Getting to 150 RPI on scheduling tough for Sun Belt schools

Updated to adjust for three-year RPI.
When the Sun Belt Conference first announced it was going back to requiring its men’s basketball teams to play a 150 average RPI nonconference schedule, it was met with skepticism. It’s a good idea, in theory. And no one really disputes that. But it’s just not a practical means of accomplishing what they want.

What the conference wants is stronger RPIs for its members, top to bottom. Ultimately, they believe that increases their chances of getting multiple teams in the NCAA Tournament. And they’re right.
But there are two problems with the current policy. First, there’s no teeth, no penalty for failing to schedule at a 150 average. Second, it’s really difficult to accomplish, especially if you have games already scheduled from ongoing contracts.
The Sun Belt also said teams could no longer play non-Division I opponents. Again, it’s a great theory. But teams were going to end up with more nonconference road games than home games. And it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to tell you that the home teams wins most of the time in college basketball. So, they allowed schools to play one non-Division I opponent this year. Non-Division I opponents do not figure into the RPI.
That helped, but it was still difficult for UALR, which released its schedule this week one game short of the NCAA maximum number of games. Why? They just couldn’t fit another opponent in that was willing to play and met the RPI criteria.
According to the three-year RPI average, UALR’s non-conference opponents average 151.8  for the 2011-2012 season.  This came even with UALR playing no teams ranked 300 or higher.
UALR started with previous contracts with Tulsa, SMU, Missouri State, Oral Roberts, Louisiana Tech and Illinois State. They added up to a 141 RPI. UALR is playing in the tournament with Michigan State (a great deal since it got them two home and two road games). Those opponents (Michigan State, IUPUI, Milwaukee and Eastern Michigan) averaged 131.9, keeping them in range.
They scheduled a game with Kentucky (RPI No. 7) to keep them ahead of the curve. With three games left to schedule, they were sitting at 127.3 in the RPI. Adding a local team like UCA in at this point would have pushed the overall average RPI up to 144 with two games remaining to schedule. And if they did a home-and-home with UCA, it would have pushed it up to 158.
Instead, they were able to secure two games that kept them in the 150 range. They did a home-and-home with UCA’s conference-mate Northwestern State, which had an average RPI of 286 (38 spots ahead of UCA).
Adding in the non-Division I opponent (Philander Smith) left them with one game remaining. It would have to be an opponent with an RPI of better than 151 to edge them closer to 150. And you’d also want that opponent to come to Little Rock. After all, you’ve got 7 home and 7 road games so far. You don’t want to play more road games than home games.
UALR decided to call it a day and stuck with its number.
Others did not. Arkansas State decided to take that game with Central Arkansas (RPI 324). You can take that game and play the No. 1 team in the RPI (Kansas) and you still won’t be at 150 (you’d be at 162.5). Arkansas State is also playing Southeast Missouri (RPI 320), Lamar (RPI 265), Tennessee-Martin (256) and a home-and-home with Seattle (RPI 241).  Those opponents average a 275 RPI.  To balance that out, you’d have to play Nos. 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 in the RPI. And you’d still only be at 151. ASU did add some nice opponents but comes in well off the standard with an average of 182.6.
Then again, there isn’t a punishment. So why bother?