Big Ten changes men's basketball schedule to 20 conference games

Michigan-Michigan State game listed as protected rivalry

The Michigan Wolverines celebrate with the trophy after beating the Wisconsin Badgers to win the Big Ten Basketball Tournament Championship game on March 12, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

DETROIT – A major change is coming to the world of Big Ten basketball, and it's one that should improve the college basketball season for both players and fans.

The Big Ten announced Thursday that teams will play 20 conference games per season, starting with the 2018-19 season. It's a significant change from the previous format, which included only 18 games.

In the last decade, the Big Ten has added Nebraska from the Big 12, Maryland from the ACC and Rutgers from the Big East.

With 14 teams in the Big Ten, an 18-game schedule only allowed each team to play a home-and-home series with five teams. As a result, even the conference's best rivalries have taken a hit, including Michigan vs. Michigan State, a game that will only be played once this season.

It's a problem the league had to solve, and this is a major improvement.

In the announcement, the Big Ten announced three protected in-state rivalries: Michigan vs. Michigan State, Illinois vs. Northwestern and Indiana vs. Purdue. These games will be protected, meaning they will be scheduled to play twice each season, no matter what.

"The new schedule will also include a regional component to increase the frequency of games among teams in similar areas," the Big Ten announced. "Over the course of a six-year cycle (12 playing opportunities), in-state rivals will play each other 12 times, regional opponents will play 10 times, and all other teams will play nine times."

This format will help maintain the conference's rivalries and give fans more of the games they most want to see.

For example, under the old format, there were eight Big Ten teams that Michigan would only play once each season. It was rare that Michigan would get to play home-and-home series with both Michigan State and Ohio State in the same year, even though those are two of the best rivalries in the entire conference.

Now, there will only be six teams that Michigan plays once, and with the protected in-state rivalry and the regional component, fans will get to see those three teams play a total of six games almost every season.

Specifically, Michigan will play Ohio State at home and on the road every four out of six seasons.

The Big Ten said it will release each team’s list of single- and double-play opponents for 2018-19 at a later date.