Unbalanced Big Ten schedule favors Wisconsin, gives Iowa a rough road

The release of the Big Ten's unbalanced schedule earlier this week undoubtedly inspired different reactions from various fan bases.

They were smiling in Madison. They were cringing in Iowa City.

Wisconsin caught a huge break only playing Big Ten contenders Michigan State and Ohio State once apiece, both at home, a coup for a Badgers team 0-8 in the Breslin Center since 2004 and 9-1 at home against the Buckeyes since 2001. The advantage is tempered a bit by also getting perennial bottom feeders Nebraska and Penn State once as well, but not going to East Lansing or Columbus should enable Wisconsin to contend for yet another top four Big Ten finish.

Iowa is positioned to rise in the Big Ten pecking order after returning the core of a NIT finalist, but schedule makers did the Hawkeyes no favors giving them all the league's top teams twice apiece. The four teams Iowa faces once are rebuilding Nebraska, mediocre Purdue and Penn State and an Indiana program likely to take a step or two backward after the departure of Cody Zeller, Victor Oladipo, Jordan Hulls and Christian Watford.

Unbalanced schedules are necessary in the 12-team Big Ten because schools favor an 18-game league schedule over a 22-game round-robin format. As a result, Big Ten schools play seven conference opponents twice and faces the remaining four only once.

The other disadvantage to the format is it fails to guarantee rivalry games will be played twice each year. Next season, for example, Michigan and Ohio State will only meet in Columbus and Indiana and Purdue will only meet in East Lafayette.

When the Big Ten adds Rutgers and Maryland in time for the 2014-15 season, this is a problem league officials should consider addressing. It's worth guaranteeing every team in the league two games against its chief rival so that this predicament doesn't become more common in the future.

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