Cougars' Bone finding it hard to attract marquee opponents to visit
Even for events in Seattle like this week's Cougar Hardwood Classic, location and WSU's low ranking is hindering its ability to attract top-quality opponents.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Buffalo vs. Cougars @ KeyArena, 7:30 p.m., Pac-12 Networks
The headline of a story on a Washington State fan-website this week might not be the choice of basketball coach Ken Bone: "Seattle game opponents underwhelm Bone."
Truth be told, perhaps Buffalo, the opponent Friday night at KeyArena in the Cougar Hardwood Classic, might not be overwhelmed with WSU, either.
Either way, that's the matchup, and if it doesn't have the sizzle of last week's Battle in Seattle featuring Gonzaga and Kansas State, at least it's an occasion for WSU hedonists to get together on the wet side of the state.
"Strategy-wise, we've sold this more as an alumni party," said John Hines of Idol Sports and Entertainment, which promotes both events.
The visit by Buffalo, a Mid-American Conference opponent with a 4-7 record, underscores the perennial difficulty of pre-conference scheduling for the Cougars.
"The game in Seattle is much different from the Gonzaga situation," Bone said earlier this week. "A lot of times, people will compare, (and say), 'Why are you playing a certain level of opponent, and they're playing a high-level opponent?' There are a lot of reasons why, and I think you've heard those."
It's all wound into a tangled web, mostly involving money, location and winning.
Most BCS-conference teams have a scheduling template of sorts: They make money on home games, most of which are against lower-level teams. Many schedule a November tournament for two or three days of high-level competition and supplement those with one or two tougher games.
It's historically almost impossible for WSU to attract BCS-caliber teams to Pullman on a home-and-home basis (outside of an annual series with Gonzaga) because the trip is difficult, the chance of a loss is greatly enhanced — and it's a loss that in recent years, would come against a team that's outside the top 100 in the computer rankings.
That last factor makes the risk/reward equation a tough sell. Comparatively, an outsider scheduling Gonzaga for, say, two neutral-court games knows that a win will mean something and a loss won't be an RPI-killer.
Hines threw in another complicating factor: The sudden jumble of conference realignment has left some schools unsure of how many conference games they're committed to, or even what conference they might be in.
This week, Bone expressed chagrin at the scheduling challenges.
"I know it's difficult to get teams (to Pullman)," he said, "but I thought more teams would be interested in coming to the Seattle area."
But the Cougars, 7-4 and without a top-half Pac-12 finish since 2008, can't be choosy. Extended student class breaks for Thanksgiving and Christmas trim the available dates for getting a good opponent and a good crowd in Pullman — something Bone also noted.
"The way the crowds have been the last two times out for Fresno State and Jackson State (each about 2,600)," Bone said, "maybe there's something to be said for going on the road to get better support, if going on the road is up to Spokane or over to Seattle."
The road also includes the Tri-Cities. The Cougars are playing Idaho State in Kennewick Dec. 29.
Meanwhile, last summer's collapse of a Pac-12/Big Ten initiative for increased competition between the two conferences scuttled a perfect solution for WSU's scheduling problems.
As is, those are hurdles handled by Bone's staff.
"To date, I really haven't gotten involved with trying to secure home-and-home matchups," says WSU athletic director Bill Moos. "I might, only because my network is pretty broad."