Big Ten basketball eschews protected rivalries in 12-team league

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March 31, 2014 | 1:38 pm

IOWA CITY — Big Ten basketball teams will not have protected home-and-home opponents as the league transitions into a 12-school conference with Nebraska's entry next year.

Mark Rudner, the Big Ten's senior associate commissioner for television administration, said both men's and women's basketball programs will continue to rotate opponents every two years as in the past. Rivalries such as Indiana-Purdue will have a two-year cycle of single plays as in the past.

"Historically in basketball, our athletic directors have been pretty adamant that we go through a rotation of playing everybody," said Rudner, who handles conference scheduling.

The men's conference slate will remain 18 games and the women's will stay at 16. Each men's program will play seven schools twice and four schools once. Each women's program will play five schools twice and six schools once. The league designates single-play opponents on a two-year basis.

The Big Ten increased the annual men's basketball conference games from 16 to 18 beginning in 2007-08. Schools played eight opponents twice and two opponents once per year the last four seasons. Iowa faced Wisconsin and Penn State only once annually the last two years. The Hawkeyes will play both schools twice for at least the next two years, Rudner said.

"Single plays, we did it randomly, but what we did do is we did not include the single plays that were played this season or last season," Rudner said. "That was sort of the approach we took. We didn't want to have a situation where for four straight years a team would play another only one time.

"We’ll probably, soon after the Final Four, announce who everybody will play. So I can’t really much really do much more than tell you that sometime in April we'll tell people who we’re playing."

The league also will tweak its basketball tournaments. With 12 schools, only the first four teams will receive tournament byes, instead of the current five. That adds one more game to each tournament's first round every year. Rudner said the sequence of games is undetermined.

With an even number of schools, the Big Ten won't schedule any idle game dates for its teams the last two weeks of the season, Rudner said. With 11 schools at least one was idle during all game dates.

"That’s always been sort of an issue with some of our coaches," he said.

Rudner said the league will continue to work closely with television networks to provide high-profile match-ups in the best viewing window. He said men's basketball ratings increased 18 percent on ESPN and 8 percent on CBS this year.

"Basketball scheduling has become a full contact sport year-round," Rudner said. "There’s so much invested in it, we have to really work hard at getting it as right as we can get it. It’s never perfect. I think if you look at our scheduling, if you talk to our coaches the last year or the last couple of years compared to where we were 20 years or 10 years ago, I think we’re in a much better place.

"That’s because our coaches told us take what we have and work with our TV partners and make sure our best games in the best windows because it helps awareness of Big Ten basketball," Rudner said. "I think we’ve been pretty successful at doing that. The challenge each year is to make sure we have the best games in the best windows. We do that with an eye toward making sure there’s balance to the schedule, that it’s fair to everybody and we’re doing what we have to do as far as our media agreements are concerned."

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