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Big East Higher-Ups Contemplate Scheduling

Yesterday, I talked about the impact of the Big East’s expansion on the conference tournament. While it will be awhile before the conference adds teams beyond TCU, adjustments to the hoops season and postseason scheduling methodology with the current membership are topics of discussion at the annual meeting in Florida. Since Tuesday’s post, the coaches have proposed that the conference go the route of full inclusion at Madison Square Garden, as opposed to cutting back the number of teams taking part (a format similar to the nascent years of the most recent expansion), or holding a play-in game between the bottom two teams. I outlined the reasons why I liked the idea of a play-in game yesterday: The MSG pool becomes more competitive and, if the play-in game were to take place on a campus, the conference would receive ticket revenue from an additional game, but it looks like that proposal was defeated.

Perhaps the coaches, many of whom have roots that date back to the conference’s infancy, simply didn’t want a dramatic change like a play-in game, although it’s worth noting that Jim Boeheim is a critic of the current double-bye system. While the concept of a 12-team tournament would place a premium on getting in and give incentive to middling teams to perform better, there isn’t a conference in the BCS that leaves schools out of its tournament. The A-10 is the highest-profile conference that doesn’t include each school and while I could live with a smaller field and have before, the premise of holding a conference tournament that doesn’t involve each member doesn’t seem right. Had the Big East gone with that option, I would take it as a sign that the conference is too big moreso than the idea that whichever teams are left out aren’t good enough, not that I’m defending the likes of DePaul and South Florida. As it stands now, pending approval of the administrators, we’re looking at a conference tournament that involves more teams than some entire regions of the NCAA Tourney.

The addition of TCU also impacts the regular season, of course. Before I go any further, let me note that even though I accept the unbalanced nature of the schedule and fully understand that ESPN holds discretion over deciding the “mirror” games – the repeat matchups within the regular season – it’s always frustrated me that conference play is asymmetrical. It will probably always bother me to some degree unless it changes. I know an odd number of teams won’t make things any easier, but I feel that a divisional setup helps to give us an infinitely better gauge of the teams’ true abilities. While the divisions may alternate in superiority from time to time, I think the setup would ultimately make things more fair. If the Big East swells to 18 teams or 20, as Marinatto hasn’t ruled out, divisional alignment will be all the more necessary.

Digressing, with TCU coming aboard, there are reports that while conference play will stay at 18 games, the number of those mirror matchups will decrease from three to two for the 2012-2013 season. The impact is admittedly minimal for the upper-echelon schools like Syracuse, but the margin of error for the Cincinnatis and Marquettes of the conference will be more significantly reduced. Though the Orange isn’t likely to be notably affected, the evolution of the Big East is definitely worth tracking.

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