Ed. note — I understand this may sound like sour grapes being published immediately after a Minnesota loss, but I swear I felt this way well before any of these early-season conference games were played. All you have to do is read my previews to know I think December conference games are stupid.
Did you know the Big Ten conference season started last week? If you were still in a deep non-conference slumber I don’t blame you for missing the tilts with Rutgers and Nebraska, but I can assure you it wasn’t a misprint that the Big Ten began it’s conference season on freakin’ December 2nd.
“Isn’t that a little early to start conference play?” you might ask? Why yes, yes it is a little early. Comically early, in fact. “And don’t teams need a little bit of seasoning before they jump into games that will impact their postseason hopes and futures?”
Wow, yes, couldn’t have said it better myself. Actually, let’s talk a little bit about how starting your conference season in early December and forcing teams to play two games before jumping back into games that don’t really count is an abomination that only the Big Ten could come up with.
See, the college basketball season is divided into three distinct sub-seasons: non-conference, conference and postseason. For all intents and purposes this is to slowly ease out of a long offseason to get teams in position to grind it out during the conference season and eventually/hopefully play in the NCAA Tournament and vie for a championship. There is no other reason to play the regular season other than to determine which teams should make the postseason and eventually determine a champion. Right? Right.
We should also agree that non-conference games come BEFORE conference games for a reason. In short, because conference games matter more for postseason hopes. A team that goes 12-0 in the non-conference and 0-18 in conference play does not make the postseason. A team that goes 0-12 in non-conference play and 18-0 in conference play makes the postseason. So, it would follow that teams would want to be playing their best basketball during the conference season, and not the non-conference season.
Well, you can imagine my surprise when I saw two conference games on the schedule in early December, sandwiched between the B1G/ACC Challenge and a road game against Arkansas. These are real conference games that really impact your postseason hopes and seeding. You know who cares about a December road loss in Fayetteville in March? Nobody. You who cares about a December road loss in Lincoln in March. EVERYBODY.
But what’s the problem with December conference games? Well, back to the “shaking off the rust” angle. December basketball is inherently unpredictable. Good teams lose, bad teams win and things go haywire as teams settle in. Ordinarily that’s where non-conference games are handy. You get to figure things out against a bunch of different teams who, in the end, won’t really impact your long-term hopes of winning a championship. But, again, it’s unpredictable basketball. Yesterday #5 Florida lost to Loyola-Chicago and Kansas lost to Washington. Arizona, a preseason national title contender, isn’t even ranked in the Top 25 right now! It’s utter madness, which is par for the course in December and part of the fun, but conference games have no place here because teams are still in non-conference mode, playing games that don’t count for a whole heck of a lot.
Why are we in this mess, though? Oh, dear reader. We’re here because the Big Ten has an obsession with New York and doing whatever it can to matter in an area that doesn’t care about the conference or anything related to our history as a conference. In fact, the Big Ten braintrust is so obsessed with New York that they rearranged and moved up their conference season by a full three weeks so they could find an opening in the Madison Square Garden schedule to host the Big Ten Tournament. Not only does that mean the schedule gets messed with, but the tournament itself starts on February 28th. You know who else starts their tournaments in February? Conferences like the Big South and the Ohio Valley. You know, LOW MAJORS.
The Big Ten is going all in on the New York DMA at the expense of a structured schedule and fairness to the teams in its conference to chase some made-up market of East Coasters who have a Big Ten sports craving. Did you know the Gophers play in New York THREE TIMES this year? They faced Alabama, they will go there for a “home” game against Ohio State (don’t get me started on that one) and they will go there for the conference tournament. Just saying that out loud makes me want to smash things.
Look, it’s not like schedule is inherently unfair to any particular team. But asking teams to play games that actually matter this early in the season has no merit. Players are acclimating. Refs are acclimating. Hell, even event organizers are acclimating. And you can see in the results across the country that basketball is in disarray at this time of year. It is no time for conference games. And to force teams into the conference season for a hot minute just so you can get your New York jollies and pretend we have an East Coast presence is patently ridiculous. NO ONE CARES ABOUT NEW YORK AND NEW YORK DOESN’T CARE ABOUT US.
Enough with this crap.