What do you do when you're a fanboy blogger who can't find the time to tune into coach Chambers' weekly presser? You call in to the Nittany Lion hotline (or in this case, tweet). Chambers' weekly radio show is 6 PM every Thursday during the season with Steve Jones and is brought to you live at Damon's in State College.
One of the unseen aspects of Chambers new program is his scheduling philosophy. The non-conference schedule this year was basically in place before Chambers ever stepped on campus. However, all of PSU's home-and-home series have concluded (Duquesne, St. Joe's, and Ole Miss), so the schedule is open this year with no prior commitments from the previous regime.
As we noticed under DeChellis, how you schedule can determine your postseason fate. The NCAA rules state that any team can play 29 total games or 27 games plus a no-more-than-four game exempt event (like the Old Spice Classic, Hall of Fame Tip-Off, etc.). The Big Ten plays an 18-game conference schedule so you could play 11 games, or 9 games plus a preseason tourney. Most teams participate in the exempt tourneys (mostly run by ESPN) because it offers more games against better competition to prepare for conference play.
I asked Chambers about his scheduling philosophy on the show. His reply was something I've been hoping to hear from a Penn State coach for a long time:
My scheduling philosophy is we gotta go out and compete. We gotta find a variety of styles of play because that’s what the Big Ten is. It always helps recruiting when you play some of the better teams in other conferences.
It should prepare us, because that’s what you need to do, you need to be prepared for the Big Ten and that’s the goal. It’s not about wins for me, it’s about getting these kids ready, preparing them for the Big Ten.
That certainly sounds like he's not afraid to schedule anybody. I'm curious to see how tough he ends up scheduling for next year. Penn State could end with more exciting marquee games than Ole Miss and St. Joe's.
I also asked how the schedule was looking so far for next year. Chambers didn't get into any specifics, but he did mention their plans to play in the 2012 Puerto Rico Tip-Off in November. This 8-team exempt tournament will be played sometime around Thanksgiving in San Juan. The field hasn't been announced yet and might not be until April, judging by last year's announcement.
The exempt tournament will offer PSU four games, but how that's formatted remains to be seen. These 8-team fields were originally designed to just have 3 games, but the NCAA allows a team to play in four-game preseason events. I'd imagine this led to some teams declining invitations to these 3 game contests, so they could get a fourth in another event. ESPN offered a quick fix of this last year by adding a silly fourth game that did nothing but increase the chances two teams played twice. Marquette ended up playing Norfolk State twice this season thanks to the Paradise Jam (a 31 point win at home, and a 2 point win in the tourney).
However, according to the reported field for the 2012 Paradise Jam, ESPN might have created a format for all of their exempt tournaments that will eliminate the possibility of two games against the same team. Presumably, that setup will split the 8 teams into 4-team pools where they could play each pool team once (3 games). The fourth game could be crossover games that would determine placing in the field. This logical theory came from Chris Dobbertean at Blogging the Bracket. The only issue with this is 4 games at one site makes for one lengthy and exhausting trip.
Regardless, PSU will get four games against likely a quality field. The only confirmed entry at this point is Xavier. There is also a rumor of Tennessee. Xavier apparently thought the field was LOADED, but considering they thought it was going to be announced 4 months ago, maybe some teams fell through. From the BtB link above, Kentucky, Kansas, Duke, North Carolina, and Syracuse are all accounted at other preseason events. I'm not sure how loaded a field can be with Tennessee and PSU as the SEC and Big Ten representatives.
We'll keep an eye on potential scheduling news until next year's schedule is released in the summer.