While the Big East decided it won't change its tournament format for 2011, where and when its conference games will be played this season remains a long, drawn-out process.
The Big East handles its 18-game conference schedule using a poll voted on by the league's coaches in May. According to where teams are ranked, they're placed into tiers. In some years, there have been just three tiers, sometimes four, sometimes five or even six, depending on the discrepancy between the teams' point totals.
Creating a schedule for a 16-team league is inherently difficult, especially taking into consideration games played on national television. This season, the league is facing the toughest time it has had in finalizing its conference schedule because of the late release dates of schedules for professional sports teams that share venues with half of the league's teams.
The AHL minor league hockey schedule was released Tuesday, which affected home dates for the Providence Friars at the Dunkin' Donuts Center, the UConn Huskies at the XL Center, DePaul at Allstate Arena and Marquette at the Bradley Center. The NBA schedule was released later than normal this season (due in large part, the Big East thinks, because of the reshuffling of games to accommodate the changes brought on by LeBron James' free agency saga). The NHL television schedule was supposed to be released Wednesday, which would help with arenas that house NHL and Big East teams (Georgetown at the Verizon Center, St. John's at Madison Square Garden, Seton Hall at the Prudential Arena and Villanova for its handful of games at the Wachovia Center).
Georgetown and St. John's also share their venues with NBA teams as well as other events that come through New York and Washington, D.C., in the winter months. Even Louisville had scheduling issues in the past with events when it played at Freedom Hall. The new arena is still a public facility, although the Cardinals are the primary tenant.
Big East associate commissioner Tom Odjakjian, who has to put the master schedule together, has no idea when it will be finalized.
Associate commissioner Dan Gavitt said scheduling at the Wachovia Center, Madison Square Garden and the Verizon Center has historically been the most difficult to finalize.
For the 2010-11 season, there were five tiers, determining which teams are paired up together for their three repeat games.
The tiers, based on the coaches' poll, went like this:
Tier 1: Pitt and Villanova
Tier 2: Syracuse, West Virginia, Georgetown.
Tier 3: Louisville, St. John's, Notre Dame, Connecticut.
Tier 4: Marquette, Cincinnati, Seton Hall.
Tier 5: South Florida, Providence, Rutgers, DePaul.
Pitt and Villanova received 13 of the 16 first-place votes. One of the three first-place votes went to St. John's. Louisville coach Rick Pitino admitted he gave the Red Storm and new coach Steve Lavin a first-place vote May 14. "I was debating between St. John's, Pittsburgh, Villanova and Cincinnati, but I didn't want to put that on Mick [Cronin, Pitino's former assistant] so I went with St. John's."
Pitino told ESPN.com Wednesday that he was sticking with St. John's, saying in a text: "Nine seniors. Everyone but Pitt and Villanova lost key players."
St. John's was picked in the ballot to finish anywhere from first to 13th while Cincinnati's range spread from fourth to 13th. Coaches couldn't vote for their own teams.
Gavitt said the Big East has been fortunate that some of the league's notable rivalries, such as Pitt-West Virginia and Rutgers-Seton Hall, have been in tiers that allow the teams to play each other twice.
"If you're in one of the bottom [tiers] then you generally get one very difficult repeat and two repeats against your peers," Gavitt said. "If you are picked in the middle, then you don't end up playing one of the top-tier teams. But you don't get a bottom-tier team either. It hasn't happened yet where a rival is way down away from the other team."
Below is a list of each team's repeat assignments for the upcoming season:
Pitt: Villanova (1), West Virginia (2), South Florida (5).
Villanova: Pitt (1), Syracuse (2), Rutgers (5)
Syracuse: Villanova (1), Georgetown (2), Seton Hall (4).
Georgetown: Syracuse (2), St. John's (3), Cincinnati (4).
West Virginia: Pitt (1), Louisville (3), DePaul (5).
Louisville: West Virginia (2), Connecticut (3), Providence (5).
St. John's: Georgetown (2), Notre Dame (3), Cincinnati (4).
Notre Dame: St. John's (3), Marquette (4), Connecticut (3).
Connecticut: Louisville (3), Notre Dame (3), Marquette (4).
Marquette: Connecticut (3), Notre Dame (3), Seton Hall (4).
Cincinnati: Georgetown (2), St. John's (3), DePaul (5).
Seton Hall: Syracuse (2), Marquette (4), Rutgers (5).
South Florida: Pitt (1), Providence (5), DePaul (5).
Providence: Louisville (3), South Florida (5), Rutgers (5).
Rutgers: Villanova (1), Seton Hall (4), Providence (5).
DePaul: West Virginia (2), Cincinnati (4), South Florida (5).
Gavitt said that the Big East attempts to get the best intelligence it can from its coaches when pairing teams for their conference schedules.
"Over the last five years it has been right about 75 percent of the time," Gavitt said. "We're always going to have teams finish higher like Pitt and Syracuse did last year. You can't bat a thousand."
• The Big East is also mulling what to do with the SEC/Big East Invitational. The event is in its final year of its current format of playing at neutral sites, which it has struggled to schedule and fill. The Big East has been fortunate with the home run of Kentucky-Connecticut last December at MSG but even Syracuse-Florida in Tampa wasn't a sellout. Coaches would like to see the event continue but on campus sites with all 12 SEC schools going against 12 of the 16 Big East schools. There would be a three-year rotation for the 16 Big East schools of home/road and off (out of the event) over an eight-year time frame.
• The Big East is trying to lessen the number of Saturday-Monday turnarounds for teams to around three this season.
• A source in the Big East said there would have been serious discussion within the league to add Kansas and Kansas State had both schools been made available if expansion dismantled the Big 12 but that there has never been any real discussion about adding Memphis. Football coaches haven't been shy about the need for a ninth member for scheduling purposes but basketball coaches are against a 17th school, and for the Big East to add one or two members it has to be a home run on all fronts. Kansas and Kansas State would have been if they were available. But they're not.