Big Ten basketball could have early December start date

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CHICAGO — Big Ten men's basketball coaches and officials are considering shifting its league schedule to early December in an effort to build early momentum for their sport.

The number of college football bowl games have grown recently and bowls are spread from mid-December through the second week of January. Coaches and officials are concerned football has overshadowed basketball, which delays fan interest in their sport during the league season.

"There’s an impact of football on the basketball side with football scheduling because football has grown in popularity," Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany said. "It would be kind of like trying to launch football season or conference football season in the middle of the Final Four or selection weekend. There’s an awful lot of media attention, public attention in and around the bowl system. At the same time we’re trying to launch the regular basketball season."

Mark Rudner, the Big Ten's senior associate commissioner for television administration, said the earliest the league could adopt an earlier basketball schedule would be December 2012.

Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery agrees with starting the season earlier. He said the games could gain early-season attention during the lull between college football's regular season and bowl games. That change could help basketball programs maintain fan interest following football season.

"I think if you look at the stats, our crowds are better for conference games, the crowds are going to be better when the students are there," McCaffery said. "If you’re playing conference games in December when the students are there, you’re going to have excellent crowds and a lot of interest. You might actually get more people to come for those other games."

Michigan State Coach Tom Izzo, whose team plays a grueling non-conference slate usually in early December, said no matter what happens, basketball scheduling is filled with issues.

"You’re still going to go against football early-early because now their season conference championship games are in early December," he said. "I think that’s an issue that no really anybody looked at. There’s what, seriously, 33 or 34 bowl games? There’s only so many days that you can fit those in. It does make it more difficult for us."

What the league wants to avoid is a situation that has gripped Iowa and Ohio State the last two years. In early 2010, Iowa's football program played in the Orange Bowl the same time the Hawkeyes' basketball team played at Illinois. In January, Ohio State's football team played in the Sugar Bowl the same night its second-ranked basketball program faced Iowa.

"I don’t like playing big games, conference games (from Dec. 30 through Jan. 5)," Izzo said. "I liked it when we started after that. But it’s not conducive to the 18-game schedule. There’s different problems any which way you turn."

Among the negatives to starting the conference in early December, McCaffery said, is the prospect of an 0-2 conference start or a pair of early road games.

Iowa traditionally plays its in-state rivals the first two weeks of December, but those dates would change should the Big Ten move league games up, McCaffery said.

"You just have to work around it," McCaffery said. "Conference takes precedent."

Rudner said schools testing cycles pose one challenge to scheduling early December league games. Some schools, like Ohio State and Northwestern, are on a quarter system while Iowa and others are on semester schedules. He said the league could schedule those games based on the schools' class finals schedules.

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