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Jeff Kolpack, Published January 09 2009

Summit focuses on hoops setup: League to reconsider Thursday-Saturday-Monday schedule

It was the third day of March last year and 2,000 fans populated the Bison Sports Arena. It was by far the busiest Monday of the season for North Dakota State, but they were there for another reason besides a women’s basketball game.

It was Amy Ruley’s last ride as the Bison head coach.

The crowd was the exception to NDSU’s Monday rule, which in just over a year of Summit League play has been this: There are plenty of tickets available.

It is one reason why the league is looking at changing the Thursday-Saturday-Monday setup. The men play Thursday, the men and women play a doubleheader on Saturday and the women play Monday.

“There are a lot of positives on one side and lot of negatives on the other side,” said Summit commissioner Tom Douple.

In other words: Don’t look for a quick change.

One format, called “mirror scheduling” was proposed in the form of a survey sent to league members. An example of a mirror would be the NDSU men at Western Illinois and IUPUI on Thursday and Saturday while the NDSU women host Western Illinois and IUPUI on those same days.

A Forum sampling of the current Saturday-Monday setup for women was mixed among league members. Three schools like it, five don’t like it and two have no opinion.

It was discussed at the league’s Joint Council meeting in October. For veteran members of the league, discussing the basketball schedule is almost like Christmas: It happens every year.

“An annual thing,” said Western Illinois athletic director Tim Van Alstine.

At NDSU, Monday has been a tough sell. Take away the Ruley Going Away Party and the Bison averaged 919 fans in the other three Monday games. NDSU drew 703 in its first Summit Monday game this season, and that was against perennial league power Oral Roberts.

“Mondays have been more difficult for us,” said NDSU women’s athletic director Lynn Dorn.

One theory: Bison fans are still used to the old Friday-Saturday North Central Conference men’s and women’s doubleheader format. They’ve been slow to warm to the women’s Saturday afternoon/Monday night format.

“We’re definitely a proponent of the mirror schedule,” Dorn said.

Last Monday, NDSU played in front of 143 fans at Indiana Purdue-Fort Wayne. IFPW athletic director Tommy Bell said moving to a Thursday-Saturday setup would be difficult because the school has men’s volleyball, but he would find a way to make it work.

Anything to stay away from Monday.

“You could throw a hand grenade in here on Monday and not hurt anybody,” he said. “Everybody struggles with Monday. It’s tough to draw unless you’re a Big Ten men’s team.”

Biggest problem with the mirror format, however, is it ties up an arena every weekend. At Western Illinois, for instance, Van Alstine said Western Hall is also used for other community and campus purposes.

“The women’s program has built up some equity in terms of the Monday night slot,” he said. “And second, we do favor a doubleheader format on Saturday afternoon at 4:30 and 7. Our population is such that we need to do everything we can to get people to games and keep them here.”

SDSU head coach Aaron Johnston has the same reasoning, saying because Brookings is a smaller town, it has to draw fans from a wide area.

“Some programs that are more metro-based probably don’t like it,” he said.

Douple said he’s already been a part of two studies concerning the schedule. At one time, the conference had strictly doubleheaders. It’s also done the mirror format, he said.

It doesn’t help that the league is spread over three time zones, from Southern Utah to the West, Centenary (La.) to the South, Oakland (Mich.) to the East and NDSU to the North.

“We take everybody’s opinion,” Douple said. “For one, it may not be good, but it may be good for the other.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter

Jeff Kolpack at (701) 241-5546.

Kolpack’s NDSU media blog can be found

at www.areavoices.com