It’s still November, but the Big Ten will begin conference play on Friday with two league matchups. By next Thursday, all 14 Big Ten schools will have played two conference games.
A similar schedule was adopted last season, for the first time, in order to accommodate a Big Ten Tournament played a week sooner than usual. Teams played two league games each in early December, returned to nonconference action, and resumed league play for good in early January.
This year, the early conference games are because the league has moved to a 20-game schedule. The Big Ten is the first conference in Division I basketball history to do so. The ACC will move to 20 games starting next season.
“Conference games by and large are winners with our fans, provide great competition for our players, and certainly television likes that they rate extremely well,” Big Ten commissioner Jim Delaney said during the conference’s media day in October.
Most of the league’s coaches are on board. Michigan’s John Beilein said he’d be in favor of as many as 26 Big Ten games because of the difficulty of scheduling big-time home games and the importance of playing some of those games this time of year, when the college football regular season is over and students are still on campus.
Nebraska’s Tim Miles recalled a fan approaching him last season before the Cornhuskers’ lone matchup with Iowa and saying, “It would be nice to play our rivals on occasion.”
“I think the 20-game schedule is good,” Miles said. “We get more games against our teams.” He believes it will help build better NCAA Tournament resumes and allow for a truer regular season champion.
“I think it’s good for college basketball,” Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann said. “I think you’ll see most power conferences go in that direction. It’s challenging for us as coaches to have two games like that and decrease the flexibility in your schedule. But I get the motivation for it and I think it makes sense. I’m a proponent of it.”
In addition to increasing the number of games, the Big Ten protected three rivalries: Michigan-Michigan State, Northwestern-Illinois, and Indiana-Purdue will play each other twice starting this season.
On Friday, Michigan State visits Rutgers and Iowa travels to Wisconsin. Michigan hosts Purdue on Saturday, one of three league matchups that day.
“That first weekend in December, packed arenas, it was great,” Beilein said, recalling last year’s start to the Big Ten season. “One of the best moves we’ve made is play in (November and) December and expand the schedule.”