I heard it for years from Rick Majerus. I've also heard it from the likes of Roger Reid, Steve Cleveland, Stew Morrill, Ray Giacoletti and Dave Rose.

The standard line from coaches with weak non-conference schedules has always been, "We can't get anybody to come and play us at home."

So how come Jim Boylen, in just his second year as the head coach at Utah, has already put together arguably the strongest non-conference home schedule in the school's history and perhaps the strongest home slate in the history of college basketball in Utah?

The short answer is, he tried.

This coming season, Utah will have home games against Gonzaga, Oregon, Cal and LSU in addition to games against Wisconsin-Green Bay and Weber State. The only stinker on the schedule is the home opener against a Division II school called Southwest Baptist (because of the rest of the schedule, we'll give the Utes a pass on that one).

And not only are the Utes playing a tough non-conference home schedule, they're also playing eight games away from home against the likes of Oklahoma, Mississippi, Missouri State and Utah State, the first time in decades the Utes are playing more away than home games in the preseason.

So is Boylen crazy? You might say that, if his team limps into Mountain West Conference play with a losing record.

Boylen is trying to build his program and feels the best way to do it is to get his team as battle-tested as possible going into league play. And if his team is fortunate enough to get into postseason play, the experience of tough games in November and December should pay off with victories in March.

The Ute coach also is hoping to set an example for the rest of the MWC schools to upgrade their schedules, which will help everyone in the league. Because the RPI (Ratings Percentage Index) has become more important than a team's record for getting into the NCAA Tournament, MWC teams are actually hurt in the RPI when they win a league game if their opponent's schedule is weak, because an opponent's strength of schedule is 25 percent of the RPI.

The best example is New Mexico, which compiled a gaudy 24-9 record last year, yet was bypassed for the NCAA Tournament. Because 11 home non-league games against the likes of St. Bonaventure, Presbyterian and Loyola Marymount and a strength of schedule ranked No. 155 weren't enough to impress the NCAA Selection Committee.

"The landscape of college basketball is different," Boylen said. "It doesn't mean much to win 20 games any more."

So what was Boylen's secret to producing such a strong home schedule in 2008-09?

"You have to go there first," he said. "We weren't afraid to do that ..."

Last year, the Utes went to Oregon, Cal and Gonzaga, and this year all three schools are returning to play at the Huntsman Center. This year, the Utes play at Oklahoma, and next year, the Sooners come to Utah. In 2009, the Utes go to Michigan, and the following year the Wolverines come to Utah. The Utes are hoping Gonzaga becomes an annual opponent.

"It was a leap of faith, and now we're reaping the benefits of sticking our neck out," Boylen said.

Part of the credit goes to U. athletic director Chris Hill. After serving on the NCAA Tournament selection committee the past four years, he's learned how important it is to have a strong schedule as part of your NCAA resume and he's firmly in favor of a stronger Ute schedule.

Hill heard from Ute fans who became so weary of the no-names that have frequented the home schedule that they stopped coming to games. A lot of fans would rather see a close loss to Wake Forest than another romp over Ripon.

In going back through the media guides of the various schools, I couldn't find a season where a local school had a better home schedule than the potential of Utah's upcoming slate.

Certainly a lot of good teams have come through the state over the years.

During the Majerus era, the Utes brought in name teams such as Wake Forest, Texas, Arizona, Louisville and Alabama, but generally the Utes feasted on a steady diet of Humboldt States, Azusa Pacifics and Cardinal Stritches.

BYU has played UCLA in the Marriott Center several times, and teams such as North Carolina State, Arizona, St. John's, Pitt, Notre Dame and Michigan State have come through Provo.

Utah State hasn't brought in any big opponents since the 1980s, when Kansas State and Georgia paid a visit, while Weber State's biggest game was in 1994, when a Purdue team featuring Glenn Robinson came to Ogden.

However, those games were few and far between on Utah colleges' schedules.

I don't doubt that scheduling is difficult and that a lot of schools refuse to come to Utah to play in these big arenas where the home team rarely loses. But I wonder how hard coaches really try to get more competitive games.

Sometimes you just have to try a little harder. Just ask Jim Boylen.


E-mail: sor@desnews.com