It’s the offseason for Lipscomb University’s Brandon Rosenthal, but the 16th-year volleyball coach is plenty busy with scheduling, something he likes to call “The New Let’s Make a Deal.” Scheduling now includes so many things and road blocks and red-tape, and well, read how the coach explains it and vents about the process and all it entails.

One of the most challenging aspects of a volleyball coach’s job these days is scheduling. On top of the layers and layers of things to be considered for pre-conference tournaments and out-of-conference midweek matches is … drum roll, please:

The RPI.

The RPI is the ultimate factor and we dive into that later.

So in the world of scheduling and all the wheeling and dealing with its never-ending string of emails, texts and near-completion agreements, well, it’s something right out of Let’s Make a Deal, whether the old version with Monty Hall or the new one with Wayne Brady.

The Framework

The framework of any schedule is based on the conference schedule and now more than ever there is no true format. Double round, round and a half, divisions, unbalanced, all of these are terms that every coach is very familiar with these days.

Before the explosion of conference realignment almost every conference dealt with the simple and very clean double round-robin format.

Brandon RosenthalIn other words, in your league, every team would play each other on their respective home courts. All that mattered then was if the league held a conference tournament.

Now if you take a look at the top 10 conferences in the NCAA’s Division I, you will find at least five different formats. So by the time the NCAA Tournament comes around it’s a difficult task to get a true feel how each team got to that point without really digging into each conference and the schools that make up that conference. In DI action we have 28 playing dates. By rule you can play any number of matches on each one of those 28 playing dates, but typically 30 matches a year is what you see most teams competing in, excluding the NCAA Tournament. One of the big debates that go with scheduling these days is whether to play fewer matches during the regular season with the emphasis on being fresh for post-season play.

The X Factor

Interestingly, one of the biggest issues affecting scheduling is the involvement of TV.

Yes, TV.

Something that we have wanted, begged for, and dreamed of is now causing havoc in not only conference schedules, but also pre-conference tournaments.

Before I go any further let me state the obvious:

I am OK with this. We’ve been wanting TV for volleyball long before I got involved.

But I am only stating what is yet another piece of the circus of scheduling these days. Now the finalization of conference schedules is being held off until as late as possible until networks put their stamp on when the matches will be played. And the other element — and sometimes the most important element: When those matches will be played. Conferences that were used to playing Friday/Saturday are now playing every day of the week. Some conferences are playing a home match on Friday and an away match on Sunday. Matches are being played on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

Matches are being played at both 7 p.m. local time and then matches are also being played at 9 p.m. Pre-conference tournaments are being told that matches HAVE to start on time because of TV production. So coaches are going back to the dry-erase board to figure out how to schedule a tournament without using the standard two-hour time frame that almost never goes true to form. And then you have a production manager in a TV trailer truck that is pulling his or her hair out wondering why no one planned for the first match to go five and now their start time is going to be all messed up.

Volleyball people understand this. But TV people might not.

Pre-conference Tournaments

Pre-conference tournaments used to be a pretty easy way to get good matches, get your athletes to different parts of the country, and a chance to see and play friends. It involved a handful of phone calls, handshake deals at the AVCA Convention, and a stress-free, back-and-forth where a team would commit and you would never have to run down to your business office to get a contract in the mail and pray that you get it signed and returned with no less than 20 follow-up calls, texts and emails to see if a coach has signed it and returned it.

Well, we are in a new era and now coaches (and tournaments) are being held hostage by other coaches as the inevitable “we are looking for a fourth or we only need one more team,” emails are flooding all of our email inboxes in March.

Yes, March I say.

In years past you would start scheduling for the upcoming years at convention in December and typically be done by the end of January. Now you start scheduling in August and if you are lucky you are done by the end of February, but more commonly March and April are now in play.

So at the height of recruiting season and visits, we are now plagued with whether or not our schedule is complete.

The challenge that we face when scheduling, as a team not in a Power 5 conference is just that, that we won’t get the benefit of the RPI, because in most cases we only get one shot at those bigger-school teams. And more times than not, those matches have to be on their floor. So you have plenty of top-50 teams that have to be ready to seize their opportunity. An opportunity that in a lot of ways can make or break a season.

