The Syracuse Orange men’s basketball season tips off in a couple weeks, but #NARRATIVE went ahead and got a head start on us this time around.
This year’s first offender is none other than “Joey Brackets” himself, who dropped this gem in his paywall-protected piece around scheduling to reach March Madness.
“It’s often a race between Syracuse and Notre Dame to see who plays the first not-required true road game in a given season. Kudos to the Irish for booking a Dec. 8 date at UCLA. The Orange, outside the mandated Big Ten Challenge trip to Ohio State, manage to avoid the road until after the calendar turns in January. The Orange are home or neutral until their Jan. 5 visit to (wait for it...) Notre Dame, all but guaranteeing an NCAA bid.”
We’ve had our qualms with Lunardi’s analysis before in this space, but this one’s not even a question of bias. It’s one of completely false narratives — along with a nonsensical qualifier that discounts SU’s true road game just to meet the requirements of a bad premise.
See, what Lunardi misses here is that the schedules for things like the ACC/Big Ten Challenge are made in conjunction with schools. So for Syracuse, alternating home games with Georgetown for the last four years, it makes sense that on the off-year they’d have a road game against a B1G school.
The Orange also aren’t even the only program to schedule as they have. We dove into the last two seasons of non-conference schedules for the entire ACC, plus power conference teams included in the postseason top 25 last year or preseason top 25 this year, and found a lot of the same sort of arrangements. Some schools even avoided road games altogether.
Zero true road games in 2018-19 or 2017-18
- Duke Blue Devils (18-19)
- Michigan State Spartans (17-18)
- NC State Wolfpack (17-18)
- Ohio State Buckeyes (17-18)
- Texas Tech Red Raiders (18-19)
One true road game in 2018-19 or 2017-18
- ACC: Clemson (both), Florida State (18-19), Louisville (17-18), Miami (18-19), NC State (18-19), Notre Dame (18-19), Pitt (17-18), Syracuse (both), Virginia Tech (18-19)
- B1G: Michigan (18-19), Purdue (17-18)
- Big 12: Kansas (17-18), TCU (both), Texas Tech (17-18), West Virginia (both)
- Pac-12: Oregon (17-18), UCLA (both), Washington (both)
- SEC: Auburn (18-19), Kentucky (both), LSU (both), Mississippi State (both), Tennessee (18-19), Texas A&M (18-19)
Not only is it a pretty common practice to have either zero or one true road game during your non-conference schedule, it’s even more common in the ACC. Including Syracuse, nine of the league’s 15 teams have done that in the last two years. Duke (which plays a significant number of neutral site games each year) didn’t bother with a true road game at all this year.
The criticism also breezes by how dubious some of these “road” schedules really are for other teams around the country. Two of UNC’s three road games this year include trips to Elon and Wofford. Other than a trip to Kansas, Villanova goes to in-state foes Penn and LaSalle. Tennessee visits Memphis. Kentucky just goes to Louisville. TCU only takes a trip to local rival SMU (we’re not counting a game at DII Hawaii Pacific since the committee doesn’t either).
And all of this further ignores the additional challenges for Syracuse — and likely the guiding reason for why schedules are constructed this way: its significant travel costs for its nine (soon to be 10) conference road games relative to the rest of the ACC. Same goes for Notre Dame, the other target of Lunardi’s snark. The gate receipts of eight or nine non-conference games and neutral site payouts help offset the costs of being further from the core of the conference. ND can say the same, just minus the 18,000-plus in attendance for non-conference fodder.
At one point, there was a basis for the #NARRATIVE of “Syracuse never leaves New York State,” dating back to the Big East days. Jim Boeheim, seeing a loaded Big East schedule each year, would look to save his team’s legs up for conference play by facing lesser foes from around upstate.
That strategy wasn’t unique to Syracuse, but it was endorsed by the Orange to great effect. College basketball scheduling and NCAA Tournament resume demands have shifted in recent seasons, and SU has moved with them. SU’s Kip Wellman recently spoke with us about non-conference scheduling and the adjusted approach. Even if Syracuse is at home for a bunch of games, they’re making sure those opponents are largely of higher quality. The numbers prove it, too, as Kip works to make sure of.
Since the start of 2014-15, Syracuse has played at least one true road game each season (two each in 2014-15 and 2015-16), and at least two neutral site games per year too. The Orange haven’t gone without a true road game in non-conference play since 2011-12, just to show how out-of-date Lunardi’s idea is here. To show this isn’t just ‘Cuse bias talking either, Notre Dame had three true road opponents in non-conference play last year. They also regularly play three or four neutral games per year.
So what exactly is the demand of Syracuse (and ND) here? Schedule tougher than the rest of the country does to apologize for making surprise tournament runs? Add pointless road games against Albany and Niagara just to say we checked a box when a Syracuse home game does more for those schools and SU?
As we know by now, #NARRATIVE rarely needs a reason. And if the Orange perform to expectations this season, those faulty points become footnotes to success anyway.