With the departure of Colorado and Nebraska the Big 12 shifts from a 12 team format to just 10. Most of the talk surrounding conference realignment in general focused on the impact to the sport of football. Football was the driver of the change, and one of the primary changes will be a full round robin on the football field with each team playing all nine opposing members from the conference on an annual basis. While the shift to a round robin is huge in football, a similar change should prove just as significant on the basketball court.
From the beginning of the Big 12, the sixteen game basketball schedules have always been unbalanced. Teams play each team in their division twice in a home and home series while playing each team in the opposite division just once. In the newly formed Big 12 with just 10 members, each team will play a complete home and home round robin with all nine opposing teams.
What that means is that there is no hiding out with an easier home or away draw. There are also now no excuses or complaints of an unbalanced schedule favoring a team in the North or the South depending on the year and which division is stronger. Every team will have an equal opportunity to prove themselves at home and on the road and the resulting competition should provide a great conference season with every team controlling their own destiny to a greater extent than before.
This all raises the obvious question as to how this impacts the annual conference race and which if any teams stand to lose and gain under the new round robin format? In general Big 12 teams are very good at home and coming away with a road win in the conference is the biggest indicator of a contender in the conference.
Since the beginning of Big 12 play in 1996-1997 no team has emerged as the conference champion without a winning record on the road, 5-3 being the minimum. Moving to a schedule with nine conference road games it would serve reason that a 5-4 road record will likely be the minimum headed forward. That's a one game swing that could easily determine who is a true contender and who falls into the pretender category.
Over that same stretch no team has ever won the league in the current format with more than two losses at home. In fact 11 of 17 league champions have finished the season with a perfect home conference record. Protect the home court and finish above 500 on the road, that's the recipe and without the opportunity to dodge anyone on the road in a full round robin, things become much more difficult.
The most prolific team during that time on the road is no major surprise, it's Kansas. The Jayhawks have the best road record of any team in the Big 12 and as a result Kansas has a decided advantage in terms of Big 12 Conference Championships with 10 of the leagues 17 regular season titles. During that same time it's been the Jayhawks along with Texas as the two teams that would probably be considered the most consistent.
Heading to the full round robin could have two affects. It will likely lead to more parity on some level. A team never finds themselves in a position of having a "soft" schedule against the other division. At the same time it could exaggerate the importance of winning on the road and provide an advantage to those teams that can and have effectively done so. Teams won't be able to hide behind an easier conference road schedule and position themselves in the hunt. Each team is going to have to beat the same teams that everyone else will and the ones that can steal more games in hostile road evironments are going to be the most successful.
In an AP article on FoxNews.com Bill Self sums up the impact well with his statement regarding the protecting home court and winning on the road in the new look Big 12.
"It's going to be wild and it's going to be harder. Protecting your home court is going to be more important now. You protect your home court and you go 8-0 at home, and split on the road, that will look like a pretty good record."
Does 13-5 or 14-4 win the new Big 12 conference? The prediction seems reasonable. Obviously you can't split a nine game road schedule but history has shown that it's going to take a better than .500% record on the road to begin with. 9-0 or 8-1 at home with a minimum of a 5-4 road record puts you in the hunt.
Overall it's a move that is going to develop new rivalries, increase the intensity of every game and set the Big 12 up to be one of the premier regular season competitions in the country. 2011-2012 looks to be a bit of a down year, but over the last 17 years there have been many occasions where fans across the Big 12 were hungry for a certain rematch or a second chance to even the playing field. In the past you only had one shot at times, the new league and the new schedule levels the playing field and stands to make Big 12 basketball as competitive as ever.