The Big West Conference released its master basketball schedule Wednesday, with its schools playing each other on consecutive days and at the same location, beginning Dec. 27 and 28.
UCSB’s men will visit defending Big West champion UC Irvine while the Gaucho women will play host to the Anteaters for the Sunday-Monday doubleheaders. The rest of the conference season will be played on Fridays and Saturdays.
The changes were necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic, new Big West commissioner Dan Butterly said.
“It’s the new normal,” UCSB women’s coach Bonnie Henrickson said.
The Big West is prohibiting spectators for the opening weeks, although Butterly said the issue will be revisited as the season progresses.
“The Big West Board of Directors did due diligence in examining all of the factors involved in a safe and responsible return to competition, with basketball being the pilot moving forward,” he said.
UCSB’s men are tentatively scheduled to open the nonconference season with their own tournament, the Santa Barbara Slam, with games against Florida Gulf Coast on Nov. 27 and Florida A&M on Nov. 29.
Only two other nonleague games have been set: at Loyola Marymount on Dec. 12 and at Pepperdine on Dec. 19.
“Although everybody won’t be allowed into the stands, every single game will be live-streamed — especially the home games with Gerry Fall and Jerry Pimm calling the action,” UCSB men’s coach Joe Pasternack said.
Henrickson said her team will open the nonleague season at USC on either Nov. 29 or 30 and play their home opener against Pepperdine on Dec. 3. She also hopes to play Cal Baptist at home on Dec. 8 and complete non-league play with a game at San Jose State on Dec. 21.
“We’re cautiously optimistic about these games,” she said.
“We knew the league schedule would need to be innovative,” Henrickson said of the new format. “We appreciate the league’s efforts to minimize travel, with no days in between games, because that minimizes risk.”
The Big West, which has added UC San Diego and Cal State Bakersfield this year to increase its membership to 11 schools, will play a 20-game conference schedule.
“We’re just grateful that the administrations — the athletic directors and the chancellors and presidents, have concluded that we can have a season — that we can have a 20-game season, knock on wood,” Pasternack said.
It is a difficult league season for his Gauchos, with back-to-back road games against the five schools that finished with UCSB among the top six in last year’s standings. All their league home games will be against last year’s bottom three — Cal State Fullerton, Long Beach State, and Cal Poly —plus newcomers UC San Diego and Cal State Bakersfield.
Pasternack addressed his team about the stacked road schedule on Tuesday.
“We can’t control the schedule-makers,” he said. “We talk all the time about honoring the process and taking care of ourselves. My total focus is on having a great practice tomorrow and the players are all focused on that, too.
“We did talk to the team about the schedule — that it’s for others to come up with. Our job is to block out on every single play, have a great defensive possession, repeat that, and get three stops in a row.
“Where the game is being played, we have no control over that. Long ago, someone said that if the game is on the schedule, you might as well play the game and win the game. That is our total focus.”
The men’s and women’s schedules will mirror each other, with games against the same school at opposite venues. Games will not be rescheduled should a team need to quarantine during the season, Butterly said.
“The Big West Conference understands the need for consistent and multi-layered levels of testing protocols that put safety at the forefront for our member institutions,” he said. “Cognizant of state and county restrictions, and the NCAA Core Principles of Resocialization of Collegiate Basketball, we feel we have a plan in place that will adhere to those mandates.
“We are also thankful for the guidance and feedback of Dr. Jim Borchers from the U.S. Council for Athletes’ Health during this planning process.”
Testing will be done three times a week, which includes six hours before each game.
“They’ve put a lot of thought into this, about how to make this safe for the players,” Henrickson said. “That’s the most important thing.”
Tie-breaking procedures shall be utilized at the end of the regular-season to seed the Big West Tournament. The event, which was canceled last season by the coronavirus, will return to Anaheim’s Honda Center on March 10-13.
Eight of the 11 league teams for both the men and women will play at Honda Center in the quarterfinal rounds, with UC San Diego ineligible during its transition to Division 1.
UCSB’s Big West schedules:
GAUCHO MEN: Dec. 27-28 — at UC Irvine; Jan. 1-2 — vs. Cal State Fullerton; Jan. 8-9— bye week; Jan. 15-16 — vs. UC San Diego; Jan. 22-23 — at Cal State Northridge; Jan. 29-30 — at UC Davis; Feb. 5-6 — vs. Long Beach State; Feb. 12-13 — at Hawaii; Feb. 19-20 — vs. Cal State Bakersfield; Feb. 26-27 — at UC Riverside; March 5-6 — vs. Cal Poly; March 10-13 at Big West Conference Tournament, Anaheim Honda Center.
GAUCHO WOMEN: Dec. 27-28 — vs. UC Irvine; Jan. 1-2 — at Cal State Fullerton; Jan. 8-9— bye week; Jan. 15-16 — at UC San Diego; Jan. 22-23 — vs. Cal State Northridge; Jan. 29-30 — vs. UC Davis; Feb. 5-6 — at Long Beach State; Feb. 12-13 — vs. Hawaii; Feb. 19-20 — at Cal State Bakersfield; Feb. 26-27 — vs. UC Riverside; March 5-6 — at Cal Poly; March 10-13 at Big West Conference Tournament, Anaheim Honda Center.