I think volleyball could benefit from something that is done in men’s college basketball, the so-called “bracket buster” games. This is truly a brilliant idea, one that would revolutionize the tournament field and take volleyball to the next level, but the challenge lies in where do we non-Power 5 conference schools build those matches in as we are doing everything we can to maximize the opportunities we have against the aforementioned Power 5 teams.

As I mentioned earlier, there is a growing movement and examination of the traditional makeup of these four preseason weekend tournaments. What I mean by that is your typical tournament format is one match for each team on Friday and then two matches for each team on Saturday. With this format you are always factoring who gets the premier match on Friday night. This is the match where the home team will have its best crowd. Then factors such as who is playing the first match on Saturday and then the dreaded back-to-back match on Saturday. Most teams want to avoid that scenario at all costs for obvious reasons. But, now coaches and teams are exploring and experimenting with this not-so-crazy idea:

What if we only play one match a day?

It is ridiculous to think that as our sport grows in popularity and with it becoming the most prominent female collegiate sport (not to worry, that’s my next DestinationVolleyball.com column) that we are asking our athletes to play two matches in one

day. Think about it, basketball rarely considers playing back-to-back days except in early season tournaments, soccer needs a week of recovery between games and with the exception of baseball and softball, no other collegiate sport is playing twice in one day.

The Magic Number

So, you ask what’s holding us back from going away from multiple matches for a team in one day:

20.

That is the magic number. I know that sounds crazy, but 20 wins is the magic number for most coaches when talking to recruits and their bosses. To get 20 victories in a year is really tough when you are playing challenging out-of-conference matches and even tougher if you would move to playing only one match a day, because remember you only get 28 playing dates. Most conference schedules take up 14-20 of those and most programs have just four weekends to work with before conference play starts. This predicament turns into a math formula that you need Matt Damon from Good Will Hunting to solve.

RPI. Yes, the RP-Freakin’-I

The three little letters that will send any DI volleyball coach shaking their head depending on what side of the dreaded RPI bubble they fell on the previous year.

The RPI — Ratings Percentage Index — is basically a way for the NCAA to rank teams in a sport based on their wins and losses giving weight to the teams played. A win over a good team is a good thing. A win over a poor team doesn’t help you. A loss to a bad team hurts you. And on and on.

Look, it is no secret and this is not a formula that shrouded in secrecy that Russell Crowe in A Beautiful Mind concocted. Spend a couple hours talking to some of the “experts” in RPI configuring and you too can figure out the magic sauce. At then end of the day, having the best RPI schedule won’t magically get you an invite into the NCAA Tournament. You have to win and you have to win against good teams.

If you ask the NCAA there is no standard statement that a coach will receive as to the weight of the RPI that is used each year for tournament selections, but again do a little research and you will find that the numbers next to each team in the RPI Rankings has a direct correlation as to whether they got into the tournament or not that year.

Sure, there are plenty of coaches each year that will get out their soapbox and announce to the world (or at least to those that will listen, which is typically not a lot) as to why their team was slighted and why the RPI did them wrong. My advice to them is to figure it out. Meaning until the NCAA’s trend of RPI and tournament selection changes, it is your job to figure out how the RPI works and how you can maximize your schedule.

The Magic Schedule

Every coach around the country has a paper version of their next schedule on their desk these days and on it is enough chicken scratch and red pen marks that would make a freshman English major cry.

This time of year the emails come in every day from a program that is looking for that last team to complete their aforementioned tournament.

No longer are committed teams listed on emails, because a couple years ago those committed teams were poached away to other tournaments with promises of more money and who knows what else.

So a coach is left scrambling in May (the same May that we get a “break” from volleyball) to scour their emails and make frantic phone calls to friends seeing if they can squeeze them into their already filled tournament.

In these instances, guarantees, the RPI, and the back-to-back matches don’t matter, as the completion of the schedule is the ultimate goal.

And somewhere Monty Hall and Wayne Brady are smiling as a DI volleyball coach is trying to decide whether to take the tournament behind Door Number 3, that will give them the “Magic Schedule” or the feared “zonk” prize,” a tournament that will haunt them all season.

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Follow Lipscomb coach Brandon Rosenthal on Twitter @RosenthalLUVor email him at brandon.rosenthal@lipscomb.edu

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