The Big Ten basketball regular season schedule comes to close today with five games.
It’s not exactly ideal that all four of the teams that will open play in the Big Ten tournament on Wednesday are having to play today with only a two-day break before plunging into the postseason.
Then again, the entire conference schedule has been a little bit like that. In order to get all the games completed a week earlier than usual so that the Big Ten tournament can serve as the warmup act for the Big East tournament at Madison Square Garden, some games were played in early December and the entire schedule has been condensed.
And, as always, the schedule is largely dictated by the television networks, often at the expense of fairness and equity, and sometimes at the expense of attendance numbers.
Some examples of the peculiarities:
— Illinois was forced to play four games in the last eight days of the regular season, going from Champaign to East Lansing to Champaign to New Jersey in little more than a week. The Illini have gotten special permission to just stay in New York after today’s game since they’ll be playing there again on Wednesday. Later this week, the players may be able to actually attend class and reintroduce themselves to their professors.
— Michigan State had a stretch where it played five games in 12 days, including road games at Maryland, Indiana and Iowa. Head coach Tom Izzo said his players were "walking on their knees" in the last game.
— Minnesota had a mid-January sequence in which it played five games in 11 days, including visits to Northwestern, Penn State and Maryland. Twice in that stretch it had just one day between games that were 1,000 miles apart.
We could go on but you get the idea: The schedule was constructed with little regard for the welfare of the players.
Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany hinted recently that he actually regretted condensing the schedule so much.
"I suspected that Jim would come to that conclusion," Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said Friday. "I really did. But I think it was worth trying. … It's unfortunate sometimes you have maybe one-day preps. You're traveling and so forth when you should have an extra day. So, unfortunately, that's the way it was this year."
Unfortunately, it may not be any different next season when the Big Ten increases the number of conference games from 18 to 20.
That wasn’t the only problem with the schedule, though. There’s also the issue of when the games are played.
Because television networks dictate all of that, there were only 25 Big Ten games played on Saturdays with 23 played on Sunday, 23 on Tuesday, 17 on Wednesday, 14 on Monday, 14 on Thursday and 10 on Friday nights, which normally have been reserved for high school action.
Saturdays have always been the optimum day from an attendance standpoint. Fans in Dubuque, Mason City and Sioux City probably can’t get to Iowa City for a game that’s played at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, but if the game is at 1 p.m. Saturday, they’re there.
Iowa’s two best home crowds of the season were for Saturday games against Purdue and Indiana. Same with Minnesota. Indiana, Ohio State, Rutgers and Wisconsin each had only one Big Ten home game on a Saturday, and in each case it was their largest crowd of the season.
Illinois went the entire season without playing a Big Ten home game on a Saturday.
It’s ludicrous and it should be remedied in future schedules, but it won’t be. TV rules all. If CBS or ESPN asked the Big Ten to schedule a game at 5 a.m. on a Wednesday, it probably would do it.
When Michigan State rallied from a 27-point deficit to beat Northwestern last week, it seemed like it had to be some sort of national record.
It’s not. In 1994, LSU had a 31-point lead on Kentucky on its home court with 15 minutes, 34 seconds remaining and somehow blew it, losing 99-95. In 1950, Duke rallied from a 29-point halftime deficit to beat Tulane.
After Iowa coach Tom Brands decided not to send out a wrestler for the 197-pound match in the dual meet between the Hawkeyes and Cyclones last Sunday, Iowa State coach Kevin Dresser referred to it as a "chicken blank move."
Brands had Steven Holloway weigh in at 197 just in case he needed him, but with the Hawkeyes way ahead of the Cyclones, he chose not to use him because he was nursing an injury. The resulting forfeit kept Iowa State from getting shut out in the dual.
Sounds like Brands was acting in the best interests of one of his athletes, which is hardly "chicken blank."
Maybe Dresser should get his program back to being competitive in the in-state rivalry before he whines about things this trivial.