BERKELEY, Calif. – Certainly, there are worse places to be stuck for a long weekend.
While waiting around for today’s Arizona-Cal game on Thursday some of the Wildcats opted for a tour of Alcatraz, smack in the middle of the San Francisco Bay on a stunningly perfect winter day.
The Wildcats’ three Bay Area natives went home, while there was plenty of time for everyone to hang out in the team’s iconic East Bay luxury hotel.
But, in another sense, it was a wasted day. A day they could be at home resting, or attending school, and sleeping in their own beds.
It was a day that made the Bay Area swing a five-day jaunt from Tuesday afternoon to just after midnight Sunday morning, when the Wildcats will return home via charter after playing the Bears tonight.
“These trips are long, so there’s only so much you can do,” UA coach Sean Miller said Friday, before the Wildcats practiced at the NBA’s Golden State Warriors’ practice facility. “It’s a different deal. It’s almost like we’re leaving for an NCAA tournament first and second round, or a conference tournament and we’re doing it five or six times.”
Teams typically leave two days before the NCAA tournament, making those trips five days if they play both games, while a Pac-12 Tournament trip can be anywhere from two to five days depending on how a team does.
So adding four in-season trips of that length, on top of a five-day trip to New York for the NIT Season Tip-Off and up to four weeks of five-day trips in post-season tournaments, could add up pretty quickly for the Wildcats already. They still have five-day trips left to Utah-Colorado and Oregon during conference play.
The Pac-12’s travel has always been difficult because of the conference’s huge geographic footprint, but the old Pac-10-style weekend aimed to minimize it by using travel partners and clustering the games together.
Those weekends were scheduled as tightly as Thursday night and Saturday midday, allowing a team to travel and play two games in just a Wednesday afternoon-Saturday night window, costing only two missed days of school and allowing a full rest day at home on Sunday.
“I think that’s been a well‑appreciated feature of our basketball schedule,” Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott said during last season’s Pac-12 Tournament. “It’s also allowed us to keep costs down, keep wear and tear from travel down. So that is one of the things that we’re weighing up as part of this to what extent we can keep that.”
But, back when Scott was negotiating the conference’s lucrative media rights deals, scheduling flexibility was one of his key leverage points. Upon the $3 billion deal’s completion in May 2011, Chris Bevilacqua, an advisor to the Pac-10 in 2011, said the flexibility created value for networks, and ESPN executive Burke Magnus said then that Scott’s willingness to be flexible helped in exposure.
Still, something may have to give. Scott said last March that playing on yet another day may be an option to alleviate some late-night starts, and maybe a Wednesday-Friday weekend will someday replace a Wednesday-Saturday or even a Wednesday-Sunday.
“I think all of us, we talk about maybe a solution,” Miller said. “There has to be a solution some way. I think one of the solutions is to give each one of us kind of like a Pac-10-type of trip — even if it’s not a Thursday-Saturday, give one of us Wednesday-Friday or whatever so it’s shorter.
“I think as we put all of our minds to it, there will be something that will prevent this. Forget me for a second; you start looking at the missed class time for our players. You leave on a Tuesday night and you do that a couple of times you’re basically missing half of a month of school before you enter postseason.”
So to ease it this time, Miller decided to let his guys have some fun, even though he didn’t make the Alcatraz trip himself.