A look at how unbalanced scheduling could shape the 2017-2018 Big Ten race

  • 08/07/2017 10:21 am in

One of the issues that comes with conference expansion is the unbalanced schedule. With the Big Ten entering its fourth season at 14 members, the conference is entering another season of a scheduling format that includes eight single plays and five home-and-home series each season.

The schedule is a major change from the previous 12-team format which included seven home-and-home pairings with just four single plays. But unless the league opts to add more games (a 20-game schedule has been the most frequently discussed scenario), the current format is here to stay. The unbalanced schedule is definitely a factor in the conference race each season.

Using the top ten teams in our post-NBA draft deadline power rankings published in May, we ranked the schedule difficulty (from most difficult to easiest) of the projected top ten of the league for next season:

1. Northwestern (projected No. 3 in standings)
Home: Illinois, Michigan State, Nebraska, Ohio State
Away: Indiana, Iowa, Purdue, Rutgers
Home/Away: Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Penn State, Wisconsin

Comment: If the Wildcats are going to return to the NCAA tournament, they’re going to earn it. All of Northwestern’s double plays will be tough, as will road trips to Indiana, Iowa and Purdue. This is a difficult slate.

2. Maryland (projected No. 7 in standings)
Home: Iowa, Minnesota, Rutgers, Wisconsin
Away: Illinois, Indiana, Nebraska, Ohio State
Home/Away: Michigan, Michigan State, Northwestern, Penn State, Purdue

Comment: After a favorable slate last season, the Terps have a more difficult road this season. Maryland has double plays with four teams in our projected top five. Playing Penn State twice won’t be easy, either.

3. Purdue (projected No. 4 in standings)
Home: Nebraska, Northwestern, Ohio State, Penn State
Away: Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan State
Home/Away: Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Rutgers, Wisconsin

Comment: The road to a repeat in West Lafayette won’t be easy. Purdue’s road single plays are Indiana, Iowa and Michigan State and they also play four of our projected top seven twice.

4. Minnesota (projected No. 2 in standings)
Home: Illinois, Michigan State, Ohio State, Rutgers
Away: Maryland, Michigan, Penn State, Wisconsin
Home/Away: Indiana, Iowa, Nebraska, Northwestern, Purdue

Comment: The Gophers only play Michigan State once – and it is at home – but has double plays with four other teams projected in our top ten, including Northwestern and Purdue.

5. Indiana (projected No. 8 in standings)
Home: Maryland, Northwestern, Penn State, Purdue
Away: Michigan, Nebraska, Rutgers, Wisconsin
Home/Away: Illinois, Iowa, Michigan State, Minnesota, Ohio State

Comment: Indiana has double plays with the league’s projected top two teams – Michigan State and Minnesota – but also drew two of the projected bottom four twice in Ohio State and Illinois. On the single play front, getting Purdue, Northwestern and Maryland all at home is favorable.

6. Penn State (projected No. 10 in standings)
Home: Michigan, Minnesota, Rutgers, Wisconsin
Away: Illinois, Indiana, Michigan State, Purdue
Home/Away: Iowa, Maryland, Nebraska, Northwestern, Ohio State

Comment: Getting two of the projected bottom four for double plays is favorable, as are home single plays with Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin. However, Penn State also has to go to Indiana, Michigan State and Purdue.

7. Michigan (projected No. 5 in standings)
Home: Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, Rutgers
Away: Michigan State, Nebraska, Penn State, Wisconsin
Home/Away: Iowa, Maryland, Northwestern, Ohio State, Purdue

Comment: The Wolverines had the toughest Big Ten schedule in our projections last season, but things will ease up a bit in 2017-18. Michigan has double plays with Purdue and Northwestern, but avoids playing our projected top two teams twice.

8. Wisconsin (projected No. 6 in standings)
Home: Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio State
Away: Iowa, Maryland, Penn State, Rutgers
Home/Away: Illinois, Michigan State, Nebraska, Northwestern, Purdue

Comment: The Badgers are one of the toughest teams to project entering the season, but the schedule is favorable. Double plays with Illinois and Nebraska is a plus, as is avoiding road trips to Indiana, Michigan and Minnesota.

