EAST LANSING, Mich.–Michigan State Tom Izzo isn’t head-over-heels-in-love with the idea of a two-division, 12-game inter-divisional Big Ten schedule. Somewhere along the lines, someone is going to get cheated out of something.
Such as a meaningful rivalry.
Judging by his tone during Tuesday’s media day at the Breslin Center, Izzo–who was asked about protected rivalries and the idea of two divisions–holds the home-and-home series near and dear to his heart. They’re important, and he would like to see teams with established pasts have the opportunity to play one another at least twice during the regular season.
“Yeah, you know, and Indiana and Purdue have one, and Ohio State and — I don’t know who they’ve got one with, but Wisconsin and I guess it’s Iowa,” said Izzo, who enters his 21st season as the Spartans’ head coach. “So there are different rivalries that I think should be protected. I don’t know if I agree with the two separate (divisions) or not. I don’t know if they’d divide them up evenly.”
Even division? In the Big Ten? How about that loaded Big Ten East division in football? Balance is good, and the East–which has Michigan State, Ohio State and Michigan–isn’t anywhere close to being the most even division in college sports.
“Some of the things I’ve seen in football I’m not sure I like, personally. So I don’t know what’s best in that,” said Izzo, who’s led teams to an NCAA-best seven Final Fours during the past 17 years.
With that being said, he’s a fan of basketball’s conference tournament because it allows everyone to scrap their way toward a dance in March Madness–and it also could set the stage for a possible Round 2 for rivals who missed out on a home-and-home during the regular season.
“Having our tournament at the end, it makes it a little different (than football),” said Izzo, who took over Spartans basketball in 1995. “But definitely still, and I swear to you, I haven’t even looked at our schedule. I know we play Michigan once (Feb. 6 in Ann Arbor) because everybody has told me, but I have not looked at it to see who got the benefit of the doubt this year, playing the top four teams once and the bottom four teams twice. That’s still going to determine a champion a little bit in our league, and I still think it does in football a little bit.”
Izzo likes balance and competition. There’s really no other way to convey that message.
“I’d say that’s the biggest negative to the mega-conferences,” Izzo said. “Not having the truest of true champions bothers me because I don’t think the fans look at it that way, but I think coaches definitely look at it that way.”
As a coach, Izzo can only prepare his players for their schedule–which he’s done for the past 20 years by pushing his teams into the rings with the giants of college basketball. Kansas, North Carolina and Duke–and everyone in between–seem to find their way onto Izzo’s pre-conference docket on a yearly basis.
Evidently, he plans to continue competing while those in higher positions sort out the details. Maybe they’ll find a solution for teams such as Michigan State, which should play Michigan twice during the regular season. That should be locked. Indiana vs. Purdue, Ohio State vs. Michigan–those are valuable, too.
“So I don’t know which way we’re going on that,” said Izzo, referencing the idea of two divisions and protected rivalries. “I’ve got enough problems keeping my guys ready. I’ll let my AD (Mark Hollis) and my president (Lou Anna Simon) and the Big Ten office figure it out.
But it’s the only thing I don’t like about the bigger conferences. I’ve enjoyed Maryland and Nebraska. It’s been good. But I really don’t like not having a true champion.”
An Izzo press conference is complete without a reference to former coaches and program legends Gus Ganakas and/or Jud Heathcote. Izzo didn’t drop a Jud reference, but he made sure to mention Gus–who was present during the media event in East Lansing.
“I think when Gus coached (1969-76), at least at the end of the day, there was no, well, you didn’t play this team, you didn’t play this team, you didn’t play this team,” Izzo said. “I kind of miss that, and I think it’s going to determine a lot of things in both our sports.”