Mixed Reviews

With the conference schedule being increased by two games last season, many coaches felt that it was a step in the right direction and that a 20-game conference schedule was next on the plate. Others ... not so much.

CHICAGO - Bo Ryan said half the battle is complete. Tom Crean said that he hopes the subject doesn't come up again. Tom Izzo would be in favor of change if others would follow.

Welcome to the Big Ten debate on conference schedules.

From 1974 to 1992, the Big Ten conference and its 10 teams had a true round-robin schedule in which every team would play one another twice, thus deciding a true champion. When Penn State joined the equation for the 1992-93 season, the 18-game conference schedule remained until 1997, when the Big Ten conference went to a 16-game schedule.

With the increase emphasis on the RPI and strength of schedule by the NCAA Selection Committee and the price of non-conference guarantee games beginning to skyrocket over the past five years, Ryan led the contingent of adding four conference games to the schedule to a) eliminate some of the challenges of non-conference scheduling and b) to get closer to having a true round-robin schedule.

Last season, Ryan got half his wish with the Big Ten adding two more games to the conference schedule.

"There use to be a time in the conference where the conference game was a major part of the schedule in terms of number of games," Ryan said. "Call it old school if you want, but the Big Ten is still what we gear for and a full round-robin is important."

Ryan was quick to point out how times have changed from his first and second stints with Wisconsin. In 1976 when Indiana went 32-0 and won the national championship, Indiana played 18 Big Ten games and only nine non-conference games. Now with exhibition games and exempt tournament, teams are playing more non-conference games and playing a smaller percentage of conference games, a factor that bothers Ryan.

"I love 18 but I would love to get 20 some time because of the way the non-conference guarantees have escaladed and how difficult it is to schedule," Ryan said. "Every university should hire a full-time person that should do nothing but basketball schedules. Of course there are drawbacks, like playing in December. I just think that you play a natural, conference rival, I think for the fans and overall interest, I think that is pretty good."

Even Purdue sophomore forward Robbie Hummel felt that playing in-state rival Indiana only once was a shame for the Boilermakers and fans of Indiana basketball.

"I wish we could play Indiana twice a year and play Minnesota again this year," Hummel said. "It makes sense that if you really truly have a double round-robin, you'd crown a true champion. I think that is what most of the players want in order to be tested by the best."

But while Ryan continues to push for two more conference games, the Wisconsin coach is going to run into some resistance.

Ohio State head coach Thad Matta prefers Big Ten teams play tough non-conference games against opponents from other power conferences, which would give teams an exceptional test before entering the conference season and bring in outside excitement.

"I think that 20 games, even 18 games right now is difficult because you are going to play 18-straight conference games after a tough non-conference slate," Matta said. "Last year we played Tennessee, the year before that we played LSU and this year we're playing West Virginia. For us with a young team, it makes it challenging and I would rather play a home-and-home against a big-time opponent."

For Minnesota head coach Tubby Smith, the second-year conference head coach would prefer to see teams play other opponents, instead of beating up on each other and hurting one another's resumes for the NCAA tournament.

"I think 18 (games) is pretty solid," Smith said. "I think some are in favor of a true round robin with each team playing everyone twice. I don't think is going to enhance us of getting more teams in the NCAA. I think that's a comfortable number. We need to let people know how good this league is. You've got a lot of tradition in this league and hopefully we can be apart of that in Minnesota. I really believe that we have a chance to get seven teams in the Big Dance this year. It's just a matter of us spreading the good news to the rest of the country."

Falling square on the fence is Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo, who would have no problem seeing the conference schedule increase to 20 games. The problem, according to Izzo, is that all BCS conferences play have varying conference seasons. The ACC and Big 12 and SEC play 16 games while the Big East and PAC 10 play 18. Only the Southern Conference led by Davidson play a conference schedule of 20 games, something Izzo believes hurts the Big Ten by not being even with the others.

"I don't think it's right that some conference are playing 18, some 16 and some 20," he said. "I think that hurts our league. I always like the true champion and I think we got hurt a couple years ago by the unbalanced scheduling because you can really change the dynamics of who wins it. I wouldn't want to be playing 20 games and the ACC playing 16 because strength of schedule in the conferences and discrepancy in wins would change."

No matter the pundits or the naysayers, Ryan is still going to try for the round-robin, especially since his team started off the new conference schedule on such a good note.

"Eighteen is a good start and I am not just saying that because we won it when they went to 18," Ryan joked.

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