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Big Ten Officially Protecting Rivalry Games

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A release indicates that the league is finally doing what fans have wanted for years.

NCAA Basketball: Purdue at Indiana Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Since the Big Ten added Penn State to the conference, basketball scheduling has become far more complicated. Instead of facing every league opponent twice (once at home and once on the road), teams would now have to rotate between double-play and single-play games.

For many Big Ten fans, they have resigned to the existence of these scheduling issues. And with the additions of Maryland, Nebraska, and Rutgers over the past decade, this issue has only gotten worse. Instead of facing every league opponent twice, Big Ten teams now only face five conference opponents twice in a given regular season.

There are a lot of side-effects to these scheduling issues, but the most significant impact has been to the league’s rivalry games. No longer are teams guaranteed to have two games against their top in-league rival. In fact, teams like Indiana and Purdue will now routinely play just once per season. Not exactly something that gets fans excited.

However, in a release on Monday morning, it was revealed that the league has indeed finally made the move to protect these rivalry games. A release from Indiana stated the following:

While this move has been expected for some time, it’s huge news for many fans across the Big Ten. And even though this is most meaningful for the fans of the six teams listed above, it does have ramifications for the rest of the league.

Here are some of the most important takeaways.

1. The Big Ten is setting itself well on the national stage.

In college basketball, there is no specific formula for success. Some teams pride themselves on recruiting and others lean more heavily on player development and quality coaching. Winning is the goal, but there are a lot of different ways to get there.

However, when you’re a team in the Big Ten, perception and visibility matter a great deal. Every team at this level needs to recruit against other nationally relevant teams. It’s a difficult task, but one thing that helps in that effort is to get exposure on a national stage and get high schoolers and general fans interested in your product.

Guaranteeing these rivalry games does just that. We can’t speculate as to which teams will be relevant on a yearly basis, but rivalry games are always relevant, even if only at a local level. Games like Indiana-Purdue and Michigan-MSU will get people talking and get butts in the seats. As such, this move is going to help the Big Ten expand its image and gets games on in homes.

2. Don’t expect to play these teams quite as often.

I talked above about how these protected rivalries are also going to impact the eight other Big Ten teams. There will certainly be some minor impacts, but the most significant is that it will impact how often those teams play these six.

For example, with Indiana now locking itself into a double-play game with Purdue, it’s no longer going to play a team like Maryland quite as often. Depending upon your viewpoint, maybe that’s a good thing or maybe it’s a bad thing. The point is that the remaining eight teams should expect to be playing among themselves more often than against the six teams getting guaranteed rivalry games.

3. There aren’t going to be any Oprah rivalry game giveaways.

This is perhaps the most significant (and best) part of today’s Big Ten scheduling release. Instead of guaranteeing every team in the league a protected rivalry game, the Big Ten will only be guaranteeing three.

Since the idea originally surfaced of protecting rivalry games, fans have speculated as to whether the league would protect a handful or go with the method used by some other leagues (notably, the SEC) to guarantee every team a rival or set of rivals.

I’ve written at length about the advantages and disadvantages of this model, but when everything is evaluated, it’s hard to argue guaranteeing every team a rivalry is the best model. It reduces scheduling equality by a significant amount simply for the purpose of making every team feel like they have a rivalry, even if they don’t. It’s a pretty substantial trade-off that doesn’t serve a very valuable purpose.

However, this release clearly indicates that the Big Ten will not be using this model. In fact, it indicates only three rivalries will be guaranteed. This is great news for fans across the league and should only work to improve the conference’s schedule.