9. Iowa (projected No. 9 in standings)
Home: Michigan State, Northwestern, Purdue, Wisconsin
Away: Illinois, Maryland, Nebraska, Rutgers
Home/Away: Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio State, Penn State

Comment: Iowa has just one double play with a projected top four team (Minnesota) and its single play schedule has four of our projected top six teams at home.

10. Michigan State (projected No. 1 in standings)
Home: Michigan, Nebraska, Penn State, Purdue
Away: Iowa, Minnesota, Northwestern, Ohio State
Home/Away: Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Rutgers, Wisconsin

Comment: Go ahead and install the Spartans as the definitive favorite to win the league. The Spartans don’t have a double play with any of the other four teams projected in the top five and also play Rutgers twice.

Filed to:

  • Joshmofo1

    Ouch. Could be worse for us I guess. Excited to see the team grow and improve as the season goes on.

  • TomJameson

    Yeah, could be worse for us, but MSU really got a break this year … like they really needed for their road to be much smoother.

    This unbalanced scheduling has to get fixed. Adding more games would help, and there would be plenty of room if they got rid of the B1G tourney.

  • HoosierOz

    Alex, slight typo for MSU – The Spartans don’t have a DOUBLE play…

    Just helping, great article as always.

  • Oldguyy

    Strength of conference schedule is all-important in a conference with 14 teams and 18 conference games. An example is last year, when, according to Pomeroy, IU was the 44th-best team in the country and Maryland 46th. Maryland had the easiest B1G schedule and IU the hardest, again according to Pomeroy, and Maryland finished 12-6, while IU finished 7-11.

  • Thanks.

  • marcusgresham

    One more thing that makes Michigan State’s schedule easier than everyone else in the B1G—all those other teams have to play Michigan State at least one time.

  • Sherronhasaheadache

    Not a fan of the unbalanced shedule, oh for the old days of home and home!! now its just all about $$

  • Scary Larry Richardson

    I was quick to remind the haters (PU fans) of this when IU won the 2016 BIG title. Yes their schedule was admittedly favorable, but as the #1 team at the end of the season, your SOS is always going to be lower purely because you are #1 and you don’t play yourself.

  • Outoftheloop

    No it is all about 14 teams and 18 games! Come up with a better plan. I can’t.

  • Outoftheloop

    But IU did not play well last year! MD beat IU! Scheduling whiners are losers. You want to play in the NCAA then go 12-6 or 11-7. You want to win the B1G Title then only lose 2 games.

  • IdahoHoosier

    Even with the rankings and fancy metrics these numbers are just glorified guesswork and speculation. I’m as guilty as anyone of falling for and relying on them too much. At the end of the day if you want to win the B1G title just beat everybody you play.

  • Oldguyy

    Never expect peabrains to be capable of thinking

  • VOXAC30

    It’s about balance split between an East and West seven teams on each side. Preserve the rivalries. The division you’re in you play twice the other teams you play once

  • IdahoHoosier

    Then there would be questions about “balance” and biases. Everyone can’t be happy. And you can’t control who is up or down a given year so there would always be inequalities and perceived unfairness. Back to the drawing board!

  • TomJameson

    That is why (IMO) 2 divisions wouldn’t work.

  • TomJameson

    Okay, I’ve complained enough without coming up with a better idea. So here are some options to think about. Better plan?? Maybe, I think so, but then I don’t necessarily care for the B1G tourney nor the unbalanced scheduling.
    I really don’t think that two divisions will work, simply because, as IdahoHoosier said in this stream, there would still be balance and bias issues. You’re really only in competition with half of the Big Ten, serious competition anyway. In a case like that, you’re almost forced to have a B1G tourney to determine a B1G champ. Regular season champion doesn’t mean much when you don’t play the whole field.

    The best way (IMHO) to keep it more balanced is to add games. Here are just a couple of options to think about.

