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‘It’s madness and chaos’: BYU coach working to put together toughest non-league schedule possible

The most pressing issue, Mark Pope said, is dealing with the multiteam events that were scheduled to take place before Nov. 25. The coaching staff tried to contact teams affected by the later starting date to schedule games with them

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BYU head coach Mark Pope protests a call in a game against the San Diego Toreros in Provo on Thursday, Jan. 16, 2020. BYU won 93-70. Pope and his staff are working hard to piece together a challenging 2020-21 non-conference schedule.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

PROVO — Not long after the NCAA announced Nov. 25 as the start date for college basketball this season, BYU’s coaching staff began reaching out to other coaches around the country in an attempt to schedule the best nonconference schedule possible. 

“It’s really interesting right now. It’s super fun because it’s madness and chaos,” coach Mark Pope said Thursday morning. “The staff was in here late last night, reaching out to everybody we could think of. … I don’t know if that’s going to work. But it’s a little bit of a free-for-all right now, trying to figure it out.”

The most pressing issue, Pope said, is dealing with the multiteam events that were scheduled to take place before Nov. 25. The coaching staff tried to contact teams affected by the later starting date to schedule games with them. 

BYU was among the teams impacted by moving the season tipoff by 15 days because it was scheduled to play in an multiteam event, the Junkanoo Jam in the Bahamas, on Nov. 19-20, which also featured George Mason, Tulsa and Boston College. 

Pope doesn’t know yet what will happen with the Junkanoo Jam. 

“I don’t think the Junkanoo is done,” he said. “If it’s held, it’s going to be here in the continental United States, and it might have different teams playing in it. Every part is moving right now. It makes it fun.” 

The Cougars were scheduled to play a few Pac-12 opponents, too. That league announced in August it wouldn’t be playing sports until January. But that could change. 

One of the Pac-12 opponents on BYU’s original 2020-21 schedule is arch-rival Utah, which was supposed to visit the Marriott Center on Dec. 12. 

“We both really want the game. There’s been a lot of whisperings that the Pac-12 might move off the Jan. 1 date,” Pope said. “There’s a lot of coach-to-coach conversations that are going on. We talked to several teams from the Pac-12 because we had a bunch of those teams on the schedule.

“We’ll wait and see what the announcement is. I do know that all the games that we had slated so far, teams are really eager to find a way to keep them or reschedule them or find a way to make it happen.” — BYU basketball coach Mark Pope

“We’ll wait and see what the announcement is. I do know that all the games that we had slated so far, teams are really eager to find a way to keep them or reschedule them or find a way to make it happen.”

The NCAA is allowing a maximum of 27 games, reduced from 31 games. That poses a challenge to a team like BYU that wants to build an impressive NCAA Tournament resume. 

“The biggest pressure we’re feeling right now is that we just want to play the hardest schedule we can possibly play,” Pope said. “We want to play the best teams we can possibly play. If that means we’re flying to Florida and New York in a safe manner to play games, we’ll do it. If it means we can do it by driving on the freeway, we’ll do it. We believe that we have a good team. We have a lot of things to figure out.

“I don’t want this season to go by without us having every possible opportunity to play the best competition in the country so that we can prove who we are,” he continued. “That is what is weighing heavily on me right now. … We’re really, really hungry to find ways to play the toughest schedule we can.”  

Pope emphasized that everything is fluid and he doesn’t have a lot of answers. But he is hopeful fans will be able to attend games at the Marriott Center at some point this season. 

After seeing the NCAA Tournament canceled last season due to the pandemic, Pope said his team is taking nothing for granted. 

“The one thing we have that we’re going to turn it into a positive is, in the back of our minds we have this feeling of sudden sting of this game being taken away from us this spring,” Pope said. “But it’s given us a humility about this game. We understand that nothing’s guaranteed so you have to take advantage of today. We’re really hopeful about having fans in the stands. We’re hopeful that we can make breakthroughs, like everybody in the world, in preventing and treating and understanding this COVID-19.

“Maybe those things can happen fast where we could actually resume some type of normalcy. Maybe they don’t. Maybe things get worse and we have to adjust. Right now, we’re prepared for that.

“There’s no doubt that this Marriott Center is an extraordinary place. … I’ll be shocked if we have a game in the Marriott Center and I don’t have people that have snuck in and hid in the rafters or the catwalk. We’ll see how that goes. We’re so grateful for the people working so hard to give these young men the chance to play.”