Conference USA is doing away with bonus play in men’s basketball. What will replace the league’s unique scheduling format is still up for debate.
C-USA instituted a system in the spring of 2018 that saw it lay out the first 14 games in conference play. The matchups for the final four games of the conference season were determined based on the league standings.
Multiple C-USA sources confirmed to the Denton Record-Chronicle on Thursday that the league ending the system after two seasons is a mere formality. One source said simply, “bonus play is done.”
A conference source was careful to say that nothing is definitive until league officials approve changing the system for the 14-team conference at its spring meetings.
The Charleston Gazette-Mail first reported that C-USA would move away from the bonus play system.
C-USA split its teams into three pods based on the league standings after 14 games in the bonus play format. Teams played within their pods for the final four games.
The league source said options for a new format are being considered. Among those options is an 18-game conference slate that would have the league’s teams play home-and-home series against the five teams closest in the league from a geographical standpoint. Teams would face their other eight opponents in the league once.
That format would offer certainty the current bonus-play format does not.
C-USA came up with the bonus-play concept in hopes it would increase the schedule strength of the top teams in the league and improve the seeding of its representative in the NCAA tournament. Old Dominion was a 14th seed in the 2019 NCAA tournament. C-USA’s NCAA tournament representative was seeded 12th or 13th in each of the two seasons before the system went into effect.
Bonus-play received mixed reviews from the start.
UNT coach Grant McCasland initially gave the system a positive review in the 2018-19 season, when it was still a new concept.
“I have loved it from the beginning,” McCasland said at the time. “The league didn’t have a scheduling structure for 14 teams other than putting it in a computer and seeing which teams would play each other twice. This at least gives structure to it.”
Others were less enthusiastic, including Jeff Jones. Old Dominion’s coach questioned the benefits of the system before last season, one year into the scheduling experiment.
“It didn’t particularly help us,” Jones said. “There are added expense and logistical concerns. It didn’t do what everyone hoped, but to make a judgement on it in one year would have been a mistake. We will get more information this year that will help it shake out.”
The returns after two seasons didn’t convince C-USA officials that the benefits outweigh the logistical concerns in the far-flung league that stretches from El Paso, where UTEP is located, to Norfolk, Virginia, the home of Old Dominion.
Teams were forced to make arrangements for road trips late in the season due to the bonus-play format. Those trips were often difficult to manage because they didn’t take geographic concerns into consideration.
UNT chartered a flight for the first time in McCasland’s three-year tenure last season after the Mean Green were handed a tough slate of games from a travel standpoint in bonus play. UNT traveled to Miami to face Florida International on a Thursday night and then hosted Western Kentucky back in Denton at 1 p.m. on Sunday.
The hope is C-USA’s teams won’t encounter those same issues with a new scheduling format.
The Mean Green would have home-and-home series against UTEP, UTSA, Rice, Louisiana Tech and Southern Miss in an 18-game season with doubleheaders against the five closest teams.
UNT would face UAB, Middle Tennessee, Western Kentucky, Marshall, Charlotte, Old Dominion, Florida International and Florida Atlantic once.
C-USA could also look to move to a divisional format in men’s basketball. The league has divisions in some sports.
UNT athletic director Wren Baker was one of a handful of C-USA officials that participated in a roundtable late last month. Those officials addressed a host of concerns facing the league during the shutdown in college athletics due to the spread of the coronavirus.
Changing scheduling practices was among the topics of discussion.
“[We] will look at conference scheduling to see if there is a way to move to divisions or pods where geography is better in our favor to cut costs,” Baker said. “All of those options are on the table. We are on calls three days a week to talk about those kinds of issues.
“Hopefully we will get it done quickly.”
Those changes are coming sooner rather than later in men’s basketball.