After Baylor’s 68-74 overtime loss to No. 13 Michigan in the Hall of Fame Classic most coaches and players were disappointed with the outcome. There was one person on staff, however, who breathed a sigh of relief.
The ESPN announcers said at one point that Baylor’s next opponent, Houston Baptist, had to cancel their game with Baylor on December 29th due to Covid. So when Michael Motta—Baylor’s Assistant AD for WBB Operations— connected with his HBU contact afterwards to find that this was not the case and the game was still on, it eased his mind.
Temporarily at least.
Houston Baptist pulled out of the game two days later. North Texas is the new replacement team, but the logistics of how that came to pass is a complicated puzzle—including an Eric Church concert in Connecticut over five years ago as a piece!
Once the HBU game was called off, Motta said he “had a ton of people DM or text me. I was on the offensive, I probably reached out to 80 or 90 teams just to see what the possibility would be.”
So Motta’s homecoming to Connecticut did not end in a victory and now his Christmas holiday was officially about to get a whole lot more hectic.
Instead of last minute shopping for presents; he was last minute shopping for a new opponent.
Good thing Motta, in his first season in Waco, was neither naive or lacked preparedness. He had already been working his network, but ramped up the prospecting nearly ten-fold once the game was officially canceled.
“Game scheduling is an ongoing, day-to-day situation. I’ve already scheduled some games for next season,” Motta said, including scheduling a tournament Baylor is excited for but cannot yet disclose since the contract is not final.
With regards to Houston Baptist, Motta explained, “We had an idea that they were on hold because of Covid, and in Covid protocols. When I had communicated with [my contact] right after our Michigan game, [HBU] was still on track to be back and play this game.”
Both he and the official WBB account sent out tweets basically asking if anyone was around for the holidays to play a game of pickup. Ten to 15 coaches, assistants or other personnel sent a DM. In total, Motta engaged between 80-90 teams.
“I was already in research mode,” described Motta when he got the call from HBU saying they had to cancel. “From there, before I even sent the tweet, I already made a list of everyone who would be in driving distance to Baylor and who already had a game cancelled. I cross referenced with what their next game was going to be, which cancelled out a certain amount of teams,” who already had a game scheduled for the 29th.
Although Baylor really wanted to find a replacement, Motta had to make sure they met specific criteria as well as the scheduling philosophy of Head Coach Nikki Collen.
The checklist was that the opponent be a Division I team, within driving distance, available on the 29th and have an opening in their schedule due to a previously canceled game.
The NCAA allows teams to play a maximum of 27 regular season games with an additional qualifying multi-team event that is no more than four games. So even if a team was available for the 29th—such as LSU—Baylor would be unable to schedule since they are already maxed out.
The Tigers have 29 games scheduled—27 regular season and two from a multi-team event. Therefore, scheduling LSU was a non starter.
“That’s where a lot of people get mistaken with ‘oh, the perfect storm, Kim should come back here with LSU’, But they didn’t have a canceled game so they can’t play another game” Motta said.
That does not mean that scheduling LSU—either at home or on the road—is not off the table for Baylor in the future. In fact, based on Collen’s scheduling philosophy it seems that she would welcome the challenge.
Collen is not afraid of a challenge and loves diving into the analytics of which teams will help improve Baylor’s final NET ranking for the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee. Consequently, lining up an opponent to match Coach Collen’s scheduling philosophy is easy.
Motta simply stated, “we are open to playing everybody and anyone.”
Therefore, the philosophy is very much one of ‘bring it on’. Road games, highly ranked Power 5 teams, home and home contract agreements, the most iconic brands in college basketball—schedule it all.
As Collen’s left hand man, Motta manages it all. He helps oversee the annual budget, game scheduling, practice times, hotel and other travel contracts, he serves as the liaison to Nike and helps organize Collen’s scheduled appearances.
How Motta arrived to Waco is almost as wild as Collen’s journey to the Fixer Upper town. Originally from Connecticut, he graduated from both Old Dominion University and Providence College where he served as a team manager and graduate assistant coach respectively. He had been at Dartmouth College for the past eight years as the Director of Women’s Basketball Operations.
Motta was first introduced to Collen about five years ago at Mohegan Sun Arena during her time as an assistant coach for the Connecticut Sun. But not during a game or practice.
At an Eric Church concert.
“I actually met Nikki at an Eric Church concert at Mohegan Sun,” Motta reflected. “That was the first time I met her. We just built that basketball relationship while she was at the Connecticut Sun and a few months ago I interviewed with her at the Atlanta Dream before she came to Baylor… in May she called and asked if I’d come be her director of operations here.”
So Mulkey left, Collen was hired and Motta found himself with a very different job offer in the middle of Texas instead of the familiar east coast. Baylor is the first Power 5 school he has managed scheduling for and this is his first taste of quickly scheduling games due to Covid-19 cancellations because the Ivy League cancelled their season last year.
Motta attributes the success of getting North Texas on the books as an entire team effort. He worked long and close with Coach Collen, Krista Pirtle (Associate Director of Communications), and Jovan Overshown (Senior Associate AD External Affairs) to work countless contacts, navigate scheduling logistics and other requirements and ultimatley finding a win-win solution to get a game contract finalized.
“The communication between Krista, myself, Nikki and Jovan,” was key Motta said, as he directed credit to others, in order to pull this off. “You need to have communication, really clear communication, with what we’re looking for; who we’re looking to fill the game with opponent wise; what Nikki is looking for; [so] there’s a lot of factors in play. Having that streamlined communication between the four of us was really crucial because contracts need to be signed; there’s so much more that goes into it than saying ‘hey, let’s play a game’.”
Like somebody well versed in sales, Motta emphasized how nothing is ever finalized in this industry until there is a signed contract in place. In fact, he was in deep conversations with about three to five other potential opponents and thought they had finalized with one in particular before they backed out and North Texas slid in.
“Nothing is final until the contract is signed,” Motta adamantly put. “We had a team that said ‘we’re in’ and then I wake up the next morning and they pulled out. So I was kind of back to the drawing board, and that’s where North Texas came in. [Collen] was like ‘okay lets move forward’, [as] they were next on the playing list if you will. I reached out to their head coach and we buttoned it up pretty quickly.”
Now Baylor—who has not played 10 days now— is super excited to play their game tonight and not miss out on the extra reps.
The Bears will host North Texas at 7 p.m. CST on ESPN+ at the Ferrell Center.