It’s secret scrimmage time

October, 31, 2013
10/31/13
7:27
PM ET
There are a handful of college basketball games being played this week ... but don't tell anybody! Elite teams are facing each other, highly-touted freshmen are experiencing the college game for the first time and new coaches are getting their initial look at their teams in game situations. It’s just that you can’t watch. Or see the stats. Or hear from the coaches.

In an era where nearly every college basketball regular-season game is available on TV or online and the Internet churns nonstop about hoops, the closed scrimmage lives on. Born in 1972, it sticks out in the NCAA manual like a rotary phone sitting between your iPad mini and Xbox. “I think sometimes we over-manage the sport,” said Northeastern coach Bill Coen, who was unable to confirm his team’s scheduled scrimmage Saturday against Boston College. “I’m not sure the reason for all the cloak-and-dagger atmosphere. But you’ve got to respect the rule. To me, it’s a high-powered practice.”

The rule works like this: Schools can play two preseason games, and since 2004 those games have to be against fellow college teams. (No more games against barnstorming clubs like Marathon Oil.) But these games can be open to the public only if it’s against a school from a lower division. Duke, which plays in the State Farm Champions Classic (Nov. 12) against Kansas, annually plays the defending Division II national champion. And Drury comes to Cameron Indoor Stadium Saturday. The Blue Devils beat Division II Bowie State 103-67 last Saturday.

But while coach Mike Krzyzewski likes the two tuneup games in front of fans, other coaches go a different route. Because if you want to play a fellow Division I school, it has to be a so-called “secret scrimmage.”

“The practice scrimmage may not be included on the institution’s published season schedule and may not count against either team’s won/loss records,” the NCAA rule reads. “Only athletics department staff members and those individuals necessary to conduct the practice scrimmage may be present during the scrimmage. Further, the institution must ensure the scrimmage is free from public view and media are not in attendance.”

At least there's the box score, right? Wrong.

“The institution may not post the score and/or statistics in a newspaper, on the participating institutions’ Web sites or any other location,” the rule continues. “In addition, an institution may not provide the score and/or any statistics to any type of media outlet.”

Still, you don’t have to work for the NSA to get a few details about these games. Media outlets put out a secret scrimmage list, while coaches can only talk in generalities about scrimmages.

Handling the exhibition/closed scrimmage situation is a balancing act for schools, especially those that can pack in fans and create revenue from exhibitions. North Carolina has a traditional closed scrimmage against Vanderbilt and plays one exhibition. Northeastern, which plays in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off (Nov. 21-24), is holding two closed scrimmages and one intra-squad scrimmage that’s open to the public.

“If you haven’t really played in front of people before, that can be an intimidating experience for freshmen,” Coen said.

But why not just make the scrimmages public? Some coaches like the ability to stop play and instruct, play more than a 40-minute game and be free from the scrutiny of fans and media. They can also experiment with different player combinations without answering questions about it. “You can really collaborate with the opposing coaching staff and design a scrimmage that’s going to get exactly what you’re hoping to work on,” Coen continued. “In a closed-door scrimmage you can go a little longer and design segments that work on zone defense, or out-of-bounds (plays) or late-game scenarios. You can really get a little creative in that kind of environment.”

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