Week 8 with the Pac-12: Working with the League
What goes into rescheduling postponed games?
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The most common email any Pac-12 women’s basketball beat reporter receives these days includes the line “both teams are working with the Pac-12 to reschedule.” COVID-19 cancellations have been a dime a dozen the past two seasons, but the first week of Pac-12 play was especially devastating. So devastating that only two regularly-scheduled conference games were held during the opening week.
The question is what work is being done by the Pac-12 and the teams to reschedule those games. From this viewpoint, it is not apparent - at least on the women's side.
Men’s Pac-12 basketball has been hit hard by cancellations and postponements, as well. Because the men play 20 conference games instead of 18, they start the conference season the first week of December, then they return to nonconference play before completing Pac-12 competition.
At the beginning of December, Washington men’s basketball was shut down. The option at the time was to either reschedule the missed games or the team experiencing COVID-19 protocol issues would forfeit.
Washington men’s basketball initially experienced both outcomes. Its game at Arizona on Dec. 2 was quickly rescheduled for Jan. 25. Its home game against UCLA scheduled for Dec. 5 was recorded as a forfeit. (That game has since been amended to “postponed” since the Pac-12 changed its COVID-19 policies.)
Since that Washington forfeit-turned-postponement, the UCLA men have since had their own COVID-19 shutdown. The Bruins postponed games against Arizona and Arizona State. In order to have open dates later in the season and maximize its flexibility, Arizona rescheduled its already-rescheduled game against Washington for Jan. 3.
The eagerness of the men to reschedule is starkly contrasted to the state of affairs in the women’s game. Ten of the 12 women’s games scheduled for the weekend of Dec. 31, 2021, through Jan. 2, 2022, were postponed. Each one offered the promise of schools “working with the Pac-12” to reschedule. The rivalry games between USC and UCLA. were rescheduled immediately, and the Arizona-USC game has now been rescheduled for Jan. 9.
There appeared to be other opportunities to move rivalry games and, perhaps, leave dates open to reschedule others later in the season. With USC and UCLA postponing their games against Arizona and Arizona State, it appeared to leave the Wildcats and Sun Devils open. In addition, Colorado and Utah postponed Oregon and Oregon State, leaving yet another pair of traveling partners open.
Arizona had emerged from COVID-19 protocols that forced them to cancel their game against Texas on Dec. 19. Arizona State scheduled and played a game against Lipscomb on Jan. 3. Oregon scheduled and played a game against NAIA Carroll College on Jan. 2. Oregon State has postponed this week’s games against Stanford and California, but there’s no indication that they were out last week.
If the conference and the schools were serious about rescheduling league games, it would seem like the perfect opportunity to move up both sets of rivalry games rather than get last-minute games against lesser competition.
Another option would have been to alter the schedule by either rescheduling the Arizona/ASU trip to the Oregon schools currently set for Jan. 13 and Jan. 15 or to send Oregon and Oregon State to the Arizona schools to play the games currently slated for Feb. 4 and Feb. 6. Perhaps the teams and the league are prioritizing keeping important rivalry games stable on the calendar, but if so why did they reschedule the USC-UCLA matchups?
An attempt was made to get a comment from the conference about rescheduling practices and policies, but nothing was forthcoming by press time.
The possibility that opportunities exist but are not being taken advantage of does not bode well for games to get rescheduled. What unfolded last year doesn’t paint a rosy picture for this year, either—especially when looking at the top teams.
Last season, Arizona had five conference games postponed. UCLA had six games postponed. Oregon lost five games against conference opponents. The Ducks’ schedule is more honest than those of their conference opponents; those five games are listed as “canceled” because “postponed” almost invariably did mean “canceled” in 2020-21.
There was an exception that reflected well on Washington State, a team trying to make the climb. Stanford had two games postponed due to protocols within their opponents’ programs during last year’s championship season. The Cardinal were able to reschedule against Washington State, playing both games in Pullman.
Despite Tara VanDerveer publicly stating late in the season that she had tried to reschedule and would continue to be open to rescheduling their game against Oregon State, that game was never held.
Rumors abound that some coaches don’t want to reschedule games this season. Arizona head coach Adia Barnes did not lay those rumors to rest when asked if she thought some of her peers would prefer not to reschedule games.
“I'm in complete favor of rescheduling,” Barnes said. “We want to play games. I don't want my team sitting here for almost a month not playing. So, absolutely, I've been doing everything I can. We were ready to play last week. It wasn't shut down because of Arizona. We shut down because of other teams. So most definitely trying to make up a game. I think the challenge is, is everybody else able and willing to make up the game?...Stuff happens. COVID is not fair. It's happened (to us) when we were in Vegas getting ready to play Texas. But I think that part of (the lack of rescheduling Pac-12 women’s games) is just the people in the programs (not) wanting to make up the game, and I think that puts the Pac-12 in a difficult situation.”
