Good news came from the Big Ten men’s basketball media days in New York last month when it was announced the league will go to a 20-game conference schedule, effective next season.
That means a little more meat and a little less cotton candy on future schedules. A 26-game conference slate, with everyone playing everyone else home and away, would be even better. You’ll never see it because of the home games teams would lose and the wear and tear it would take on the teams from playing someone their own size every game.
Iowa’s regular-season starts Friday night when Chicago State comes to Carver-Hawkeye Arena. Then it’s Alabama State on Sunday afternoon and Grambling State next Thursday night. The other three nonconference home games are Southern University, Southern Utah and Northern Illinois.
Thankfully, a Dec. 2 home game against Penn State is in the midst of all that flotsam and jetsam.
Three of those aforementioned teams are from the Southwestern Athletic Conference. The SWAC was ranked 33rd of 34 the NCAA Division I men’s basketball conferences last year by Jeff Sagarin. At 34th is the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference. They’re always the bottom two.
Both of those leagues send their basketball teams on the road for long stretches of November and December to play bigger programs, get beat by big margins, and collect checks. HBO’s “Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel” had a segment this fall on the schools from the SWAC and MEAC playing football and basketball games against major programs. “Pay to Slay,” the segment was called. Guarantee games. The visitors are guaranteed nice payoffs and the home teams are assured victories.
Alabama State, for instance, starts its season playing at Mississippi State Friday, then at Iowa, South Dakota State, Oregon, Chattanooga, Cincinnati, Jackson State and Tennessee State before playing its home-opener on Dec. 16.
Grambling State plays 11 of its 12 nonconference games on the road, starting in Virginia and ending in Seattle, with Iowa its second stop.
Southern will play at Illinois, Duke and Baylor in addition to Iowa.
For the big programs, these are designated victories against designated victims. They are home gates and padding of their won-lost records. The 10 SWAC teams were a combined 27-99 in nonconference games last season.
Last year, Iowa played two MEAC teams. It won both by 32 points.
This isn’t a Hawkeyes thing. It’s an Almost Everybody thing. Iowa State plays Alcorn State of the SWAC and Maryland Eastern Shore of the MEAC. Alabama A&M was 0-11 against nonconference teams last season. It plays at Michigan and Minnesota this season.
Chicago State could certainly get honorary membership in one of those two conferences. The Cougars of the Western Athletic Conference (Grand Canyon and Seattle are two other members) has been a Division I program since 1984. Its record in that time is 263-696. It was 6-26 last season, 4-28 the season before.
Chicago State will play 11 of its 15 nonconference games on the road. Starting with Iowa, it also will go to Purdue, Notre Dame, Northern Iowa, Drake, Marquette and Wisconsin by New Year’s.
Yep, I’d take a 26-game Big Ten schedule. But at least 20 will be better than 18.
And you know what couldn’t drag me to the Chicago State-Iowa or Alabama State-Iowa or Grambling State-Iowa games? Wild horses. Wild, wild horses.