Conference USA will shorten regular season play and alter the postseason structure for several sports, beginning this fall.
The financial ramifications of the COVID-19 shutdown made it clear changes were coming to Conference USA schedules and those modifications are beginning to take shape. This week Stadium’s Brett McMurphy reported the men’s and women’s basketball tournament would be reduced from 12 teams to 8 along with other reductions.
The Denton Record-Chronicle’s Brett Vito has provided further details:
The league made several other changes, including:
- The tournament field in volleyball will be cut from eight to four with the top-seeded team hosting the event. The regular season will be reduced from 14 to 13 games.
- The number of regular season games in women’s soccer will be cut from 10 to six, a move that will allow programs to schedule more regional nonconference games and reduce travel costs.
- The number of conference games in softball will be trimmed from 24 to 15, a move that will also allow for more regional nonconference scheduling.
- The travel squads in track and field, cross country and swimming will also be reduced.
In addition to those changes, the baseball tournament will move from a neutral site to team venues. Rice will host at Reckling Park in 2023.
The reported changes align with expectations. Travel budgets are going to be tight in 2020 and into the next several seasons, at least. Seeing the total number of conference games decrease makes sense.
Adopting a model akin to the Ivy League where regular-season conference champions received any postseason bids in lieu of playing a conference tournament was on the table. The conference stopped short of changes that drastic, but the cutbacks detailed above are still sizable.
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How this plays out remains to be seen and could hinge on which games replace former league games. The more teams able to swap games against distance conference foes with in-state rivalries, the better. For Rice, this likely means adding more competitions against teams like Houston, Texas State and SMU. That, of course, will be contingent to some extent on changes to other conferences’ schedules. Getting dates with Texas and Texas A&M should be on the radar as well.