Imagine you’re in charge of the Big Ten conference.
You have a years-old non-conference matchup arrangement with one of the premiere leagues in all of college basketball. That conference, the Big East, just keeps getting better. Two of its members, Villanova and UConn have won national titles in the past few years.
Your conference, the Big Ten, hasn’t won one since the Clinton Administration. The Big East wants to keep playing your teams in this series, renew the contract.
So why, on Earth, would you say “no” to that idea?
No conference sent more teams to the big dance than the Big Ten did. One (1) of those eight teams made the second weekend and it was led by the league’s most experienced coach by a wide, wide margin. It finished 6-8 and bowed out in the Sweet Sixteen.
Of the five Big East teams in the tournament, three made the Sweet Sixteen, two made the Elite Eight and UConn won it all. It went 12-4 with a winning percentage of 12-4.
Then the offseason happened. Two programs, St. John’s and Georgetown, made momentous hires in Rick Pitino and Ed Cooley respectively (the latter at the expense of conference rival Providence, mind you).
So last season’s best conference got even better. The Big Ten saw that, looked at its own NCAA Tournament record and said “nah”.
There’s no good reason to end this series in my opinion. I’m well aware that TV money rules all in collegiate athletics these days and I’m not sure how much of a factor that is (but given the Big Ten’s recent expansion it’s probably a fair bet!) but either way this isn’t a series you should turn down.
It’s in the Big Ten’s best interest to schedule the best in the non-conference. It’s why Indiana put together a home-and-home with Kansas, a neutral site matchup with Arizona and an in-season tournament with the likes of UConn and Texas. He was looking for how his team, in year two, matched up against the very best and is doing it again in year three.
The Big East lives and breathes basketball while the sport, on the men’s side, feels as though it’s gone on the back burner for the Big Ten. Every realignment and broadcasting deal move was made with football in mind, not men’s basketball.
A series against one of the most storied conferences in the history of college basketball was a good idea for the Big Ten at its inception and remains one today, even more so. It’d be a shame to put an unceremonious end to it.