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Posted on Thu, May 19, 2011 : 9:34 a.m.

Big Ten coaches, athletic directors consider starting conference basketball games earlier in December

By Michael Rothstein


Would a change in the start of the Big Ten Conference basketball schedule mean more students in the stands at Crisler Arena?

Melanie Maxwell |

CHICAGO — College basketball’s window of prominence in American sports in shrinking. As college football stretches into mid-January and the NFL playoffs reach into February, those sports overshadow the beginning of most conference basketball seasons.

Big Ten Conference officials are exploring ways to retain the college basketball audience. While the league can’t push the conference season’s start date back due to an 18-game schedule, it has another option.

Consider the scheduling practices of the Atlantic Coast Conference and Colonial Athletic Association. ACC and CAA teams play one or two conference games in mid-December. Playing earlier conference games could increase exposure for Big Ten basketball in a dead period between football conference championship games and the start of the almost month-long bowl season.

BIG TEN MEETINGS COVERAGE sports reporter Michael Rothstein covered the three-day Big Ten Conference spring meetings in Chicago. Here is a compilation of his reports:

“That’s what they are looking at,” Michigan State athletic director Mark Hollis said Wednesday at the Big Ten spring meetings. “How do you take things out of the bowl window and move them around a little bit?”

There are other problems with the current late-December, early-January conference openers.

Families often travel between Christmas and New Year’s and do not attend games. Plus, students aren’t on campus, and that hurts the atmosphere and attendance.

Fans of college teams in football bowl games also are in transit or at warm-weather bowl sites instead of the cold, wintry Midwest.

It’s why Hollis said if the Michigan State football team qualified for the Rose Bowl, he considered moving Michigan State’s New Year’s Eve basketball home opener against Minnesota from East Lansing to downtown Los Angeles.


“We looked at Staples Center,” Hollis said. “And talked to (Lakers Executive Vice President) Jeanie Buss.”

Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan coached with an early-conference-start schedule when he was at Wisconsin-Platteville. At Siena, current Iowa coach Fran McCaffery worked with a similar model.

“If they decided they wanted to do it, I’d be in favor of it,” McCaffery said. “You’d have to move some games and things like that, so sometimes it is more complicated than you think. But I think it would create interest in the first semester because you’d be playing conference games when the students are there.”

At Michigan, the Wolverines played their first two Big Ten home games against Purdue and Penn State in front of a sparse student crowd. While the school had good attendance for both games - 13,751 for Purdue, 11,771 for Penn State - students often give arenas more energy.

Any change in the conference schedule is unlikely for this season, and Big Ten Senior Associate Commissioner — Television Administration Mark Rudner said if the league changed, it likely wouldn’t happen until 2012-13.

Many schools already have the majority of their non-conference schedules completed, there is also the logistical problem of scheduling these games around exam schedules.

For instance, Ohio State and Northwestern have different finals schedules than the rest of the Big Ten because the school is on the quarter system instead of semesters. Teams usually won’t play games during final exams.

“You want to be strategic and knock it out,” Rudner said. “But there are a lot of ways we can look at it.”

But no matter what the Big Ten decides, whether to keep things the same or to split the conference season, there will be complaints and issues.

“It’s just really hard,” Michigan coach John Beilein said. “So we have to be really flexible with our schedule.”

Michael Rothstein covers University of Michigan basketball for He can be reached at (734) 623-2558, by email at or follow along on Twitter @mikerothstein



Thu, May 19, 2011 : 1:51 p.m.

Why bother going to any games? Most are on TV now -- that was not the case just a few years ago and you to go to the games to feel the excitement of college hoops ... now, thanks to oversaturation and TV networks and greedy school presidents, EVERY single frickin game is on -- so why go? Watch at home on your fancy HDTV or at a bar ... Yes, I am in the minority but I think the Big Ten Network is the official jumping the shark of college athletics; in the long run it will do the opposite of its intention and harm college sports