West Virginia University basketball coach Bob Huggins sat down on his back porch for a video conference call with the media looking like he had just stepped out of a duck blind.
Long hair flowed from under a camouflage baseball cap with the outline of West Virginia in gold on the front. Sunglasses shielded his bearded face.
He’s not hunting ducks right now, but the Mountaineer coach is scoping around for something else — a final schedule for the 2020-21 season.
As practice is allowed to begin Wednesday, WVU has yet to announce its full slate. That’s not a situation of its doing, but one that comes from multiple factors, and that frustrates both Huggins and his team.
“It’s been as tough as I can remember as long as — how long have I been doing this? — 43 years or something like that,” he said. “It‘s definitely longer than I’ve been duck hunting.”
Division I teams can schedule 27 games this season. For Big 12 teams, there will be 18 conference games on the slate, leaving nine non-conference slots available for each team. Yet, as it has complicated so many other aspects of so many other sports, COVID-19 is doing WVU no favors in allowing the Mountaineers to announce a final schedule.
For starters, the Big 12’s basketball teams are waiting to hear from the conference as to what their conference schedules will be. That announcement should come by the end of the month. Updates on what home crowds will be like are pending as well. The NCAA and Big 12 still must update their COVID-19 safety guidelines for home arenas.
WVU also must wait for other conferences to get their conference schedules in order before they all can discuss non-conference openings with each other. That bums out Huggins, who said director of basketball operations Josh Eilert had put together a great schedule before the pandemic sent it back to the drawing board.
“Josh did a great job and got us a great nonconference schedule and we had to just about totally blow it up and start all over again,” Huggins said. “And in starting it all over again, you’ve got conferences like ours that still don’t have a conference schedule. So they want to play non-conference games, but they don’t know if they’re going to be able to play non-conference games because the conference schedule hasn’t come out. It’s been tough.”
The Mountaineers have been able to reach some clarity on the schedule, though it is more about the “what” than the “who.” WVU will participate in the Big East-Big 12 Battle and the Big 12-SEC Challenge and will also play three games in the Battle 4 Atlantis event that has moved from the Bahamas to Sioux Falls, South Dakota, due to the pandemic.
That leaves four non-conference spots still open. Reports have WVU hosting Richmond in December. One team the Mountaineers won’t face this season is Pittsburgh. The Panthers were on the schedule, but Huggins said Thursday that game has been postponed.
On top of the scheduling issues, teams will not be able to play exhibitions or closed scrimmages. That means the Mountaineers could head to South Dakota without facing another team as a warmup, which doesn’t sit well with Huggins.
“That’s not fair to our guys, to be honest with you,” he said.
As for his roster, Huggins is excited to get to work. The Mountaineers finished the COVID-abbreviated 2019-20 season ranked 24th in both the sportswriters and coaches national top 25 polls with a 21-10 record. The Mountaineers return plenty of talent, including conference award winners Oscar Tshiebwe and Derek Culver.
“The guys have been good,” Huggins said. “It’s just a matter that we don’t seem to have the entire cast together at the same time for very many practices for a variety of reasons.
They’ve been good. Their attitudes are great. This group I think roots for and pulls for each other as well as any group since we’ve had here in a long time, maybe since 2010.”