If college basketball’s power conferences each adopt 20-game league schedules, the change would come at a price.
Expanded league slates would surely mean fewer quality non-conference matchups each November and December.
Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany told ESPN on Monday that there have been ongoing discussions about moving to a 20-game league schedule. Delany’s comments come less than a year after the ACC announced it will adopt a 20-game conference slate beginning with the 2019-20 season, the same year the league’s TV network is scheduled to launch.
For both leagues, a move to a 20-game league schedule would clearly be TV-driven. Men’s basketball games are among both leagues’ most-watched content, and two extra league matchups in December would please their TV partners and draw extra eyeballs to the Big Ten and ACC networks.
The other advantage to two extra conference games would be more balanced league schedules. There would be less risk of top teams in each league only playing each other once a season, potentially a big issue in the Pac-12 for example next season when Arizona will only have to face fellow title contenders USC and UCLA at home but not on the road.
But while additional TV revenue and more balanced league schedules might be enough reason for the Big Ten and ACC to add two extra conference games, the damage it would cause to non-conference scheduling is a significant drawback.
College basketball’s highest-profile leagues each played an 18-game conference schedule last season. A move to a 20-game league slate would add two potentially difficult matchups to every team’s schedule, one at home and one on the road.
Don’t expect power-conference teams to compensate by eliminating two buy games against lower-tier opponents from their schedules. Those matchups are of value to marquee programs because they’re home games that provide ticket and concessions revenue, as well as near-certain wins.
It’s home-and-home series against major-conference non-league opponents that would be in the most jeopardy.
Many power-conference schools would surely replace at least one marquee non-league game with a buy game against an inferior foe in order to make up for the loss of a home game from the schedule. Some would likely replace two to soften their strength of schedule and make reaching the 20-win threshold more manageable.
Ultimately, whether a move to 20-game league schedules is good or bad for college basketball likely comes down to what consumers prefer most.
Are two extra conference games per year worth not having North Carolina play Kentucky or Indiana face Louisville as often? That’s the likely outcome if other leagues follow in the ACC’s footsteps.
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