Jon Rothstein of CBS Sports broke a rather large story this morning about the future of the Big Ten men’s basketball schedule as well as the Big Ten Tournament.
NEWS: The Big Ten is planning to stay at 20 league games when UCLA, USC, Oregon, & Washington join the conference in 2024-25, according to a source.— Jon Rothstein (@JonRothstein) January 26, 2024
The Big Ten is also planning to only have 15 of its 18 teams in the Big Ten Tournament starting in 2025. https://t.co/FDQxFVY31q
Rothstein dropped two bits of information here so let’s take them one at a time with supplementation by Dana O’Neil from The Athletic and my own opinions on the changes.
First, the conference will remain at 20 Big Ten games even with the addition of UCLA, USC, Oregon, and Washington for next season. It’s an understandable decision given the grind that a 20 game Big Ten season already is. With the conference now spanning both coasts adding more games would simply making in-season travel even more strenuous on the bodies and minds of the athletes.
With a 20 game conference slate and 18 teams it will severely limit the ability of the conference to make a truly fair conference schedule. Assuming that everyone will play every team one time that accounts for 17 of your 20 games. That leaves 3 teams that you will play three times in a season. Will there be protected rivalries or could Purdue vs. IU become a once a year game? To me this would be the worst part of adding these additional teams. The money is nice. The prestige is nice. The chance to visit new venues for conference games is nice. The loss of one Purdue vs. IU game a year is not in fact nice. Rivalries are the lifeblood of college sports and losing out on them for no other reason than money is difficult to swallow. If each team were to have one protected rivalry it would further limit the home and home opponents to just two, plus who would each team be matched up with?
- Purdue vs. IU
- Minnesota vs. Wisconsin
- Michigan vs. Michigan State
- USC vs. UCLA
- Illinois vs. Northwestern
At this point I’m sort of out. Do you just throw Oregon and Washington together? What about maybe Iowa vs. Nebraska? Maryland and Rutgers for nothing other than geographic convenience? Then that leaves you with Ohio State and Penn State who I don’t view as rivals particularly but maybe it would have to work?
Regardless of if they keep a protected rivalry it will certainly result in a schedule imbalance each and every year. Will this make the conference title more dependent on scheduling than on being the best team? Let’s take this year as an example. There are clearly three teams vying for the conference title right now; Purdue, Illinois, and Wisconsin. What if Purdue played each of those teams only once, both at home, and their three teams they played twice were Penn State, Michigan, and Minnesota? Couple that with Illinois having their three teams being Michigan State, Northwestern, and Wisconsin. That could leave Wisconsin playing Illinois, Michigan State, and Nebraska twice. Purdue obviously would have a huge advantage there. The folks doing the scheduling at the conference headquarters really have their work cut out for them in the coming years.
The second bit of news concerns the Big Ten Tournament. Rothstein reported, and O’Neil confirmed, that the Big Ten Conference is planning to invite just 15 of 18 teams into the Big Ten Tournament starting with the 2025 edition. Here’s O’Neil’s explanation for how this will work and what the conference considered or is still considering:
Including all 18 teams would require adding a sixth day of competition to the postseason slate, something that officials found too unwieldy, the source said.
Under the new format, the league will add a game to the Wednesday slate, with the 10th-place finisher playing the 15th-place finisher. The winner of that game faces the No. 7 seed on Thursday, with the tournament otherwise proceeding in its normal fashion, and the top four seeds earning a double bye until Friday.
O’Neil goes on to point out that this isn’t the first time a conference has done this with their basketball tournament as the Big East did this from 2004-2008 when the had 16 teams. The coaches hated it because it made them look bad since not only were their teams not making the NCAA Tournament they also weren’t even making the conference tournament. It was a bad look for them. In 2009 the conference reversed course and all teams were invited to the tournament once again.
I can’t help but feel that this is exactly what the Big Ten will do after facing backlash from their coaches. I know that there are other Big Ten sports that do something similar, I believe women’s soccer doesn’t invite every team to the conference tournament, but for basketball I think this change loses one of the most exciting elements of the tournament. Anyone can win it! You can start on day one and make it all the way to day five with a change to salvage your entire season with that one final victory. Penn State last year finished 9th in conference and went 10-10 during conference play, yet they found a way to fight all the way to the Big Ten Tournament title game and almost stole one from our beloved Boilermakers. It was a great story. I understand that they would still have made it in based on these new rules, but it just takes away that chance from three teams and that to me is a terrible decision.
We are still awaiting confirmation from the conference that this is the route they are taking but for now it’s something to keep an eye on. What are your thoughts on these two reported decisions from the Big Ten? Should a protected rivalry exist in basketball? Do all teams deserve a chance in the Big Ten Tournament?