On Monday morning, FanRag Sports’ Jon Rothstein reported that the Big Ten has voted to expand their men’s basketball league schedule to 20 games starting with the 2018-19 season. This follows on the heels (well, kind of, the announcement was over a year ago) of the ACC announcing a 20 game league schedule starting with the 2019-2020 season.
That’s two of the four high major conferences with more than 10 teams shifting to a 20 game schedule.
That probably means that the Big East needs to seriously consider expanding to 11 teams.
Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, I know, I’ve been an anti-expansion honk for a long time now. Let me explain.
The NCAA has a maximum allowed number of games that men’s basketball teams are allowed to play. Playing two more conference games means that Big Ten and ACC teams will have to give up two non-conference dates in order to stay under the limit.
Let’s take a random, relatively successful Big Ten team. Michigan, for example. I pulled out the Maui and ACC/B1G Challenge games from their 2017-18 non-conference schedule because Michigan isn’t allowed to turn down the ACC game and they’re not going to be stupid enough to turn down Maui.
Here’s their remaining non-conference games, which are all home games unless noted:
- Central Michigan
- Southern Miss
- UC Riverside
- at Texas
- Detroit (at Little Caesars Arena in Detroit)
- Alabama A&M
In order to fit in the 20 game B1G schedule next season, Michigan will have to drop two of the equivalent of these games. If you’re athletic director Warde Manuel and head coach John Beilein, which two are you going to dump first?
I’ll give you some time to think it over.
Time’s up! It’s the UCLA and Texas games, isn’t it? The Texas game goes first because pffffft, you’re already going to be playing one of those extra Big Ten games on the road and you’re sure not going to be giving up the roughly 11,000 tickets sold at Crisler Arena by keeping a non-conference road game on the schedule. The UCLA game goes next because why would you stress your strength of schedule harder than you have to? You’re going to get assigned a home game against a Big Ten team, right? That’s just like playing UCLA (or Florida, or Syracuse, or whatever) in terms of opponent quality, for the most part.
In short: ACC and Big Ten teams are going to get handed two high quality in-conference opponents, and they are, most likely, going to stop playing high quality non-conference opponents as a result of it. Sure, you’ll have your coaches like Tom Izzo who would use a time machine and schedule the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls at the United Center if he could, but for the most part, teams are going to keep scheduling buy games and stop playing other high major teams.
Have you figured out how this affects the Big East yet? I imagine you have, because anyone who reads this website is obviously a smart and intelligent person.
If the Big Ten and the ACC are going to mostly stop playing high major non-conference games, then that leaves the Big East, the SEC, the Big 12, the Pac 12, the AAC, and the Atlantic 10 with fewer opportunities for high quality non-conference games. Out of those six conferences, the Big 12 and the Big East are the only two that don’t have 10-plus members already. The other four can just switch to a 20 game schedule whenever they want to at this point, and that leaves even fewer potential partners for the Big East to play.
If the Big East adds one team, one extra full time member, to get to 11 schools, then they can keep the round-robin schedule and move to 20 games. Each team has 10 opponents, two games each, boom, 20 games.
The problem, then, is correctly identifying the team to add. You need to add a program that doesn’t diminish the overall profile of the Big East, and let’s be honest: There’s not a lot of college hoops programs that might consider the jump that are going to fit the bill.
The obvious one that jumps to mind is Connecticut. There’s long been rumors of the Big East being interested in bringing in the Huskies if they can figure out what to do with their football program. That path may be fraught with peril though, and it still begs the question of what to do with the 11th spot when UConn finds a conference that will house all of their sports.
Past that? I dunno. Saint Louis, I guess. Adding SLU would shift the gravity of the conference towards the western end of Marquette/DePaul/Creighton, so that’s a plus. They have a reasonable amount of history attached to the program, and Chaifetz Arena is a quality sized building.
You have to at least consider the possibility of Denver and Old Dominion. The Pioneers were affiliate Big East members in both men’s and women’s lacrosse for the first time in 2016-17, so they’re already kind of tied to the conference. The Monarchs are already an affiliate member for field hockey, and they’ll be coming under the Big East’s umbrella for women’s lacrosse beginning with the 2018-19 school year. It wouldn’t be the weirdest thing in the world to promote either school to full time member status, especially with ODU taking up residence in Virginia. Old Dominion would also be the more palatable option from a men’s basketball perspective as four of their 11 NCAA tournament appearances have come in the 21st Century and they play in an 8,000+ seat arena. The less said about Denver’s history (no D1 NCAA appearances) and facilities (7,200 seat Magness Arena) the better.
As you can see, there’s an obvious problem with the obvious counter to the ACC and Big Ten’s new scheduling policies. Of course, merely waiting for the megaconferences to collapse under their own weight is also an option...