    ** Continue to start the season early every year. This also creates more time between the B1G and NCAA tourneys which can be used for B1G league games.
    ** Do away with the B1G Tourney. Wouldn’t playing more games do just as much to solidify a teams position in the NCAA draw?

    Using one or both of these options, it would be fairly easy to get from our 18 to a possible 20 to 22 games. Here’s what it would look like
    Current 18 games = 5 Home-n-home & 8 Single plays
    Possible 20 games = 7 Home-n-home & 6 Single plays
    Possible 21 games = 8 Home-n-home & 5 Single plays
    Possible 22 games (my favorite) = 9 Home-n-home & 4 Single plays

    Food for thought.

  • VOXAC30

    What is ever even aside from maths problems? Personally I thought it was a mistake going to 14 teams. Still Division would work and there are no perfect solutions.

  • pdhoosier

    I think a huge part of the solution comes down to how many games are allowed for the season. For instance, let’s say all BIG teams agree on a schedule structured around a 30 game season. Complete “balance” of schedule with a few non conference foes sprinkled in. No BIG tourney. And not a lot of chances for Boring trap games with sub 200 teams. But how does that measure up with other conferences? Who gets home court first? And how early in season? And complications with noncon series agreements?
    Or, maybe hey drop a school or two who don’t make sense in the league? There will never be a perfect setup I fear. But 20 games is a nice stepping stone?

  • cbags05

    Pay the players. Play more games…

  • KelvinSampson87

    There is no doubt strength of schedule has a big impact on the winner of the B1G regular season champion but in all honesty i am not really sure that matters. Tournament seeding is still decided based on strength of schedule and all teams have a chance to put together a solid resume if they win the tough games on their schedule. Is there a problem I am missing with having the regular season championship simply mean less? Everyone knows the SEC South is much harder than the North in football but that doesn’t seem to have an impact on the stature or overall recruiting ability of the league.

    Doing away with the B1G tournament would decrease are visibility overall and with potential recruits and kill a huge revenue earning opportunity. I am also a believer in the I guess “old school” notion that if you want to be the best you have to beat the best regardless of strength of schedule, bad refs, injuries, etc.

  • John Mathias

    Using “are” instead of “our” disqualifies your comment from any meaningful consideration and relegates you back to 3rd grade

  • John Mathias

    Little thing called title 9 that will never ever ever ever ever ever allow that to happen. Unless you plan on paying women’s volleyball the same salary as the mens hoops team. So bury that argument back there with the time you whacked off to your hot cousins photos. But nice try tho

  • John Mathias

    Apparently nobody that comments on this site is living in 2017. Not shocking considering that it is IU fans that still live in the 70s/80s. Bobby aint walking back through that door and the Big Ten tournament isnt going anywhere. Let me know when you understand what Twitter is. Seriously.

    This is why I am embarrassed to tell people I cheer for IU. Lets get with the correct century people

  • John Mathias

    Oh yeah but the Big Ten tournament is magically going to get eliminated right? Its called TV money. This is 2017 not 1972. You are an idiot

  • KelvinSampson87

    Or maybe it is symptom of me replying on my cell phone in between doing actual work and not having the time to proof read. Clearly free time is not something lacking for you considering you took the time to bash a post that makes the same points you have made throughout this forum.

    “So bury that argument back there with the time” back there is used to refer to physical distance back then is what you use when referring to the past.

    “Unless you plan on paying women’s volleyball” This sentence means you are actually paying women’s volleyball (the sport or program?) when you meant to say unless you plan on paying women volleyball players…

    Ain’t is a word that should never be used in written language.

    Something about stones and glass houses is coming to mind…

  • unclekerfuffle

    Enough already. No need for the personal insults. Surely you’re capable of carrying on a discussion in which you disagree with others without being personally offensive.

  • TomJameson

    John Mathias (if that’s your real name) … I seriously doubt that you cheer for anyone. Looking at your dark and condemning writings, and your lack of filtering your own anger, anybody can see that you are the type to root against everything. You probably even hate yourself and your own life. I actually feel sorry for you.

