It’s been rumored and discussed over the last several years, but the Big Ten is reportedly preparing for a 20-game conference schedule,, possibly starting as early as the 2018-19 season. The development was reported by Jon Rothstein of FanRag Sports, who claims multiple sources on the issue.
As of now, according to Rothstein’s sources the decision isn’t finalized, but it appears to be heading towards that direction for next season. The move would see conference play increase from 18 to 20 games.
The biggest takeaway from this development is that the conference season would be starting earlier in December than usual. This season’s conference schedule is a bit quirky, with teams set to play two games at the beginning of December, but that is because the conference tournament will be at Madison Square Garden. Due to the Big East Tournament also being held at MSG, the Big Ten had to hold their conference tournament a week earlier than usual. Luckily with the next four years alternating between Chicago and Indianapolis, that won’t happen again anytime soon.
With the conference set to increase to 20 games, it does mean that conference play will likely start immediately after Christmas. It also means that the number of non-conference games available to schedule will drop as well. With the Big Ten participating in the Big Ten / ACC Challenge, as well as the Gavitt Games, there will be less non-conference games to schedule for teams.
Of course it does mean more entertaining games and less games against cupcakes to pad the schedule. It should also help prevent scheduling issues where teams that should play twice don’t, though protected rivalries will presumably fix that. At 20 games it means each team would play seven teams twice and six teams once, increasing a teams double plays by two.
Looking back, the idea of a 20 games schedule has been on the table for several years now. I actually touched on it about three years ago:
The move would turn the five double play and eight single play schedule into one where teams would have seven double plays and six single plays, balancing the play a bit more. The problem is the Big Ten would then need to find a way to fit in the games, bumping up the conference schedule further into December (it usually begins on New Years Eve). With the way winter breaks tend to work, that means the Big Ten could be starting games prior to Christmas if they expanded the conference slate. It'd also make things tricky for teams as they already have the Big Ten / ACC Challenge, the upcoming event with the Big East, occasionally marquee non-conference matchups and a number of preseason events (Crossroads Classic, Maui Invitational, etc.).
Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany was open to that idea back in 2014 as well. "If our coaches said to us, we'd like to have 20, we would have it...I wouldn't be opposed to 20,” Delany said.
Either way, this isn’t finalized and things could always change. That being said, there are definitely benefits to a 20 games schedule and a few things that could prove problematic. If it ends up with two Big Ten games replacing late December outings against mid-major cupcakes, though, it should prove beneficial to the league.