introduction of a New York City 5 Championship. For that to be a possible reality, it has to begin with the city’s biggest program.
Fordham Rams (Atlantic 10)
With the success of last season, the Fordham fanbase showed out in droves to support their Rams in the A-10 Championship at Barclays Center back in March.
8,595 [mostly] Fordham fans tonight in Brooklyn.— Fordham Basketball (@FordhamMBB) March 10, 2023
Rose Thrill travels well! pic.twitter.com/tv78pWw9yp
Now revving up for year two of the Urgo era, the Rams have put together another competitive roster featuring several transfers along with an even tougher non-conference schedule. This season, Fordham will face off with Wagner, Cornell and Columbia, while maintaining their annual “Battle of the Bronx” with Manhattan. They’ll also play against North Texas in a return to Barclays and as mentioned previously, are scheduled to meet St. John’s at MSG.
Playing in the A-10, which expects to be a multi-bid league (#zerobidleague intensifies), Urgo claimed scheduling can provide challenges.
“It’s not that we’re better or worse than any of the other [local] programs,” he said. “We’re not in an automatic one-bid league. So scheduling for us has become extremely difficult as it relates to trying to get high-major programs. No high-major program wants to pay an Atlantic-10 team to come play, and they don’t want to play on a neutral site.”
Thus why Urgo has been an advocate for more scheduling of local programs or a potential New York City grouping.
The opportunity to consistently play a high-major program in St. John’s, as well as several other highly ranked teams in the NET around the New York could prove invaluable.
“Iona is obviously tremendous and always has been,” Urgo said. “The MAAC is a tremendous league, Hofstra’s fantastic. Manhattan is obviously a MAAC school as well. So, their NET has the potential to really benefit people like us and St. John’s.”
Manhattan Jaspers (MAAC)
As one of the more notable programs based within the New York City, Manhattan is a must to be included in any potential New York City 5. The Jaspers have made four NCAA Tournament appearances since the early 2000’s, most recently in 2015 under Steve Masiello.
Newly acquired head coach John Gallagher, who spent his playing days in the Big 5 at Saint Joseph’s, is already interested in the idea of bringing something similar to New York.
“I think it could be phenomenal,,” Gallagher said. “I’m all in on [the idea]. It helps New York City basketball. I think it helps with local recruiting, and I think it helps with an identity.”
An identity that Gallagher will look to instill within his program from the start of his tenure: the toughness and grit for which the City’s basketball programs have long been known.
“It’s the best city in the world and possibly the best for basketball,” Gallagher said. “I’m truly humbled and blessed every day to come in and be the head coach at Manhattan College. The [community] has been tremendous, they want to win, and it’s exciting.”
In year one, Gallagher exemplified this with a loaded non-conference schedule that’ll see the Jaspers travel to Bryant, Kansas, UConn and Fordham. Manhattan will also match up at home with Wagner and Fairleigh Dickinson, while Iona awaits in MAAC play.
“Any time you’re building a program you want to establish an identity on scheduling,” Gallagher said. “Kansas and UConn provide that identity, meaning we want to challenge ourselves out of the conference. The challenge is to play some of the best teams in the country, and at the same time, understanding that the goal is to prepare for the MAAC Championship.”
While the Jaspers aren’t expected to make a massive jump this season, Gallagher proved at Hartford that he understands how to build a program and knows how to win.
Gallagher’s knowledge on the Big 5 could prove critical in New York creating its own tradition.
Iona Gaels (MAAC)
Just a short drive north of New York City and given the program’s consistent success, the Gaels would make for a solid participant in the potential New York City 5.
Iona has won the most MAAC championships in history, including six of the last eight completed tournaments.
On top of that, think about Pitino who spent the last three seasons in New Rochelle. Now the Gaels are led by Tobin Anderson, who was most recently at Fairleigh Dickinson and has spent most of his career in the state of New York.
In Anderson’s first go-around with Iona, he’ll have an opportunity to face off with Hofstra and Colgate, will meet Manhattan twice in MAAC play and will make a trip to UBS Arena in early December.
“I tried to find the best balance of challenging ourselves and a good balance of home and away,” Anderson said. “In a one-bid league like the MAAC, we have to get better and be at our best come March, that’s always the goal.”
With just a few games against New York-based competition in year one, Anderson said he’d be thrilled to have more local programs on the docket in the future.
“It starts with all of us playing each other home and home,” Anderson said. “To [start it], that way would be the ideal situation.”
In addition, Anderson understands that due to the program’s recent success and reputation, it can be difficult to find teams willing to make the trip to the Hynes Athletics Center.
Similar to Urgo at Fordham, Anderson expressed a desire for more home-and-home opportunities, which could be sparked by a potential New York City 5.
“The best thing for us is we all should play each other,” Anderson said. “That’s what happened in Philadelphia. Let’s do the home-and-home stuff. Let’s play those games every year and get them on the schedule.”
Hofstra Pride (CAA)
Hofstra resides in Hempstead, which is not far from the New York City border. In addition, the Pride have the resume to back their inclusion, bolstering one of the best among mid-majors within the state since Claxton’s hiring.
His resume includes multiple Top-25 upsets, a share of the 2023 CAA regular-season crown and a trip to the NIT. Now, heading into the 2023-24 campaign, Claxton has put together another tough non-conference schedule that features some New York flavor. The Pride will have opportunities to battle Buffalo, Iona, and will take on St. John’s at UBS Arena.
“That’s the hardest part of our job is scheduling,” Claxton said. “Teams shy away from playing us, much less come to Hofstra. So, that’s a real challenge.”
Claxton has taken that to heart and says he always wants to play against the top competition to ensure his guys are prepared for a growing CAA conference.
“We are going to go anywhere to play against good competition because I like to challenge my guys in the non-conference,” Claxton said. “I really honestly believe that’s what gets us ready for conference play.”
In Hofstra, the group gets a well-coached program that’s shown the ability to consistently compete with exciting talent in the state of New York.
While this hypothetical talk is great and all, and local coaches seem interested in the potential a NYC5 could provide, is it realistic?
For most of the coaches we spoke to, we received fairly similar answers.
From Iona’s Tobin Anderson: “It sounds great in theory, but is there any truth behind that? Call me if you want to do that and I’ll have it set up in two seconds or we’ll do it in a heartbeat.”
Fordham’s Keith Urgo posed a lot of questions on how it could translate from Philadelphia to New York: “The way it is for Villanova in the Big 5 [scheduling wise], I don’t know if it would be [the same] for St. John’s. That’s no disrespect to anybody else but [the program’s are] a little bit different than we have here.”
While Hofstra’s Speedy Claxton offered something of a different take: “I’ll tell you what, I’ll believe it when I see it. Because I’ve been trying to do it for the last couple years … and I’m the only one that kind of wants to play everybody.”
Point being, at this current time it doesn’t seem like a viable option.
But, if by chance any of the local New York City coaches are reading this: pick up the phone and make that call.
We’re obviously a little late into the scheduling season but it all starts with making those connections for next year and looking to schedule local home and home matchups. An opportunity to watch the top local program’s play at the city’s best venues could be incredible for the continued development of New York basketball.