Why This Big Ten Hoops Schedule Is So Quirky
Between Jan. 2 and Feb. 25, your television set will be dark of Big Ten Conference men’s basketball games for all of four days.
Fans can even watch some Big Ten games on Mondays and Fridays, thanks to the conference’s newest television partner, FOX, which has TV windows on those days.
It’s a basketball smorgasbord, a hoops guru’s dream.
Of course, it comes with a price.
In this case, it’s fourteen Big Ten coaches finding ways to prepare their basketball teams for the usual gauntlet of 18 games, but this time with no bye weeks, and with a handful of one-day windows between games.
Welcome to the craziest, quirkiest, most challenging Big Ten Conference men’s basketball schedule you’ll ever see.
The league office released it Wednesday, but truth be told, coaches, athletic directors, conference administers, television partners and others have been hashing this one out for a couple of years, ever since they agreed to play the 2018 Big Ten Tournament at Madison Square Garden in New York.
In order to secure the coveted Garden, however, the Big Ten had to move its tournament ahead a weekend, to Feb. 28-March 4, an entire weekend before Selection Sunday. That, of course, meant finding a way to squeeze 18 conference games into a nine-week window.
“Everybody has things they like about it,” Nebraska coach Tim Miles said, “and everybody has things they don’t necessarily like about it.”
For starters, coaches recommended each team to play two conference games in early December, when students are still on campus, and refrain from scheduling any conference games between Christmas and New Year’s Day, allowing time for student-athletes to spend more time with their families.
So Nebraska, in its earliest conference opener ever, will begin Big Ten play at Michigan State on Dec. 3 and host Minnesota on Dec. 5. The Huskers will resume their conference schedule on Jan. 2 at Northwestern, play Jan. 6 at Purdue and host Wisconsin on Jan. 9.
“We’re going to have be playing a lot of high-level basketball,” said Miles, whose team also plays at Creighton and hosts Kansas in December.
Beginning Feb. 10, the Huskers will play four of five games at home to conclude the regular season. The final game is Feb. 25 against Penn State, at Pinnacle Bank Arena.
“And then it ends, promisingly, if you can be in the race,” Miles said. “You’ve got some home games there that could be really, really exciting for our fans and certainly our team.”
All Big Ten teams will face one-day prep windows on the opening December weekend, and the number of other such windows varies from there. Nebraska has two more instances of one-day windows. Indiana has three more, for a total of four.
The Big Ten normally prides itself in lack of one-day windows. It had only one such instance over the past two seasons. Comparatively, the Pac-12 had 52 one-day windows last season alone, followed by the ACC (31), Big 12 (22) and BIG East (14).
This season, the Big Ten has 34 one-day windows, and with no bye weeks. The conference usually has two byes per team each season. Also, some Big Ten teams will play three consecutive road games, something that hadn’t happened over the previous four seasons.
The shortened regular season, obviously, is the biggest reason for the changes, but other factors stiffened the challenge. For instance, the welcome addition of FOX as a television partner added more television windows. The Big Ten now has four major media partners; only the NFL has more, with five.
Also, teams submitted more blackout dates – dates their home arena is unable to host games. For example, Welsh-Ryan Arena is undergoing major renovations, so Northwestern has moved its home games to Allstate Arena in Rosemont, Illinois.
Because Minneapolis is hosting Super Bowl LII, Minnesota is unable to play any home games from Jan. 31-Feb. 5, thus eliminating more dates.
The good news? The Big Ten Conference feels confident this quirky schedule will be a one-time occurrence. The 2019 Big Ten Tournament will be in Chicago on its traditional slot on the calendar, and the regular season will go back to span its normal 10 weeks with two bye dates.
Of course, as Miles noted, there’s been talk of the Big Ten someday going from 18 league games to 20. And if that’s the case, and if …
Eh, let’s get through this season first.
Just don't blink.
Reach Brian at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @GBRosenthal.