Big Ten men’s hoops coaches talk tourney

by Todd Zolecki

CHICAGO — Times are changing in the Big Ten, and if the majority of the men’s basketball coaches get their way, a post-season conference tournament could be in place by as early as March 1998.
The move is intended to sharpen the promotional and competitive edge of the conference, said Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany, who spoke along with the 11 coaches and select players Sunday at the league’s media day.
He said the proposed tournament would be held at a neutral site and span four days. To make it work, the Big Ten would have to shorten its regular season from 18 to 16 games, which means one less home and road game for each team.
Delany said any lost revenue from having one less home game would be made up in the tournament.
Nine coaches favor a conference tournament with the winner receiving an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. The only two coaches opposed are Indiana’s Bob Knight and Minnesota’s Clem Haskins.
But to go into effect, the Big Ten’s 11 university presidents must pass a majority vote. Delany said about eight votes for the tournament would be needed.
“The whole thing has really never made any sense to me,” Knight said.
Among Knight’s argument’s against it are: missed class time, decreasing the regular season conference schedule and his belief that it won’t get any more Big Ten teams into the NCAA tournament.
“People want it for whatever reason,” he said. “And not being in favor for it, I can’t understand why the hell anybody would be. But they probably can’t understand why I’m not. I honestly don’t know. I don’t know what the benefits of it are. If I could see some benefits to it, I would change my vote.”
Haskins believes a conference tournament would further exploit student athletes, who don’t see any of the financial benefits created by the tournament. Haskins would like to see players receive a gift or have their parents fly in for a game if there would be a tournament.
Also, with the 16-game format, fans wouldn’t get to see some of their favorite teams. Fans get to watch all but one team at home with the 18-game schedule.
“You’re not going to see two teams on campus every year,” Knight said. “People talk about how the kids want it. Well, you know, kids don’t ever want to go to class either. Kids don’t want to practice. The kids all want to play.”
The strongest proponents of the tournament are Iowa coach Tom Davis, Dick Bennett from Wisconsin and Illinois’ Lon Kruger.
They agree the tournament would increase publicity, help recruiting, be fun for the players and generate revenue for the conference. Most importantly, it would be great for the fans and spark interest for teams on the NCAA tournament bubble.
“It was my thought that the Big Ten post-season tournament would be a major recruiting plus,” Bennett said. “It would occur at a time when the airwaves are full with post-season conference tournaments and it is very likely the Big Ten would get its share of publicity.”
The Big Ten hasn’t had the talent it had four or five years ago. Subsequently, the conference has struggled over the past two years in the NCAA tournament.
Iowa point guard Andre Woolridge said the concern over lost school time could be averted.
“I think teachers would understand and let you make up the work,” he said. “There’s enough time in the day to keep up on your books.”
Michigan favored,Settles top dog
Michigan is the favorite to win the conference championship, according to a poll taken by media members who attended Sunday. Indiana placed second and Iowa took third.
The preseason All-Big Ten team is: Iowa’s Jess Settles and Woolridge, Illinois’ Kiwane Garris, Michigan’s Maurice Taylor, and Northwestern’s Geno Carlisle. Settles was named the preseason All-Big Ten Player of the Year.
The quote
Knight, commenting on the Big Ten adding one more team and creating two divisions in the conference: “Before we go to a 12th team, I’d like to see the conference called the Big 11. I mean, that just goddamn amazes me how we can have 11 teams and be called the Big Ten. It’s a good thing I’m not at Penn State, because I’d probably be a little bit irritated.”