The forfeit policy the Big East put in place for the 2021-22 season had the right intentions behind it. It was meant to encourage teams to be as safe as possible from a COVID perspective, while eliminating the chance of team’s “ducking games” to avoid losses. Unfortunately, the emergence of a new COVID variant was causing forfeits left and right. In fact, to date there would have been eleven games forfeited. Basically, the season was trending towards being decided by who was sick, not who actually won games.
So last week, the Big East announced a change to their cancelation policy. The result was that all previous forfeits were wiped, and now games can be rescheduled. Here are some of the key points to keep in mind that came from this announcement:
- A game will be cancelled with a chance to reschedule (aka postponed) if a school has fewer than seven scholarship players and one countable coach available for the game.
- The Big East Conference Office will be responsible for rescheduling games.
Two relatively simple changes, but they could have HUGE implications on the season. And specifically, in a year where the conference seems to have finally amassed a number of teams that can all challenge Villanova for the title, this new rule is going to be highly scrutinized. Today we’re looking at how these changes are already effecting the conference race, and what they mean for the Wildcats.
The Seven And One Rule
Let’s start with the parameters for playing the game or not. The biggest key here is that the conference specified that a team needs seven scholarship players, not just seven players. That means no one’s going to get stuck playing 5 walk-ons in a meaningful game. However, that doesn’t mean teams won’t have to head into games short handed.
Just last night, Seton Hall had to play at Providence without starting big man Ike Obiagu or Tyrese Samuel, the Pirate’s third leading scorer and second best rebounder. They were still able to hang with the conference leading Friars, but eventually fell in what is technically their first conference game of the year. It probably won’t be the last time a team is forced to play short handed, but there’s no asterisk in the win/loss column.
So what does this mean for Villanova? Unfortunately this could be a big disadvantage for the Wildcats. While I have no doubt that Villanova will continue to approach these situations with a “next man up” mentality, their short bench so far this season means that some of those next man up players may have very little game experience when their number gets called. The flu that hit the freshman players during the Big 5 stretch of games and the postponement (and likely cancelation) of the Temple game cost those players some valuable minutes. We’ll have to see if the lack of playing time outside the Top six players comes back to bite the Wildcats if their starters do get sidelined with COVID.
Rescheduling Games Will Be Harder
The Big East went into the 2020-2021 season expecting to have to reschedule games. For that reason the whole conference’s schedule was designed to allow the most opportunities for making up games that got canceled due to COVID. That was not the case this season.
We mentioned that there have already been eleven “postponed” games, eight that have passed and three future games that are already off the books. Of those eleven, only three have been rescheduled so far. These were the first three games that were “forfeited”, and now they’re back on the schedule anywhere from mid-January to mid-February.
These rescheduled games are already giving us some insight into how the league offices are going to try to approach scheduling. First off, get ready for games on just one day of rest. In all three of the rescheduled games, at least one if not both of the teams will now have just one day of rest between conference games. Seton Hall will actually now be playing three games in five days as they play at St. John’s on 1/22, vs St. John’s on 1/24, and vs Marquette on 1/26.
While one day between games isn’t ideal, it does appear that the league is trying to shorten travel for teams where they can when they arise. All three of those Seton Hall games will take place in the NYC/North Jersey area. Their makeup game at DePaul will come two days ahead of their game at Marquette, keeping both games in a single mid-west trip. And while Creighton is the one example of the rescheduled game not being within one day of another game, they had a gap week in the schedule that the league was able to stick the road trip into.
So again, how does this effect Villanova? So far the Wildcats have avoided an COVID conference cancelations, and fingers crossed it’ll stay that way. But if they do need to play a rescheduled, it looks like they’ll need a window with at least three days between games. Given they they likely wouldn’t have anything that gets canceled soon rescheduled until mid-January, Villanova has nine opportunities on their schedule that games could be rescheduled to:
- Jan. 14th (between at Xavier and vs Butler)
- Jan. 27th (between vs DePaul and vs St. John’s)
- Jan. 31st (between vs St. John’s and at Marquette)
- Feb. 10th (between at St. John’s and vs Seton Hall)
- Feb. 17th (between at Providence and vs Georgetown)
- Feb. 24th - 27th, 2 potential games (between at UConn and vs Providence)
- Mar. 3rd (between vs Providence and at Butler)
- Mar. 7th (between at Butler and Big East Tournament)
That may seem like a lot, but the key will be hoping their opponents also have openings on those days. For the majority of these dates, only four other Big East teams would be available. And given that it’s probably not only Villanova looking for makeup games, there’s a good chance that only a handful of these opportunities can be used. So the more postponements there are, they higher the chances are that some of these are true cancelations. And if that’s the case, then the regular season doesn’t just come down to who wins the most games, it’s based on win percentage.
Not Losing Is Better Than Winning
Last season Villanova was named the Big East Regular Season Champions despite finishing the season with three fewer wins than Creighton. In fact, Villanova played five fewer games last year than Creighton did, but finished with a slightly better Win% at 73% to the Bluejays 70%. A big factor in that calculation was that Villanova only had four losses to Creighton’s six. When teams aren’t playing an even number of games, the losses are felt much more than the wins. And that’s especially true for teams playing fewer games.
So for this season, tracking fewer losses is likely a better indicator than wins for who will take the regular season crown. As of 12/29, here’s where the Big East standings are today along with how many games they have that still need to be rescheduled:
Big East Standings Through 12/29
|Team||Con. Rec.||Games Back||Postponed Games|
|Team||Con. Rec.||Games Back||Postponed Games|
Villanova is the only team without a postponed or rescheduled game, which means it’s likely just a matter of time. Seton Hall and DePaul got their games back on the schedule already, which is a good first step. But then there’s Georgetown. Not only are the Hoyas yet to play a Big East game, but they’ve racked up four postponed games that have yet to be rescheduled. St. John’s got one game rescheduled, but they still have three outstanding postponed games and haven’t played a Big East opponent. If teams are still triggering COVID pauses through the rest of January, it’s going to be nearly impossible to get all of these games back on the schedule.
That means winning (aka not losing) is going to be key, especially if Villanova becomes this year’s Creighton and plays significantly more games than any other team. It will put the Wildcats at a big disadvantage to have to play more games, but it also puts more pressure on the teams playing less games as their losses will be more impactful. There’s no way to determine exactly how this plays out at this point, but it’s certainly worth keeping an eye on whenever teams are able to get onto the court.