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Horizon League shifts conference schedule format

The league moves away from travel partners, retains double round-robin template

Syndication: The Enquirer
The Horizon League features 11 teams, who will play a 20-game, double round-robin conference slate before competing for the tournament championship in March.
Sam Greene/The Enquirer / USA TODAY NETWORK

The Horizon League will have a new look when conference play begins at the end of November. The league followed the travel-partner model for at least the past decade but is moving away from having two teams play the same two opponents on the same weekend. The league says the change allows for more flexibility in the scheduling.

“We decided we needed to take a look at [the travel-partner approach] for a handful of reasons,” Kelley Ford, the Horizon League assistant commissioner for competition and basketball strategies, said. “First and foremost was the student-athlete experience. We heard from coaches and admins that long road stretches caused real fatigue, just like long home stretches aren’t optimal for fan engagement.”

In some cases, teams were forced to play five straight road games or five straight home games. Those demands are no longer a part of the schedule.

As part of the travel-partner schedule, rivalry games were frequently pushed to odd days of the week. Under the new format, it is easier to place these highly anticipated games on premier days. Both meetings between Green Bay and Milwaukee men’s teams this season are on Saturday. Last year, they played on a Monday and a Thursday.

However, the league will continue to have teams play opponents that are geographically close to each other on one trip. For example, when a team plays at Green Bay, it will also play at Milwaukee the same weekend. This design is to limit the amount of travel the teams endure and minimize missed class time.

Additionally, in many cases there will be an extra day between conference games in a given week. So, instead of a team playing Thursday and then Saturday, it will play Wednesday and Saturday.

“You’re going to be able to see teams and coaches ready to tackle each game with that tenacity on the backend of a pairing that we’ve always seen on the frontend,” Horizon League Commissioner Julie Roe Lach said.

The Horizon League went through a detailed process to create the new schedule method. After receiving input from teams, coaches and school administrators, the league established about a dozen parameters the schedule should incorporate. From there, it worked with Michigan State Associate AD Kevin Pauga, who uses a mathematical formula to establish the schedule for the 2023-24 season.

“We have a league basketball excellence plan, and scheduling is one of the pillars of that plan,” Lach said. “It took time, but in the end, it was absolutely worth it because I believe our product outcome is so much better. … I don’t think we would be as close to our principles and parameters had we not been as collaborative as we were.”

The conference believes the updated format will reap a multitude of benefits. It limits missed class time while also maximizing recovery time. As a result, teams will be better equipped to play at their peak throughout the season.

Therefore, the Horizon League believes the conference champion will feature a more appealing resume for the selection committee come NCAA Tournament time.

The schools will play two league games at the end of November and beginning of December during the non-conference portion of the season. The conference slate kicks into high gear on Dec. 28.

The conference features a 20-game, double-round robin schedule. The regular season wraps up March 2 ahead of the Horizon League tournament.

“We are excited about the potential that we think these changes bring to men’s and women’s basketball in our league,” Ford said.

Youngstown State secured the regular season crown on the men’s side last season with a 15-5 record. Northern Kentucky, which tied for second place, captured the tournament championship. The Green Bay women posted an 18-2 mark on their way to the regular season title. Cleveland State, which finished a game back, won the tournament.