If that is the case, the Commissioner may have to use a stick rather than a carrot to get out of that difficult situation. On Dec. 22, the league announced an adjustment to the 2021-22 administrative policies. Included in that adjustment was an attempt to retain fairness and sportsmanship in scheduling while getting rid of what was considered a punitive and possibly counterproductive forfeiture policy.
After outlining the new policy for rescheduling, the Pac-12’s message concluded, “The Conference office shall have the option to levy a forfeit in the event league standards of sportsmanship are not met in the process of attempting to reschedule a contest.”
Does that lack of sportsmanship exist now?
“I'll tell you one thing, if there was a forfeit, I guarantee a lot more games would be played,” Barnes said. “I think that's just the way it is, but I think there's so many variables and reasons why and different medical (reasons)l. I think that if we had to forfeit games, I think more games would be played and I think on both sides. I think on the men's side and the women's side, if you're going to tell a program they're gonna have to forfeit, I think people find bodies. So that's just the reality…I get that's a difficult situation to get through medical, but I think you should have to do the attestation forms and you should have to prove when you were out and stuff like that, but I think this is all work in progress.”
Next Week’s Games and Cancellations
As of Thursday morning, things look a bit more optimistic than they did last week. There should be more than two games played, anyway. Below is the schedule as it stands on Thursday, Jan. 6 at 3 p.m. ET.
Friday, Jan. 7, 2022
Sunday, Jan. 9, 2022
Voting for the Best
With the holidays last week, there was no Week 7 with the Pac-12 column. There was, however, voting for the best performances of the game. Let’s look at both weeks:
Player of the Week
My vote: Lexie Hull, Stanford
There was a mix-up with this vote that may or may not have cost Lexie Hull the honor. Early in the vote, she was mistakenly listed with the nominees for Freshman of the Week. The mistake was corrected, but who knows how many people had voted at that time. The assumption is that not many or the league would have asked for a re-vote as they have occasionally in the past.
Prior to the correction, my vote was for Peyton McFarland of Utah, so neither of my top two won the award. With Hull in the field, it’s difficult to argue for anyone else. She had 17 points, 7 rebounds, 2 assists, and a steal on the road against No. 1 South Carolina. That game was a narrow 4-point loss. No one else in the league played in a game anywhere near that relevant, and Hull had an impressive showing in that contest.
Schipholt had a nice game with 20 points and 10 rebounds. She added an assist, two steals, and a block.
Schipholt’s double-double in a winning effort probably impressed my peers, but it was against St. Mary’s (CA). The Gaels are No. 186 in our rankings and No. 169 in the NCAA’s own NET. Hull played against the No. 1 team in every ranking on the planet–Her Hoop Stats, the Associated Press, the WBCA/USA TODAY Sports, the NET. It’s impossible for me to make an argument that three more points and three more rebounds make up for a level of competition with that much variance.
If the double-double was the criteria, McFarland had the more impressive one, anyway. The sophomore forward played just 19 minutes, but she had 14 points and 11 rebounds in that time. She also had two blocked shots. The effort was in a loss, but that loss came against Oklahoma. The Sooners are No. 37 in our rankings and No. 35 in the NET.
My vote: Haley Jones, Stanford
The winner: Haley Jones, Stanford
There were only two nominees because of all the cancellations during this week, but 24 points and 16 rebounds will get attention regardless. Jones also had three assists in her only game of the week as her team defeated Washington State by 38 points on the road. The Cardinal leaned heavily on their junior. The team was missing five players due to COVID-19 protocols.
Freshman of the Week
My vote: Gianna Kneepkens, Utah
The winner: Gianna Kneepkens, Utah
Kneepkens took my vote for the same reason I gave her teammate a look for Player of the Week. The Utes lost to Oklahoma, but it was a “good loss” on the road. Kneepkens led her team in scoring with 19 points and five rebounds. It wasn’t a huge stat line, but it was the best stat line against the best competition of the week.
My vote: Tara Wallack, Washington State
The winner: Kiki Iriafen, Stanford
This one could have gone either way. I argued for both in my head. Ultimately, I went with my usual tiebreaker. Who played the tougher opponents? It’s unfortunate that Iriafen came up short in this criterion precisely because the team she played for was better, but it’s a consistent criterion in my voting process.