  • TomJameson

    I just think the best B1G Tournament is the entire B1G season. In the B1G, as well as the NCAA, the slates are laid out to be favorable to the teams with the best records. The best teams get the byes. The best teams get the extra rest while the “lessor” teams beat each other up. So yeah, I think the top ranked teams in the B1G tournament are protected in that they don’t always play the tougher schedule the lower ranked teams do, or have to do, to win it all.

    While I understand your argument, we’ll just have to disagree that dropping the B1G tournament would decrease the B1G overall visibility.

    Finally, I’m of the same notion that if you want to be the best, you have to beat the best. But the B1G tournament is really geared toward that, and the current B1G regular season most certainly isn’t geared toward that either. So I think changes are needed since the league is so big now.

    My ideas as I posted them are just ideas. I certainly don’t think those are the only valid idea, they’re just my opinions. I hear a lot of complaints but don’t see a lot of answers other than splitting into division. Maybe the B1G/B2G is the way to go. Don’t really know the answer, just know my own opinions. 🙂

  • calbert40

    The conference makes too much money on the tourney to ever scrap it, so I think any solution including its removal is extremely unlikely to happen.

    I still am a proponent of the two divisions and then add one game. That balances the schedule out (7 single plays, 6 home/home). At the very least, it would remove the absurd random nature of the schedule.

  • TomJameson

    I’d agree with starting with the 20 game schedule, and there actually has been some rumblings about doing that. But the 20 game schedule didn’t seem to make a huge difference. Maybe the answer really is two divisions (B1G & B2G??). All I know is that things just aren’t anywhere close to balanced the way they stand now.

    Just curious about who makes up the B1G regular season schedule. And why would the top ranked team in the country get the easiest schedule in the league? Those things always bother me, you know, when people get involved in making those type of subjective choices.

  • calbert40

    If we measured competitiveness on a seasonal basis, yes, but over the course of decades, it would even out.

    East: MSU, UM, OSU, MD, RU, PSU and NW

    West: IU, PU, UW, Iowa, IL, Minny, Neb.

    I moved NW to the East in order to keep IU and PU together, but other than that, geographically splitting the teams like that is pretty fair competitively.

  • TomJameson

    One can always tell a non-intelligent person by their arguments, either in writing or face-to-face. No points to make, just start calling names. I believe your own post, lets everybody easily see whom is truly the “idiot”.

  • Jeremy Jackson

    John, I read your posts and you have some issues to work through…Good Luck

  • TomJameson

    Ahhh, now that’s really the only compelling argument to keeping the tournament, and a good point. But if you’re talking just money, how much money is involved in having 28 more games? I don’t know the numbers to compare, but it’s obviously not a complete wash.

    First need to know how much money is made from the B1G tournament. Then how much an average game in the B1G brings in. Then a comparison of sorts could be made.

    I’m still not a proponent of the 2 divisions because they have the potential to be unbalance from year-to-year. It would protect rivalries, but it absolutely would not balance the schedule. 6 Home/home & 7 single plays is NOT much different from the current 5 Home/home and 8 singles.

    But you have ideas … you would be the type needed to sit on the ” So what the hell do we do?” committee. 🙂

  • VOXAC30

    Amen brother!

  • Outoftheloop

    So your plan of 2 sub-divisions, East and West, would create 3 B1G Champions: East, West and Tourney. I like the current system of Regular Season Title and Tourney Title better. But you did come up with a plan. Thanks.

  • Outoftheloop


  • VOXAC30

    I don’t think you need 2 BIG champions it is treated the same as it is today but the alignment preserves the rivalries and gives it order as well as consistency. Unless your Rutgers or always on the bottom, I doubt if anyone will hang a banner tor winning the East/West portion of the BIG bracket.

  • VAHoosier

    Reminds me of an old proverb: Insults are the first and last arguments of fools.

    (And no, the irony of the proverb is not lost on me.)

  • Mark Bando

    Schedules are what they are. Some fair and some unfair. They only thing that interests me about the schedule is that it is too far away. I’m dying for the season to begin.

