PHOENIX — After all of their two-game Pac-12 road swings slid into a grueling fifth day last season, Arizona Wildcats coach Sean Miller had seen enough.
“If you’ve been on trips with us, you come back, and your kids have mustaches, your dog doesn’t know who you are,” he said in March. “I mean, you’re gone forever.”
Miller’s concerns went far beyond himself. During the Pac-12’s annual spring meetings Wednesday at the Arizona Biltmore, Miller argued that the conference is also creating a competitive disadvantage for its teams by bending too far in an effort to satisfy its television scheduling demands.
So the Pac-12 agreed to form a subcommittee that will attempt to tweak dates or times that unfairly impact a team. Miller, several other Pac-12 coaches, as well as Stanford AD Bernard Muir and UCLA AD Dan Guerrero will serve on it.
“It’s putting in a few guidelines … where one doesn’t play six Sunday games, one doesn’t play five 9 p.m. start times, and like we did this year, you don’t go four times away from your campus leaving on Tuesday and getting back on Saturday or Sunday,” Miller said.
“I think that improves the student welfare, and it’s certainly going to increase the opportunity for our teams to improve, because there’s a big difference between being on campus at your university, sleeping in your own bed and practicing, versus being at a hotel far away, at a (hotel) study table doing the best you can and trying to find a place to practice.”
Miller also argued against the increasing number of Sunday games, which have been unpopular for coaches who want to give their players a day off without basketball or class. Sometimes teams were assigned to play Sunday, then turn around to play the following Wednesday.
“Sean was very articulate,” Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott said. Scheduling issues “are really important topics that we spend a lot of time on. With our new TV contract came a certain level of flexibility we had to show. Before we played on Thursday and Saturday, and that was it. We agreed to be more flexible to get the revenue and exposure that our coaches wanted. But within that, we do have some flexibility.”
That’s a slight change from Scott’s initial stance, that teams were best off taking charter flights home between spread-out road games. Scott said during the Pac-12 tournament in March that teams playing a Wednesday game could fly home, allow players to attend class on Thursday and Friday, and then fly out again Friday night.
But Wednesday, Scott said it was possible that the Pac-12 could go back to Fox or ESPN to potentially make an adjustment if a team was put in a scheduling bind.
“We have a great relationship with ESPN and Fox; it’s very dynamic,” Miller said. “They want to get the value they bargained for, but they want to be fair to our teams.”
Miller expecting OSU interest in Stoudamire
Miller said he expects Oregon State will consider UA assistant coach Damon Stoudamire to replace Craig Robinson as the Beavers’ head coach.
“I haven’t heard, but I would assume they would have a strong interest in him,” Miller said. “Not only in that he’s a native of Portland who cares a lot about the region but also with his pedigree of a guy who’s played in the NBA for 13 years, who is a terrific college assistant and certainly is a rising star in what we’re doing.
“In my mind he’s a home run hire for anybody, but for somebody in that region, I can certainly see they’d be interested in him in a big way.”
Former UCLA coach Ben Howland is also among the names that have surfaced in connection with the Beavers’ job.
Hazzard to China
Miller said he has nominated walk-on guard Jacob Hazzard to be UA’s representative on the Pac-12 all-star team that will tour China this summer, in part because the player he chose would miss summer-school time.
“In Jacob’s case he has done very well academically,” Miller said. “He has aspirations to do a lot of different things in life. He’s somebody who gives us a lot on a daily basis. … It’s a great opportunity for him.”
Miller also said some of his other players will be involved in camps this summer, and forward Brandon Ashley is continuing to rehab his foot injury.
“We didn’t have a large group of people to choose from,” Miller said.
Blair may return
Miller said he would like to keep former UA center Joseph Blair on his staff in a different role for next season, if possible.
The former UA and European center served as an undergraduate assistant last season, often joining the Wildcats on the practice floor, but Miller said he will probably have to be a graduate manager next season.
“We’re talking with J.B. and trying to figure out what’s possible,” Miller said. “He did a great job for us. Just having his presence in there was invaluable to us.”
Miller, football coach Rich Rodriguez and Arizona AD Greg Byrne entertained an overflow crowd during an “Arizona Tour Stop” at the OHSO Eatery + nano Brewery in Phoenix on Wednesday evening.
Miller told the crowd the Wildcats were “disappointed we didn’t take the next step (to the Final Four last season), but we’re also very proud that we made the Elite Eight.” He also expressed optimism about the 2014-15 season, when UA is likely to be a preseason top-five pick.
“Believe me, we have a hungry group,” he said. “We have a lot of exciting returning players who I believe are on a quest to have a great offseason, and we have a group of five newcomers that I think will put us in a position a year from now to be one of those teams that can win it all.”