The Big Ten recently revealed the new format for conference play for the 2024 season as they look to accommodate the four new teams entering the conference: the USC Trojans, Washington Huskies, Oregon Ducks, and UCLA Bruins.
With the expansion, the Big Ten will sit at 18 total teams, placing into jeopardy several home-and-away series’ because the conference is looking to keep the 20-game conference schedule that has been in place.
Women’s basketball will continue to hold an 18-game conference schedule, and both decisions were made to allow for non-conference scheduling flexibility, have consistency with peer schedule formats, and maximize opportunities for NCAA postseason berths, according to the Big Ten.
Single-play home/away locations will rotate annually, and two-play opponents will be determined with consideration for competitive balance, geography, and rivalries.
With the new rules, it appears that there will be only three different opponents that Wisconsin will face twice in a regular season, while each of the other 16 opponents will be played once in the 20-game schedule.
Additionally, the Big Ten is expanding the postseason conference tournament from 14 to 15 games, a format that maintains the five-day schedule of the event, provides access to all teams in contention for postseason invitations, and will maintain a double bye for each of the top four seeds while seeds 5-9 will receive a single bye, according to the Big Ten.
Speaking to reporters Wednesday, head coach Greg Gard broke down some of thought process behind the decision to add an extra team to the tournament, while keeping the 20-game conference schedule.
“Yeah, I think staying at 20 games is the right thing to do. We’ve had numerous discussions as league coaches about that and we felt going beyond 20 that we were going to cannibalize ourselves even more in terms of trying to get more teams in the tournament,” Gard said on Wednesday.
“And, as you run numbers analytically, what they look at the 20 seemed to be it was the right move, going from 16 to 18 and then 18 to 20 like we’ve done over the last [six, seven years], but we’ve seemed to hit an optimal spot. I mean, obviously, I know we’re not going to play everybody twice and travel and all those things are yet to be sorted out, but I’m happy with the 20 in the tournament we discussed.”
As for the tournament expansion, Gard acknowledged there were a number of options on the table, but the goal appeared to be keeping the five-day window, which eliminated the chance for all 18 teams to participate.
Additionally, the conference wanted to protect its better regular-season teams by continuing with the double and single-byes, ultimately leading to the chosen format.
“There was a lot of different options,” Gard said. “I think there was four or five different options we got a chance to voice our opinion on. And just because of the days we were going to try to stay within the five-day window of the tournament, having all 18 was not going to be possible. So looking at 15 or 16 I felt was the right move and they were able to work it where they want to try to protect the teams that finish in the upper half so you’re not jeopardizing your NCAA tournament seating and placement.”
“So a lot of those things have come into play of how we, and I’m sure maybe there’ll be changes. Who knows? We roll it through a few years and maybe there’s something we don’t like and we’ll modify it, but I think for right now we’re in a good spot.”
The 2024 Big Ten Tournament, hosted in Minneapolis at the Target Center, will be the last postseason tournament under the current format before the expansion occurs next year.