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What the hell is the “Commodore Classic”?

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On how much of a joke the NCAA’s “exempt event” rule is.

NCAA Basketball: Vanderbilt at South Carolina Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

NCAA Division I basketball teams have long had a maximum number of regular season games — currently 28, though in the past that number has fluctuated between 26 and 28 games. That number doesn’t count postseason tournaments (whether of the conference or NCAA/NIT variety), but there are also some other games that don’t count.

A long time ago, the NCAA, recognizing that member schools outside of the continental United States had difficulty filling out their schedules — and particularly getting home games — passed a rule that games played outside of the continental United States didn’t count toward your limit. And schools in Hawaii, Alaska, and Puerto Rico came up with a brilliant idea: host a tournament and invite schools from the mainland to come play three games. The Maui Invitational, the Great Alaska Shootout, the Rainbow Classic, and a handful of other tournaments sprung up as a result.

But then, the rules changed. The NCAA had a rule that stated that no team could play in an exempt tournament more than twice in a four-year period; that was meant to prevent big-name programs (you know who they are) from hogging all the spots in what were, essentially, made-for-TV events during the holidays, but having such a limited number of exempt events also meant that a lot of schools were actually shut out of them. So the NCAA changed the rules: in addition to removing the “two-in-four” restriction, the NCAA also lifted the restriction requiring that the events be played outside the mainland United States. Chris Dobbertean at Blogging the Bracket has the rundown on all of the rules surrounding these events, but the key thing to know is that 2005-06 is the last season that Vanderbilt played the regular, NCAA-mandated 28-game schedule. In every year since, they’ve played in some exempt event that’s allowed them to play 30 or 31 games.

Which brings us to the 2018-19 regular season schedule. You’ll count 31 games on the schedule, but you won’t see anything resembling a tournament on the schedule. Because Vanderbilt is taking advantage of a loophole in the rules.

Here are the requirements for an exempt event, as defined by Bylaw 17.3.5.1.1 of the NCAA Division I manual:

  • The event is sponsored by the NCAA, an active or affiliated member or a member conference and takes place in the Bahamas, Canada, Mexico, or the United States;
  • The event includes no more than four contest per institution and concludes no later than 14 days after the first contest of the event;
  • Participation is limited to no more than one team per conference, and no institution may participate in the same event more than once in a four-year period; and
  • Each participating institution is using the event as its exempt event.

Got it? You’ll notice nowhere that it has to be a tournament format, or that it all has to take place at a single site, or anything like that. Just that you have a few teams playing some games within a 14-day period.

On November 16, Vanderbilt hosts Alcorn State. That same night, Liberty travels to Kent State. Kent State hosts Alcorn State on November 18, Vanderbilt hosts Liberty on the 19th, and Kent State hosts Savannah State on the 20th. On the 23rd, Liberty hosts Alcorn State, and Kent State travels to Vanderbilt. Savannah State goes to Liberty on the 25th and Vanderbilt on the 27th.

The four games that Vanderbilt will play — against Alcorn State, Liberty, Kent State, and Savannah State — between the 16th and 27th of November look completely innocuous on Vanderbilt’s schedule. You won’t find any mention of a tournament of any sort on vucommodores.com, nor will you find any mention of one on the website of Kent State or Alcorn State. (You won’t even find Savannah State’s 2018-19 schedule on their website.)

Liberty’s basketball schedule does make a reference to something called the “Commodore Classic” (and also includes a home game against Trevecca! So I guess Trevecca is participating in this too?!) But a Google search for the “Commodore Classic” reveals... well, a cross country meet we hosted back in September.

This is the brave new world of college basketball. It used to be that to get any more than 28 games, you had to play in some neutral site tournament. But now... well, now you just play a few home games and convince the other teams to schedule each other, and voila, you’ve got a few extra games on your schedule. This is a complete joke.