  • Tim Priller Is My Spirit Anima

    John. Dude. Calm down and stop trying to stir stuff up. You must have better things to do.

  • calbert40

    I am not certain how much money the B1G makes on the tournament…I cannot find actual numbers to save my skin! That said, the B1G has lead all conferences in basketball revenue for a long time. The B1G always leads in attendance, and all of the programs make a lot of money off of TV deals negotiated on behalf of the conference as well. B1G basketball is BIG business.

    RE: the $$ brought in per game – it will depend on the venue. Home dates at schools like IU and UW are going to make a lot more money than home dates at Rutgers and Nebraska.

    RE: Schedule Balance – It would balance the schedule in the sense that every team would play the same schedule within each division. There would be no “easier” schedule per se. IU would *ALWAYS* play (in my scenario) Purdue, Illinois, UW, Minny, Iowa and Nebraska twice, and *ALWAYS* play MSU, UM, PSU, RU, MD, OSU and NW only once. The only difference would be that with a 19 game schedule, half of the league teams would have 10 home dates and the other half only 9 each year. This would flip year to year, however. I prefer that schedule to the randomness of the schedule today.

    However, I’d LOVE to sit on one of those committees! I’m not against seeing how the sausage is made.

  • calbert40

    I guess it would create three champions, but only one would really matter, so far as the NCAA is concerned. Also, there would still be a regular season champion, because one team will end up with the best record and earn the #1 seed in the B1G tournament.

    The fact is that unless something incredibly strange happened, any of those three teams is likely to be a “Lock” for the NCAA tournament anyway.

  • Sherronhasaheadache

    Good lord step up your meds man this is the most passionate fan base in the country. go root for dook

  • KelvinSampson87

    Go back and look at the B1G tournament seeding and you’ll see they are in line with national rankings the majority of the time. Strength of schedule generally results in changes at the margin (deserved to be #4 now #5) and to my memory has never been completely off base. Even if the schedule has a more than marginally effect every team can still earn a spot in the tournament championship by playing and winning few more games.

    A tournament gives all teams a chance at victory regardless of season performance making it much more exciting to watch than a regular season game featuring a team whose season is over. It also puts teams on a neutral court reducing home field advantage.

    Finally, the B1G championship game had more than 3.5x the viewers of the highest rated in-conference regular season game and is played in a large City which clearly gives the conference more exposure than playing in a college town.

  • cbags05

    Wow man. Did I say not to pay all of them? I’m not sure what the model would look like. No clue. But it seems unfair to me to just ask these kids to play more games, which would benefit the B1G and NCAA money hoarders even more.

  • IU Hoosiers # 34, 1979-83

    I read his comments this morning @4am cst.. Well done moderators! I was wondering if they were going to be deleted. Hang in there Sherron.

  • TomJameson

    We may not agree with some details, but I’d be right with you at the committee. It’s amazing how much can get done when people get together and are willing to actually talk it out, brainstorm, keep an open mind, and actually try to come together with a solution.

  • kurk81

    This method of scheduling has made the B10 regular season title an asterisk at best. Because EVERYONE wants my opinion (crickets) here it is: basketball should follow the football division paradigm. Same teams, same divisions as football. You play everyone in your division twice (12 games), everyone in the other division once (7 games) and one ‘protected’ game. Makes 20 conference games instead of the current 18. Then instead of the current snoozefest of early-round conference tournament games (yes, this means missing that Penn State – Nebraska game at noon on Wednesday), only the top 4 in each division. Gets the tourney done in 4 games. Yes, the conference makes a little less money off the tourney (although this only means 6 of the 14 teams not bringing their several dozen fans to New York) but it also means a more meaningful regular season and everyone gets an extra home game. You’re welcome.

  • Outoftheloop

    I like swapping IU to the West with NW to the East for both Football and Basketball. I do like the idea of the bottom 3 in each division not making the Tourney. Some Coaches heads will roll and player transfers will flow! Great for media coverage!