The Big Ten Conference has taken after their competitive rival the ACC by expanding their Men’s college basketball conference schedule from 18 to 20. The decision to expand the conference schedule will be implemented at the start of the 2018-19 season, which gives us a chance to take a look at how that might change the dynamic of the Big Ten
Along with the expanding the schedule, the Big Ten also announced its plans to have programs play more frequently according to geographical region. In-state rivals such as Indiana-Purdue, Michigan-Michigan State, and Illinois-Northwestern will all play twice annually. The rest of the schedule will be more focused on allowing teams in the same region play more frequently.
In the twenty-game format, teams will play seven programs twice and six programs once per season. The regional element will have Wisconsin playing programs like Northwestern and Illinois more frequently (up to ten games in a six-year cycle).
If you’re like me, at first thought this decision is an absolute no-brainer. More Big Ten games mean more in conference rivalries. It means more meaningful match-ups for those programs looking to bank on the conference strength of schedule come March. It means that the Big Ten will now allow for their best rivalries to compete in a home-and-home series every single year.
I actually really like the idea of teams building up regional rivalries. Aside from the three in-state rivalries that are protected by the Big Ten, it allows for the other eight teams in the conference to establish some sort of rivalry.
Instead of having some early, non-conference nobodies show up to play Big Ten schools the conference will strength by playing more amongst itself. Eliminating some of these matchups (i.e., the Hoosier Classic games) will allow for the Big Ten to flex its muscles when the committee meets to decide on the big dance. It will also help try and eliminate this possibility.
You know who else really likes the idea of conference expansion? The Big Ten’s media partners including its own entity, the Big Ten Network. Their recent renewal of television rights with ESPN, FOX, and CBS now give them a more intriguing product and more games to showcase. The Big Ten Network will benefit the most from this deal, not having to air games like Michigan State and Stony Brook in the middle of the afternoon on a Saturday in November (sorry Seawolves fans).
With all of that in mind, there is some level of concern across the NCAA landscape. The major conferences are beginning to now shift inward for competition squeezing out mid-major schools in non-conference play. Programs who rely heavily on matchups with Power-five schools will have an even more difficult time bolstering their resumes come March. One Big Ten athletic director told FanRag Sports that the NCAA wants to push for only Power-Five conference programs to receive at-large bids.
An unnamed Big Ten head coach broke it down in simple terms:
“They’re doing this to get programs like Penn State and Nebraska into the NCAA Tournament. Going to 20 league games will create more opportunities for teams that aren’t usually in contention. That’s the goal of this.”
It may be a bit of a reach to say that no mid-major schools will receive at-large bids should the other three conferences expand conference play. Sure, mid-major programs will have an even more difficult time finding matchups worthy of building a resume a competitive enough to convince the NCAA committee.
If you are a team in the Big Ten that consistently misses out on the NCAA Tournament, this might become even more of a problem now for you too. Teams looking to bank on easier, non-conference opponents are now stuck playing two more conference games including one on the road. Programs that define staying around .500 may be looking at an even larger uphill battle.