Idaho State-Montana Tech

ISU men’s basketball coach Ryan Looney high-fives players during the Bengals’ exhibition game on Oct. 29, 2019, against Montana Tech at Reed Gym.

The Big Sky Conference released its 2020-21 men's and women's conference basketball schedules Thursday, the latest step towards a return to play in a year that has been derailed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Conference teams will play a full 20-game schedule, with every team playing every other team twice.

That's a departure from the conference's previous plan, announced in May, to have a 16-game schedule. It had been reported in recent weeks that the Big Sky was planning to go back to a full 20-game slate.

"The Presidents had to approve it yesterday but we anticipated that's the way it was going," Idaho State men's coach Ryan Looney said. 

The schedule will rely on two-game weekend series to limit travel, with teams playing each other on Thursday and Saturday of a given week at the same venue.

For example, Idaho State's opening conference games are against Northern Colorado. The men's team will travel to Greeley to play two games that weekend, while the women's team welcomes the Bears for two games at home.

"It's what I was hoping for, under the circumstances, of course," ISU women's coach Seton Sobolewski said. "There were a couple other proposals that I didn't think were as good. ... I think this does the best job in terms of player safety and reducing potential exposure."

That will be the format for eight of the 10 opponents, with every team also getting two home-and-home weekend series with the pair of schools in its closest proximity. Idaho State's home-and-home opponents are Montana State and Weber State, two trips the Bengals will make via bus, Looney said. 

With the conference schedule in place, teams are expected to begin announcing non-conference schedules shortly.

The Idaho State Journal recently reported that the ISU men will begin the season on Nov. 25, participating in a four-team tournament with UC Santa Clara, UC Davis and Nicholls State.

"Doing your non-conference (schedule) was impossible without knowing when your 20 conference games would exactly be played," Looney said. "We knew we weren't going to get some teams we would necessarily love to have at some and vice versa with the road games.

"We knew it wasn't going to be fair for all teams in the conference but there are stretches of the schedule that are probably an advantage for us. I think we have seven of eight in a row at home late in the season."

Conference play will start on Dec. 3 and 5, although teams are allowed to move games from that opening weekend to avoid possible conflicts with non-conference games. Both Idaho State teams are currently attempting to move those opening games, although new dates have not been finalized.

Following that, conference play will break for several weeks before resuming again on Dec. 31.

Teams will have one bye week in their 11-week conference schedules. Idaho State's is the weekend of Feb. 4, seven weeks into the schedule.

The conference tournament is scheduled for March 8-13 in Boise.

"It feels good, because we felt really unsettled this last month or so just not knowing what's going on with our conference schedule," Sobolewski said. "So we at least have a target now, we know what we're aiming at."

IDAHO STATE MEN'S BASKETBALL SCHEDULE

STILL YET TO BE FINALIZED: at Northern Colorado

Dec. 31: vs. Weber State

Jan. 2: at Weber State

Jan. 7/9: at Northern Arizona

Jan. 14/16: vs. Sacramento State

Jan. 21/23: at Portland Statae

Jan. 28/30: vs. Southern Utah

Feb. 11/13: vs. Idaho

Feb. 18: at Montana State

Feb. 20: vs. Montana State

Feb. 25/27: vs. Montana

March 4/6: at Eastern Washington

IDAHO STATE WOMEN'S BASKETBALL SCHEDULE

STILL YET TO BE FINALIZED: vs. Northern Colorado

Dec. 31: at Weber State

Jan. 2: vs. Weber State

Jan. 7/9: vs. Northern Arizona

Jan. 14/16: at Sacramento State

Jan. 21/23: vs. Portland Statae

Jan. 28/30: at Southern Utah

Feb. 11/13: at Idaho

Feb. 18: vs. Montana State

Feb. 20: at Montana State

Feb. 25/27: at Montana

March 3/5 (Wed./Fri.): vs. Eastern Washington