New York — The Big Ten had been preparing to make a jump to a 20-game conference schedule.
The conference officially made the leap on Thursday, announcing it would increase the men’s basketball league slate from 18 games to 20 beginning with the 2018-19 season.
According to Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany, the conference took a hard look at navigating a shorter season and felt it could add more quality games while also improving the presentation of the league’s product.
“We thought that taking the approach to college basketball, similar to the one we did with college football, would help us lessen compression in January and February with good planning, trying to capture some interest we have with other games,” Delany said during the Big Ten media day at Madison Square Garden. “We have an ACC challenge now, we have two additional games in December, and albeit we’ll lose two nonconference games. But we think in general, people respond more to the conference game than the nonconference.
“We just thought playing against each other, more was good, and good for the Big Ten, and good for college basketball generally.”
Under the new scheduling format, teams will play seven opponents twice and six teams once (three home, three away) in a given season. More importantly, in-state rivalries between Michigan-Michigan State, Illinois-Northwestern and Indiana-Purdue will all be protected and ensure two matchups each season.
The new schedule also will include a regional component to increase the frequency of games among teams in similar areas. Over the course of a six-year cycle (12 playing opportunities), in-state rivals will play each other 12 times; regional opponents will play 10 times and all other teams will play nine times.
It’s a change that has been unanimously accepted and welcomed by all the Big Ten coaches.
However, Nebraska coach Tim Miles admitted it took some time for the idea to grow on him.
“Originally, I didn’t love the 20-game schedule, especially with the in-state protected rivalries. It felt like — because there were some — felt like a tier,” Miles said. “Like we’ve got these guys that are traditional powers. And we’re going to make sure we protect them. But I know that’s not the case.
“But as we get more into it, I think playing valuable games and more valuable games and consistent teams is really good for us. I think it’s probably overall very good for the league.”
Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said he was reluctant when the conference expanded from 16 to 18 conference games, but was in favor of the two-game increase because playing the best is something that everyone wants — fans, television and coaches included.
“Does it give us less of a chance to play a couple of teams? Maybe,” Izzo said. “But I’ve also been a big fan of the truest champion you could have, and I think that when you’re only playing 16 and an 18, sometimes the schedule determines some of the championships over the performance on the court.
“This gives us the better chance to have the performance on the court, do it. We’re going to get better games. How we fit it all in, you know, that’s Jim (Delany) and (Michigan State AD) Mark’s (Hollis) job. We’re just going to play the games. I hope we can fit it in right to make it good. But I think 20 games is going to be great.”
According to Maryland coach Mark Turgeon, data showed once the conference moved from 16 to 18 games, more Big Ten teams started making the NCAA Tournament.
It’s a trend the league and its coaches hope will continue when it goes into effect in 2018-19, with the goal of getting another team or two into the Tournament.
“Typically, the numbers tell you it gets one more team in per year, per conference. And we all want that,” Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said. “By playing two more league games, there’s so many positives there. I think, TV, once — great TV matchups, the fans want it. But ultimately, I think it helps your strength of schedule, your RPI, and I think it plays well with the committee.”
Adding two more conference games also will leave little wiggle room for Big Ten teams’ nonconference schedules, with the ACC/Big Ten Challenge and other early-season tournaments on the docket.
Wisconsin coach Greg Gard said it will force coaches to make a decision what to substitute and will alter how they approach scheduling future nonconference games.
“I think it will be some trial and error of how you go through it. But it’s going to be great for the game, I know that,” Gard said. “It will be maybe not — put a little more stress on the coaches a little faster, but I think our players are excited about it.
“It will really increase the quality and spread the quality out of the games you’re going to be playing obviously well into December.”
And improving the strength of schedule is the bottom line, which Rutgers coach Steve Pikiell is looking forward to the most.
“I mean, banging heads for 20 games against some of the best coaches and players, just makes it difficult. Makes it difficult for any program,” Pikiell said. “But we’ve added two more nationally televised games and two more opportunities that people see teams home and away. I’m excited about that.”