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Big Ten officially announces 20-game conference schedule, Illinois/Northwestern to become a protected rivalry

Northwestern and Illinois will play twice a year.

NCAA Basketball: Illinois at Northwestern Caylor Arnold-USA TODAY Sports

The Big Ten has officially announced that all men’s basketball programs will play 20 conference games in 2018-19 at Big Ten Media Day in New York City. Big Ten teams will now play seven teams twice and six teams once in the regular season. Northwestern is also guaranteed play Illinois twice every year as one of three in-state protected rivalry. Women’s basketball will also expand from 16 conference games to 18 games.

The conference, clearly, is looking to reduce the number of non-conference games and increase the level of competition and get ahead of the tide of conferences scheduling more games. All other power conferences currently play 18 games per season, but the ACC will move to a 20-game schedule in 2019-20.

In addition to Northwestern/Illinois, the other two Big Ten in-state rivalries (Michigan/Michigan State, Indiana/Purdue) have been protected, which should provide plenty of entertainment throughout the season.

“I think it's important, I think they feel it's important at Illinois for us to play twice every year. I think it's a great thing for our state. It's a great thing for our conference,” Chris Collins said. “I think with hopefully us -- for a long time it wasn't a heated rivalry and probably mostly because, and even my first couple of years, you know we didn't deserve to be in a rivalry like that. But now that we've gotten kind of better and improved as a program, I think any time two in-state teams can play twice in the conference.”

Meanwhile, Illinois will not be overlooking the challenge of its new rivalry.

“Their recent success is something that doesn't go unnoticed,” Illinois coach Brad Underwood said. “I think any time you have two teams in the same conference, in the same state we should play. That to me is what the fans want.”

However, it’s going to become much more difficult for the Mississippi Valley State Delta Devils of the world to schedule games with any Big Ten school in the future. With Northwestern already scheduled to play the Gavitt Games and ACC/Big Ten Challenge every year, the pickings will be slim for mid-majors.

““We think in general, people respond more to the conference game than the non-conference,” Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany said.

This makes perfect sense for the conference, even if the apparent boredom of playing “buy games” is slightly overblown. The Big Ten lost several “buy games” last season (as Rothstein says, the epitome of brutality!), most notably with Indiana losing to the IPFW Mastodons. It happens a lot, and I’ll miss the boring games against the Delta Devils of the world. But the profitability of the Big Ten marches on, I suppose.