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In defense of schedule padding

Fans only know how many games won and how many lost.

Georgetown Introduce Patrick Ewing Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

Yesterday, the Big East schedule was revealed, and with that reveal came the release of the full Georgetown schedule.

Every season, one high-major squad gets raked over the preseason coals by college basketball’s writers and die-hard fans for soft scheduling (in the years with no obvious laggard, it’s Syracuse).

This season, Rutgers and Georgetown get online demerits for fluffily padding their win totals.

But why?

On one hand, playing a whole set of home “buy” games (where an easy-to-beat opponent comes for a large check) seems like the antithesis of hard competition, which we assume college sports to be centered around. For sure, this isn’t a non-conference slate that makes a casual fan with a lot of money think “I should get some season tickets!”

But Georgetown struggled last year, so much that a longtime coach with deep ties to the program was fired. There are questions about the level of talent. And Ewing is a new coach who needs to produce wins to get recruits excited - to build up a team that can play more tough games.

Playing top opponents would be exciting for recruits, but not as much as going to a team with a 9-22 record would be a disincentive to join a program, for example.

From CBS Sports’ Gary Parrish, quoting a coach speaking to a former assistant that lost a tough game in that assistant’s first year as a head coach:

"I've told you a million times. At the end of the season, your fans won't know your strength of schedule. All they'll know is how many games you won and how many games you lost. You should've never scheduled that game. You're in your first year. You knew you couldn't win it. So if you didn't have to play it, you shouldn't have played it."

Or, from Patrick Ewing himself:

“The Big East schedule is going to be tough enough to handle,” Ewing said in a meeting last month with Washington Post reporters and editors. “It’s always been tough. It was tough when I was playing. So, you know, you don’t have to play the toughest nonconference schedule. It’s all about where you end up at the end. . . .

“It’s my belief that, why go out there and get my a — kicked to show my recruits that we need their help when I can stay home and watch other people get their butts kicked,” Ewing said. “Do my recruiting, keep on telling the people we need that we need them, recruit them and do my job to help my team, build them up and show them what my visions are of them and win as many games as we can.”

It’s not sexy, but it’s true.

Think about where the narrative around St. John’s would be if Chris Mullin’s squad had NOT played the Battle 4 Atlantis, and scheduled three winnable cupcakes instead?

Assuming that at least one of the losses to Delaware State and LIU Brooklyn was a fluke, that could have given the Johnnies a record of at least 18-15.

That’s a winning record, eliminating the “Mullin can’t win games” narrative from detractors. It would have been NIT-eligible, though the team may have been left out of the field.

And that’s all fans would remember.

Now, do people remember it being great to see a team lose five in a row? The die-hards might. The casual fans do not.

Before you poo-pooh that, I will also point out that both Syracuse and Virginia Tech won 10 games in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Both beat Duke in their home arenas. But Syracuse, with a 19-15 record and a number of non-conference losses, did not go to the NCAA Tournament, while Virginia Tech, who played one of the ten worst non-conference schedules, did go to the NCAA Tournament.

Meanwhile, Texas Tech and first-year coach Chris Beard missed the NIT with an 18-14 record... partly because their non-conference strength of schedule was the worst in the nation, coupled with their 6-12 league record.

Their best win was on the road over Richmond - where Georgetown will play this fall as well.

And according to Beard, season tickets are at an all-time high (we know, of course, that people do exaggerate about all-time highs and records to sound more impressive, so take that with a grain of salt).

Padding helps coaches keep their jobs. It helps deliver wins in the win column. It helps build a program.