A week ago, the Kansas State basketball team released its nonconference schedule for the 2011-12 season. Several coaches and administrators worked together to make the games fit, but no one contributed more time to the process than Andy Assaley.
As the Wildcats’ director of basketball operations, one of his main priorities is to head up scheduling. Every year, he makes countless phone calls to Division I coaches and sends out more than a thousand (seriously) e-mails to prospective opponents.
In the end, all that work is rewarded with a finalized schedule of a dozen or so games before Big 12 play begins.
“It’s a difficult job,” Assaley said, “but it’s a fun job.”
Earlier this week, Assaley went into great detail about K-State’s upcoming schedule and exactly what it took to put together. Turns out strategy, connections and patience — lots and lots of patience – were the main requirements.
“You have to be willing to haggle, you have to enjoy that,” Assaley said. “You have to be able to make cold calls and you have to know people … And you have to be able to handle rejection well. You can’t take it personally when you don’t get a call back, because that’s going to happen more than you can possibly imagine.
“Every time I go to a Catbacker event I hear from fans asking how come we’re not playing this school, how come we’re not playing that school. I just laugh and try to tell them it’s not that easy. They have to want to play us too.”
On to the interview …
So what are your overall thoughts on this schedule?
I’m very happy with it. We like the way it played out with a couple bye weeks early. That was ideal. That was by design. The new Big 12 schedule isn’t going to have a lot of bye weeks. And it’s good that we get to give our guys the opportunity to go home over Thanksgiving. We’re not playing any games around that date, and that worked out well.
What was the hardest thing about adjusting to the new 18-game Big 12 schedule?
Well, you have essentially put two more high-major games on your schedule. So just off the top we’re at 18 high-major games. It’s finding a balance. Finding a balance of games where we can grow, stay competitive and have good RPI games but at the same time not annihilate ourselves with the schedule. That’s the trick – finding a balance. But teams have been playing 18 game conference schedules for a while, so looking at what they’ve done helped.
Ideally, how many high-major games do you want in your nonconference schedule?
We always want three or four and we always want to get good games in our building. The tough thing is we’re limited in that now that we’re taking games to Kansas City and Wichita. Every team wants to start home-and-home series at home and sometimes you have to start those on the road.
You mentioned the Wichita game, how much of a priority was it to play West Virginia at Intrust Bank Arena?
We want to extend the game westward and add a game out west for our fan base. We’ll see how it goes this year. Hopefully we’ll be able to continue that. Maybe not every single year, but it’s definitely something we will look to continue if it’s successful.
How long was that in the works?
We’ve been talking for a couple years, even before that building opened we wanted to get a game in there. We wanted to get a game in there once it did open. It was availability, and finding an opponent who has like wants. We needed to find someone for a neutral-neutral game. It all worked out and all the puzzle pieces fell into place with West Virginia. They have a game they play in Charleston and Coach Huggins wanted to come back here and play a game in Kansas. It all worked out there.
Who contacted who about starting that series?
That was a Frank Martin and Bob Huggins deal. They put that one together. That was one where I had to call them and say, ‘Well, looks like our bosses want to play. Let’s figure all the details out.’
Does that happen a lot?
It happens frequently, especially this time of year. Coaches are all around each other and Frank will call me all the time and say, ‘Hey, this team is interested, that team is interested. Let’s see if we can get a game.’
How do you go about initiating a game?
It’s word of mouth, it’s talking to promoters, it’s talking to ESPN. I might hear something that sounds good, and I’ll take it to Frank. Then I’ll take it to John Currie and see if we can put it together. A lot of times you’ll chase it down to that point and it will fall through. That happens all the time.
Of these nine games, I probably sent out a bunch of calls and e-mails — that’s not a good number, a bunch, but it’s a ton. It’s hard to place a number on success rate. Every 10 phone calls generates one of interest, and then you go from there. That’s what it’s like. You might sent out 40 e-mails a day and hope to hear back on two or three of them. We were in Stillwater this year getting ready to play Oklahoma State and I had an extra hour on my hands so I sent out about 50 e-mails to people about games. I ended up hearing back from two.
Getting as many games as possible in Bramlage Coliseum is always a priority, and that means guarantee games. How much do you generally pay those opponents to come to Manhattan?
It varies. It really does vary, but anywhere from $70,000-$80,000 depending on the team. It’s all a negotiation. If it gets later in the game, it might be more expensive. If you get the right team who can travel here without much expense then you can maybe get them cheaper. It costs less to bring in a team from this region than a team from the east coast.
What are your thoughts on early-season tournaments?
Every year I think we’ll have a tournament (on the schedule). Some of the tournaments now, you’re guaranteed national television, and that’s what’s desirable. Or it’s in a good location where we want to go. A short trip to Kansas City like the CBE was or going to Hawaii, those are desirable locations. A few years ago we did Puerto Rico and Orlando. Those were on national TV. Getting on ESPN is always a plus. It gets your brand out there. Your alumni base may not be able to make it to the game, but they can see you play on TV. That’s very desirable.
How much work do you have left on the 2012-13 schedule?
I have three games open on the schedule for 12-13. I don’t want to let too much out, but we have a couple return games on that schedule (at George Washington, vs. West Virginia, Florida in Kansas City) we’re doing everything we can to bring another quality opponent into Bramlage.
In years past you sometimes got that with the Pac-10/Big 12 series. How did losing that game impact your scheduling strategy?
It made the West Virginia game easier to schedule. When we caught wind that wasn’t going to happen we realized a window had opened up in our schedule. We did look to fill it based on that dropping out.