Big 12 men's basketball coaches agree that playing an 18-game, round-robin league schedule against elite coaches and tradition-rich programs is a tremendous challenge.
They believe a conference that at times has owned the No. 1 national RPI will enhance the number of teams invited to the NCAA Tournament.
New rivalries will be formed.
The key question is whether coaches will soften their non-conference schedules.
"You still have to challenge your team," said Kansas State coach Frank Martin. "I still believe in playing those exempt tournaments. You get real good games, and you get to play extra games. If you have a good strength of schedule entering league play you'll have a good strength of schedule at the end of the season."
Kansas always schedules marquee non-league games.
"I don't think any coach is excited about playing 18 games," said Kansas coach Bill Self said. "I think we'd all prefer to play 16 league games. But the reality is we're going to crown a true champion. And it will create interest playing someone like Texas every year in our field house."
Teams haven't released 2011-12 schedules. Baylor coach Scott Drew said having a veteran team, he plans to schedule some challenging non-league games.
Travis Ford said this will be his most challenging schedule since he's been at Oklahoma State, playing in the preseason NIT in addition to road games at Alabama and Missouri State and a home game against New Mexico.
For coaches such as Lon Kruger at OU or Billy Gillisipie at Texas Tech, coaches rebuilding programs, it might be beneficial to soften the non-league schedule the first season.
Kruger said his priorities in non-conference play are to: (1) prepare a team for the league; (2) build an NCAA Tournament worthy resume; and (3) schedule games that interest fans.
"With a tough league schedule, it may affect what you have to do or need to do with the non-conference schedule," Kruger said. "It may change a little from year to year."
Eighteen league games have become common. The Big East, Big Ten, Pac 10 and Missouri Valley all play 18 league games.
"I think it's exciting because it will put us among one of the top one or two leagues every year," Ford said. "I don't know if there's any league in the country where it's so tough with big crowds on the road. That's what makes this league very, very difficult."
Win-loss records will take a hit. But if the conference finishes with a high RPI as many as six teams, maybe a team with an 8-10 league record conceivably could make the NCAA Tournament.
"It's got to be the toughest conference in the country," said Gillispie. "The round robin deal is going to make it a bear. It already was a bear."