The Future of Big Ten Scheduling

After last summer’s addition of Nebraska to the Big Ten, one of the biggest issues became the nature of future football scheduling. More specifically, fans were whipped into a frenzy when the idea was floated that the traditional season-ending Ohio State/Michigan slugfest could be moved earlier in the season. The reasoning behind this consideration is understandable; with the two teams in separate divisions (itself an unpopular decision), the contest could conceivably be repeated one week later in the Big Ten Championship Game. The reasoning behind the outrage is also understandable; The Game is something that, regardless of the other 11 scores, the season builds up to. It is essentially a holiday among fans and you wouldn’t move Christmas to September, would you?

I would.

And you can spare me all the talk of messing with tradition and your fond childhood memories of whichever Game is most special to you. I get it; I really do. But the conference landscape just shifted in a drastic way. When Penn State joined the league, it wasn’t as big of a deal; it was just one extra team. But with Nebraska comes not just another extra team, but a whole new divisional structure. The Game will never mark the end of the Big Ten season again. It’s not unreasonable to expect that at least one of Ohio State and Michigan will be participating in the Big Ten Championship Game half the time (my guess would be more than that).

The question now becomes what is the best way to enhance the Big Ten’s national exposure/relevance and provide the most compelling product on the field? I believe the answer to that is a new method of scheduling the season that will give the conference a better chance to shine in the national spotlight and increase the excitement leading up to the championship game.

The basic structure would look like this:

2 non-conference games – These games will likely be the “cupcake” games, just as they generally are now. This gives our teams the best chance to rack up a couple of wins and build some momentum as well as work out the kinks.

3 cross-divisional games – These games bump up the start of the conference action and keep fans from becoming fatigued by too many uninteresting matchups early. For Ohio State, the last of these games would be Michigan, and the other teams would be matched up with their biggest cross-divisional rival (e.g. Illinois/Northwestern, Penn State/Michigan State).

2 non-conference games – These games provide a break before the end-run and give our teams a chance to schedule top-notch national programs at a time when teams are generally running at full steam, as opposed to early in the season when there are often still major issues to correct. One of these games will likely be a “lesser” team, but ideally this is a place for the Big Ten to make a case for itself come BCS time.

5 Divisional Games – These games provide a more playoff-like build toward the championship as each week will see major moves in the division races. I believe this is the best way to keep the conference at the forefront of the national discussion. The final game of this run could be used for in-division rivalry games (e.g. Michigan/Michigan State, Ohio State/Penn State).

I understand that this will not be a popular proposal among Ohio State or Michigan fans, but I do think that it serves the overall interest of the conference much better than the process in place for this season and next.

Okay, have at it.

Comments

  1. Every team in the Big Ten should play every other team in the Big Ten.

    There should never be a season when a team is able to dodge the best the Big Ten has to offer and skates to a conference title.

    There is 10 games right there for each team.

    1 marquee matchup

    1 non marquee matchup

    This will NEVER happen because of the ranking system. Elite teams need those lollipops they play 3 times per year to keep their rankings high and wins coming.

    If there were actual parity in college football scheduling…you know what that would mean?

    Playoffs.

    But we all know that isn’t going to happen anytime soon.

  2. I like it, with the obvious exception of not having the OSU scUM game at the end of the season. How about making the last weekend of the season “rivalry weekend” in the B1G, something they could promote endlessly. One team would be left out each year, but it would keep the game where it belongs. For teams with their biggest rival in the same division, this doesn’t change your proposed format. For a team like Ohio State, it just means swapping one division game opponent with scUM, not a deal breaker.

  3. @Kade – Every team playing every other team is actually 11 games now and that’s the biggest reason it will never happen. Playoffs may still be far off, but they’re getting closer.

    @Nick – The biggest decision (and I would say mistake, overall, although the reasoning behind it is completely understandable) that Delaney and Co. made last year was to split Ohio State and Michigan into separate divisions. At some point, The Game is going to have to be moved, because the possibility of playing the exact same game in consecutive weeks is too detrimental to wide interest in the league, and that’s what creates the ratings/cash flow.

    That’s the basis of my new structure – maintaining and escalating national interest in the B1G for as much of the season as possible. Playing all five divisional games at the end of the season is the best way to do that. It helps prevent situations where one side (or both) is decided several weeks before the championship game.

    The other thing to keep in mind is that The Game is no longer The Game, as difficult as that is to digest. It will never again be THE deciding game for the Big Ten championship, although a second CCG rematch could be. And if that rematch is going to happen, shouldn’t there be a distance of several games between it and the original, so it actually feels like a new game instead of an instant do-over?

    In successful seasons, The Game will not be Ohio State’s final B1G game no matter when it is played. In less successful seasons, does it matter that much if it is? The same can be said for Michigan and as I said, it’s not unreasonable to expect that these two teams will be making more than their fair share of appearances in the B1GCG. The OSU/UM split has severely altered the nature of The Game. It’s just not as important as it used to be.

  4. Just to be clear, my format includes two separate “Rivalry Weekends,” one for cross-divisional rivalries (OSU/UM, etc.) in the middle of the season and one for in-division rivalries (OSU/PSU, etc.) at the end. I sincerely believe that under this format, no one would be able to take their eyes off the B1G from that first rivalry weekend (week 5 or 6) through the CCG. The ratings/$$ implications would be enormous.

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