Saturday night Purdue and Indiana played a Big Ten classic that came down to the final Indiana possession. Because the conference is too stupid to protect this rivalry, however, it might be the only time Indiana and Purdue will meet. Surprisingly, in 18 years of the Big Ten basketball tournament Purdue and Indiana have only met in it once, and that was in the inaugural event back in 1998 when No. 3 seed Purdue beat No. 6 seed Indiana 76-71 in the quarterfinals.
So the Big Ten Tournament is not reliable for a needed second meeting, and scheduling a non-conference meeting seems unlikely because neither team wants to have an extremely difficult true road game and the unbalance of having only one official conference game gives one team a home court advantage that is not neutralized with a return trip. Plus, as a student it sucks. In 2001-02 Purdue was awful, but what made my senior year even worse is that Purdue and Indiana played only once, and that was in Bloomington.
Since 2001-2 Purdue and Indiana have had six seasons where they played just once in conference play. Only in 2002-03 did they have a second, non-conference meeting, which was held then in the RCA Dome and was a men's-women's doubleheader. In 2002, 2008, and 2016 Indiana hosted the only meeting and won all three times. In 2003, 2009, and 2014 Purdue hosted the only conference meeting and it won all three times.
Sure, you could easily make the Crossroads Classic Purdue-Indiana and Notre Dame-Butler in years where the Boilers and Hoosiers meet only once in conference play, but I have a better solution. In it, you can fix the currently broken Big Ten basketball schedule thanks to overexpansion.
First, you protect the following rivalries so these teams play twice every season, home and home:
Purdue-Indiana - Duh. It's the best basketball rivalry in the conference.
Michigan-Ohio State - Football, basketball, poker, chess, tiddlywinks. These two would make a great rivalry game in anything, so getting them twice in basketball is only natural.
Wisconsin-Minnesota - They aren't quite at the level of hatred between Ohio State-Michigan and Purdue-Indiana, but there is no love lost here.
Northwestern-Illinois - It's a natural in-state rivalry and Northwestern could use two games every year against a team that, in most seasons, is an NCAA Tournament threat. I mean, did you see their non-conference schedule this year? Northwestern needs help.
Iowa-Nebraska - This has grown quite naturally across several sports since the Cornhuskers joined the Big Ten, so it definitely makes sense.
Michigan State-Maryland - Our first major stretch, but is it? Michigan State has been the premier team in the Big Ten for nearly two decades now. Maryland has been a national power in that time too. The Spartans don't back down from non-conference scheduling and Maryland is always looking for big basketball games, so this one just feels organic even without it being a natural rivalry. They have already played three pretty good games and I don't think anyone would really be disappointed with two Maryland-Michigan State games because we're not idiots and we like good basketball.
Penn State-Rutgers - Yeah, they are the two leftover teams, but being bordering states, east coast programs, and both wanting to recruit the NYC-Philly area it can grow. It at least makes sense from that perspective. Also, it is Rutgers and Penn State. We're not exactly creating a gross mismatch here. If they want to gripe about it they should build a program and make us care.
So, with your 18 game Big Ten schedule you now have two games taken care of every season. That leaves 16 other games to schedule against the remaining 12 teams. That makes it very, very easy to make an even schedule where fans of every program get to see every Big Ten team at least once every two seasons and everyone gets a home and home against everyone else once every three seasons.
It would work in three 4-team blocks. The Big Ten, to make things a little more fair, can work to make sure each block is even based on the last 15 years of results or so, just to make sure each block is not overloaded over another. You then play "Block A" home and home in year one while you play "Block B"at home only and "Block C" on the road only. In year two you play "Block C" at home only, "Block B" home and home, and "Block A" on the road only. In year three, the final year of the rotation, you play "Block C" home and home, "Block B" on the road only, and "Block A" at home only. That breaks down, hypothetically, as follows for, say, Purdue:
Protected Home and Home: Indiana
Block A Home and Home: Michigan State, Michigan, Nebraska, Rutgers
Block B Home Only: Maryland, Illinois, Minnesota, Penn State
Block C Road Only: Ohio State, Iowa, Wisconsin, Northwestern
Protected Home and Home: Indiana
Block A Road Only: Michigan State, Michigan, Nebraska, Rutgers
Block B Home and Home: Maryland, Illinois, Minnesota, Penn State
Block C Home Only: Ohio State, Iowa, Wisconsin, Northwestern
Protected Home and Home: Indiana
Block A Home Only: Michigan State, Michigan, Nebraska, Rutgers
Block B Road Only: Maryland, Illinois, Minnesota, Penn State
Block C Home and Home: Ohio State, Iowa, Wisconsin, Northwestern
Obviously the blocks are not locked in stone, but you get the picture. The conference can also decide to switch up the blocks after three years, but the idea is still there. Instead of long, uneven gaps between play now everyone will play everyone else both home and on the road twice in a three year period. Yeah, there could be years where a team gets a break with a home and home against team that loses a lot after a great year or if a program gets hit by a ton of sanctions like Indiana a few seasons ago, but for the most part this is pretty even.
It can even work in football.
Protected Cross-Division Rivals (play every year)
Those aren't as big of rivalries, but you get the idea. This sets up for a nice 6+2+1 scheduling where you play your six divisional opponents (three home, three away), two cross-divisional opponents (one home, one away) and your protected rival (alternating each year home and away). In year two you flip your home and away for opponents. In Year three you pick up two new cross-division opponents and flip again in year four. In year five you get the last two of the other 6 cross division opponents and switch a final time in year six. This way, fans can see every team play on every campus at least once every six years.
So, in about a thousand words, I fixed Big Ten basketball and football scheduling.