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February 19, 2013

How does expansion alter the basketball landscape?

It's no secret that football is the driving force behind the recent bouts of conference expansion around the country, including the Big Ten's addition of Maryland and Rutgers.

And surely, football will face major changes as conferences grow. For one, the number of games that teams play within their league is bound to chance.

Currently, the Big Ten plays just eight conference games in football, though that number will likely spike to nine - or even 10 - games. But how will other big-time sports be affected by the move?

Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon talked briefly about how expansion will alter the Big Ten basketball landscape last weekend.

"I think there is less of an impact on basketball, simply because basketball plays 30 games," Brandon said. "If we're going to play Maryland, that's a good game. Rutgers is a good game. As we look at basketball scheduling, we may play a few less mid-majors and other opponents, because we will be playing more in-conference battles, and that is always great. Frankly, there will be less of a scheduling impact and less of an issue than what we're going through with football."

But there will be some chances.

The conference currently requires its teams to play 18 games - out of a 30-game schedule - against Big Ten foes.

Brandon acknowledged that a move up to 20 games is a possibility sometime in the future.

"I think at some point, we're going to have to put our heads together and decide how many games we want to play in the conference," Brandon said. "That will be great conversation, because that will provide us an opportunity to take a new look, just like we are with football. Change is hard for some people, but it gives you the opportunity to sit down and say, 'New world, new situation - what's the best way to go forward.' We'll get a chance to do that with basketball."

For starters, big conference matchups will attract more excitement and ticket sales.

Although the Wolverines have sold out nearly every home game this season, Brandon is concerned about the lack of interest in some of the early-season games.

Michigan has failed to sell out three games this year: vs. Binghamton (attendance: 11,061), vs. Cleveland State (8,622) and vs. IUPUI (8.412).

"I am in favor of keep it exciting for the fans," Brandon said. "I want to reward the people who buy season tickets here with lots of competitions in this building that really get them excited and want to be here. I worry a little bit in the early season that we're playing a lot of games that don't feel very exciting. And we see it in the attendance. The more we can schedule competitive teams and games that have a lot of fan interest and attention, the more I'm going to like it.

"Having said that, it's a long year, a long 30-game schedule and then you get into the tournament. So you can't play a top 25 team every game, or you're going to wear yourself out. But I want to make sure our fans get a chance to see great teams come in here and see great basketball. I think adding teams like Maryland, certainly, will help us do that."

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