Ernie's Insights - The Art of Scheduling
Johns Hopkins men’s lacrosse coach Dave Pietramala announced the Blue Jays’ 2018 schedule last week. That in itself isn’t news; Pietramala has typically announced the schedule in late October/early November.
In a 13-game season that includes five Big Ten games, there wasn’t likely to be a lot of surprises. The rotation of the five league games was set by the Big Ten when the Blue Jays joined the league and the initial four-year schedule rotation included the 2018 season.
In three short years, the Big Ten has developed into, arguably, the top men’s lacrosse conference in the nation. Think about it. The Blue Jays’ 2018 league schedule will include the two teams that played for the 2017 national championship (Maryland and Ohio State) and two other teams that were ranked number one at some point during the 2017 season (Penn State and Rutgers).
The non-conference schedule, that’s where Pietramala is challenged and the art of scheduling comes into play.
Challenged by that very same Big Ten schedule, which is locked into a five-week stretch that immediately precedes the Big Ten Tournament.
Challenged by the calendar. If the final six weeks of the season are spoken for (including the Big Ten Tournament), Pietramala has to work back from there to fit in some of the greatest rivalries in school – and lacrosse – history.
Challenged by trying to strike a balance. With a conference slate as tough as the one Johns Hopkins will face, how many other games do the Blue Jays need to play against top competition?
And yet, there’s never a doubt that Pietramala wants to keep those games against traditional rivals that make the Blue Jays’ schedule what it is – the most attractive in the nation.
While many believe that it’s as easy as flipping the home games to away and the away games to Homewood Field from year to year, it’s not. One change somewhere can make the entire process a months-long ordeal that is equal parts arduous and exciting.
Case in point, the Blue Jays’ 2018 schedule. Consider what Pietramala had to work through.
Syracuse visited Homewood Field in 2017 for the second consecutive year due to a potential conflict at the Carrier Dome involving the SU women’s basketball team. That conflict – Syracuse’s ability to host the first and second round of the NCAA Division I Women’s Basketball Tournament – isn’t going away.
After agreeing to have Syracuse return to Homewood in 2017 and then contracting to play in 2018 and 2019 at the Carrier Dome a week earlier than normal, Pietramala had to find a new home on the schedule for Towson, which had occupied the weekend now held by Syracuse.
Towson, a national semifinalist in 2017 and one of JHU’s traditional local rivals, moved to the season-opener on February 10 in 2018. Not a big deal, right? Maybe not to Johns Hopkins, but Towson and head coach Shawn Nadelen didn’t open the season that early in 2017, so to play on that weekend in 2018, Nadelen had to revamp his entire preseason to ensure the Johns Hopkins-Towson game stayed on the schedule.
The weekend now occupied by Towson was previously held by UMBC. Easy enough to slide the local game against the Retrievers to a weekday, but when?
Avoiding another game in February was a priority, and the Retrievers didn’t play a single mid-week game in 2017, so the spot between Syracuse and Delaware was selected.
Oh yes, Delaware. That open date left when Syracuse was bumped up a week needed to be filled.
Why not slide Navy, the casualty of the 2018 schedule as it turned out, into that slot? Well, Navy has its own league commitments and that date is set aside for what might be the premier Patriot League game of the season as Loyola visits Annapolis that day.
Think Pietramala and Navy coach Rick Sowell didn’t try everything they could to make a Hopkins-Navy game in 2018 a reality?
Think again. The aforementioned Johns Hopkins Big Ten commitments are nothing compared to Navy’s Patriot League obligations. In 2018, every weekend from February 24 through April 14 is spoken for on Navy’s schedule with a league game. The Mids did have an opening on April 21, but Hopkins will be at Michigan playing a game that must be played that weekend.
Pietramala was able to land a game with Delaware in the penultimate non-conference game of the season, but only after new Blue Hen coach Ben DeLuca was able to adjust the schedule he inherited when hired at the end of May. Remember, the sequence of events that opened that date on the Johns Hopkins schedule had started in December 2016 – long before DeLuca had been hired. In fact, it had started months before former UD coach Bob Shillinglaw had even announced he was retiring.
Through the winter and spring, Pietramala had been trying to lock in an opponent for that weekend in mid-March. Finally, after DeLuca was hired, he was able to pencil in a game with the Blue Hens.
The process isn’t unique to Pietramala or Johns Hopkins. Think about John Desko at Syracuse, who had to move one of his premier games to accommodate another sport due to a facility conflict. That conflict forced him to move at least two games and come to Johns Hopkins two years in a row. Nadelen, if he wants to have two scrimmage weekends before his season opener, now has to bring his team back earlier in January than perhaps he did in the past. One adjustment and the dominoes take a while to fall in place.
The Blue Jays’ 2018 schedule has been public for less than two weeks, and already Pietramala is looking ahead to 2019. As I’m sure the diehards have noticed, the 2019 schedule – as it stands right now – has Johns Hopkins playing at Towson, North Carolina, Princeton and Syracuse in the first five games of the season with only one home game - against Loyola - mixed in that rotation.
That’s four rugged away games in the first five weeks of the season plus the return game to Delaware giving JHU five non-conference road games. With that original Big Ten regular season schedule now exhausted, the league slate may also change.
What happens if the Blue Jays end up with only two league games at home in the first year of the new rotation?
I’ll tell you what will happen. Pietramala will head back to the canvas that is the Blue Jay schedule and start developing his next work of art.
--- Forever a Blue Jay ---
Ernie Larossa is in his 21st year as the Director of Athletic Communications at Johns Hopkins. In short, he has the greatest job in the world; he gets paid to watch Johns Hopkins athletes compete and chronicle their achievements. In September, 2017, he decided it was time to periodically pen a column about something related to Blue Jay athletics.