Arrow-right Camera

Hardwood Series demise hurts fans

FORT WORTH, Texas – Big 12 basketball programs in the past five seasons have added beef to what for many were anemic nonconference schedules loaded with directional schools and others that represented easy wins and no-pain guaranties.

Some – such as Texas and Kansas – needed no prodding. Others did.

Better schedules have boosted team and conference RPIs and helped build the conference into one of college basketball’s best. The Big 12 had the nation’s best RPI last season. Scheduling was part of the reason.

The soon-to-be-defunct Hardwood Series with the Pac-10 was a part of that schedule upgrade. But the real winners were the season ticket-holders, who, more often than not, were fed a constant menu of Disco Tech and other less notables – certainly a part of the necessary nonconference record-building process but opponents that are best served in moderation.

Case in point:

Last Saturday’s Washington-Texas A&M game drew a season-best crowd of 10,296 to Reed Arena in College Station. The only crowd close to that this season was the 7,741 that showed for the A&M-TAMU International game Nov. 19 – the night before the Nebraska football game, when a ticket to the kickoff got you in the door.

A year ago, the Aggies drew 10,393 for Arizona. That and the Washington game are among only seven nonconference crowds in the history of the arena that topped 10 grand.

Adding quality nonconference draws was one of the main selling points when the Hardwood Series was arranged and one of the reasons why the apparent demise of the series should be a concern.

On the surface, the Pac-10 killed the deal because a faction of the conference programs wanted to shift the games to neutral sites in bigger markets. The Big 12 liked the home-and-home arrangement, and wanted to continue it.

The Big East vs. SEC neutral-site games failed miserably. They just announced a new two-year deal that switched all games to campus sites. Duh.

The other facet that sunk the Hardwood Series was, of course, television. The Pac-10 has Fox as a basketball partner. The Big 12’s partner is ESPN. The Left Coast League only has one year left on its Fox agreement.

“What really pushed it over the top, to the feeling that we just couldn’t keep it going at this time, was the uncertainty about where we would end up with our television (deal),” Pac-10 deputy commissioner Kevin Weiberg (formerly the Big 12 commish) said Wednesday. “It didn’t make sense to extend (the series) out for a longer period until we get that piece resolved.

“I don’t think from our perspective that absolutely closes the door to the future. But we would want to understand where we wind up on our television and how that might work going forward.”

So, in essence, paying customers lose. Don’t you always?