Scheduling college sports: How it’s done

Sports are vibrant in American culture and make up a strong community within every college campus across the nation. While we debate X’s and O’s, it’s often overlooked how a sporting event comes together.

While a Jackrabbit sports teams’ job is to win, the SDSU administrative staff’s job is to put together a competitive sports schedule balanced with home games, away games and simply filling up the schedule with opponents preferably in the region.

Just like a Jackrabbit sports team, the SDSU Administrative staff has a goal and wants nothing short of excellence. From kids to adults, SDSU aims to provide a fun and safe environment as well as entertainment on every level for everyone. A campus and community becomes unified as students, alumni and local residents attend sporting events.

“We really take our marketing and promotions very seriously here at SDSU,” Senior Associate Athletic Director Robert Peterson said.

Peterson plans every aspect in creating a schedule. Since making the jump to D-I in 2004, Peterson admits to a bit of learning curve. With much of the staff being inexperienced, it marked a transitional period for SDSU that has continued to grow stronger over the years. 

“We are very big on professional development for our staff,” Peterson said. “I think we are considered one of the leaders in the Summit League in how we do events, how we coach our teams, and how we operate as a program. But I think at the same time we strive every day to get better.”

According to Christi Williams, Associate Athletic Director of Tickets and Marketing, says ticket sales have increased by over $500,000 since making the leap to D-I. SDSU has made over one million dollars annually in the last two years with football and basketball bringing in the most revenue respectably.

“Season ticket sales push for football and basketball occurs in February – June,” Williams said. “August – October is [a] high sales period for single game tickets.”

In many instances over this season, men’s and women’s basketball have funneled what is called ‘mirror scheduling’ into their 2013 season schedule. While the men play a Thursday night game at home, the women will play Thursday night on the road against the same school that is visiting Frost Arena that night. The focus has been on the continuation of building the women’s program up. 

Academics also played a role in the decision to use mirror scheduling, because student athletes tend to lose more class time by playing on a Monday night. The league is looking at different options and could do away with mirror scheduling in the 2014 men’s and women’s basketball season.

“We are trying to put more of a focus on women’s basketball … where both teams are playing Thursday night, one will be home and one will be away. Then both teams will play Saturday, home and away,” Peterson said. “Thursday night is more of a prominent night than a Monday night, there were some people that felt, that basketball gets kind of lost after the weekend.”

Football and basketball are the more popular sports, other sports like equestrian, baseball, golf, and tennis are often discussed among the coaches and Peterson handles their contract, and finalizing a date for the contest. Often times travel fees become a burden for some schools so it isn’t uncommon to work out a deal that benefits both schools in terms of travel. 

While Hobo Day is the most celebrated day on campus every year, it is of utmost importance that Hobo Day is not scheduled during pheasant season’s opening weekend as Peterson is consciously aware that attendance will suffer. 

Given the environment surrounding SDSU, it is SDSU’s mission to respect the farmers in the area and schedule away games during their harvest, providing them with an opportunity to attend home games.

Focused primarily on those nearest to SDSU, Peterson isn’t worried about scheduling Hobo Day on the same day as the neighboring schools.

“We don’t worry about NDSU and their homecoming, we don’t worry about UND and theirs or USD and theirs,” Peterson said. “They’re entitled to select their dates and whatever date is best for them, we focus on what date is best for SDSU and our patrons.”

Over the last six football seasons dating back to 2008, SDSU has played four 11 game seasons only seeing five home games. Generally SDSU visits an FBS or BCS opponent tilting the Jackrabbits towards five home games as opposed to six in an 11 game season. 

All in all, there are eight conference games and three non-conference games. There is no definite deadline for any particular sport’s schedule to be released, the two main priorities of a schedule release is completion (contract received) and timeliness. 

Social networking plays an integral part in setting up game contracts, Peterson often calls colleagues, uses a website, or uses a method called ‘cold calling’ while looking to partner up with other schools to complete a schedule. Cold calling refers to the process of making calls to schools that previously had not shown interest in the Jacks to see if they would be interested in playing SDSU.

There has been some talk about whether or not BCS and FBS teams should no longer play inferior schools because it hurts their bid at a national championship, but any affect may not appear until the 2017 football season where Peterson says he does not have a BCS game scheduled yet. 

Peterson has a BCS game scheduled for every season leading up to 2019. A BCS or FBS school may save up to $700,000 by playing an FCS level school like SDSU. Several factors go into playing a non-conference game such as television and hype surrounding the game.

“Those level of schools, they understand the benefit of doing it,” Peterson said. “One, they get a home game … they are drawing 60,000 people … they can get an FCS level team for a lower amount then they could get for a MAC or a Mountain West school.”

Hobo Day will be Oct. 25 this year as Youngstown State will visit Coughlin-Alumni Stadium. 

“To be quite honest, we’re very proud of the level of football we play. I think we are one of the top FCS programs,” Peterson said. “Often times we think that there is not a lot of a difference between our level of football … some of the FBS level programs of the lower end teams.”