AP NEWS

Muddled Big Ten basketball schedule a result of Jim Delany’s meddling

December 30, 2017

The good old days for sports fans are often called that for the simplest of reasons: Those were the good old days.

There has been nonstop bitterness from followers of Gophers mens hockey over what has become of interest since the team was ordered out of the WCHA and into a six-team (now seven) Big Ten for the winter of 2013-14.

Actually, the good old days were already passed for Gophers mens hockey, since the WCHA had been bloated to 12 teams, and home-and-home series were no longer guaranteed vs. rivals such as North Dakota and Minnesota Duluth.

One conference came out of the carnage with an outstanding system: the new, eight-team National Collegiate Hockey Conference, with North Dakota and Denver as the main attractions in a league where the weekend series are fierce and with a 28-game schedule that allows home-and-homes vs. every team.

There have been fewer complaints from followers of Gophers mens basketball, since we are much further removed from the good old days of Big Ten hoops. The culprit is the same as in mens hockey, though that being the Big Ten Network, and Commissioner Jim Delanys motivation to serve only that, and neither the fans nor common sense, in scheduling.

The expansion of the basketball conference started with Penn State in the winter of 1992-93. Nebraska arrived for 2011-12. Those two teams tied for last at 4-14 that winter a symbolic display that these are two programs that have lessened the product offered in mens basketball.

Maryland and Rutgers were added for the 2014-15 season. Maryland is competitive in mens basketball, but does any Gophers fan want to trade a visit by the Terps for a home-and-home with Wisconsin or Michigan State?

And Rutgers is inept on every field, every court (0-20 in volleyball, for instance), and it matters not to Delany.

The commissioner has been willing to throw the mens basketball schedule into full turmoil to continue the mirage that miserable, unloved Rutgers has given the Big Ten legitimate entry into the New York market.

OK, I do have the problem of recalling when the Big Ten was a perfect 10 in mens basketball. There were five travel partners: Minnesota-Iowa, Indiana-Ohio State, Michigan-Michigan State, Northwestern-Wisconsin and Purdue-Illinois.

Basically, a team would be on the road one weekend (Wednesday or Thursday, and always Saturday) and at home the next. Perfect.

Clem Haskins was in his first season as Gophers coach in 1986-87, and was rebuilding from the basement. They won two games in early January to start the Big Ten and then would lose the last 16.

I was covering a trip to Indiana and Ohio State that started Feb. 19 in Bloomington, Ind. That Hoosiers team would win Bobby Knights third NCAA title, but in astounding fashion, the ragtag Gophers played Indiana to the final seconds.

The Gophers were leading late and a loose ball was awarded to them near the Indiana bench. Knight got up and barked obscenities at the referee. The guy ran over to Haskins and said he was changing the call. The ref was so sheepish about bowing down to Knight that Clem wasnt given a technical when he took off his coat and threw it on the floor.

Indiana used that travesty to win 72-70, and a little over an hour later, the Gophers rented bus was starting the 225-mile ride through the night to Columbus, Ohio.

I hitched a ride, and was able to sit across from Clem, and heard in a low voice the amazing stories of his life as a basketball protg in a Kentucky adjusting to integration. Those four hours in a mostly quiet bus filled with disappointed, gutsy basketball players made me a Clem fan for life.

Maybe thats the memory that causes loathing for what Delany and his Big Ten Network have done to mens basketball.

Carry around a schedule because there are 16 games left to be played on every day of the week. There are only seven remaining Big Ten games in the Barn, since one was played in early December and another was stolen by Delany for Madison Square Garden vs. Ohio State on Jan. 20.

The Big Ten tournament also will be held in Madison Square Garden. Its a week early, since the Big East (a 10-team conference splendidly dedicated to basketball) has the March 7-10 dates in New York.

That means the Big Ten regular season ends on the last weekend of February, the tournament ends March 3 and teams such as the Gophers will have a minimum of 12 days off before the start of the NCAA tournament all for Delanys Folly.

These are ridiculous days for Big Ten basketball.

Patrick Reusse can be heard 3-6 p.m. weekdays on AM-1500. preusse@startribune.com