Big Ten to keep eight-game conference football schedule

By Kevin Kelley -
Jim Delany
Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany. (Jerry Lai-US PRESSWIRE)

Commissioner Jim Delany said at the Big Ten media days this week that the conference will keep an eight-game football schedule.

The decision comes on the heels of the suspension of the long-term scheduling agreement between the Big Ten and Pac-12. Delany said that the Pac-12′s nine-game conference schedule and “previous non-conference commitments” made the task of matching up 24 teams across two conferences “too difficult.”

When the plan was scrapped, there was speculation that the Big Ten would revisit the nine-game conference schedule. The nine-game schedule was actually voted on and agreed to by the Big Ten last summer.

But on Thursday, Delany said that there is a consensus to stay at eight league games and increase non-conference strength of schedule.

“We’re having good discussions on that, but I think we’re of a unanimous mind to stay at eight games,” Delany said. “We’re disappointed in the collaboration (dissolving). We had hoped the collaboration would have given us the opportunity to do serious scheduling. One thing that has changed since the collaboration is the four-team playoff. …We feel having more opportunities, instead of fewer, to demonstrate strength around the country is a real opportunity for us.”

One of the primary reasons for resisting a nine-game conference schedule is the imbalance it creates in home and away games. One year teams will play five home games and four away, then the next they will play four home and five away.

That makes it tough for some schools to fill out the non-conference portion of their schedule. Most schools want to have seven home games per year to maximize revenue. In years when they have five B1G road games, teams will need to find three non-conference opponents to play at home.

That can be a tall order, especially when you factor in strength of schedule. Mid-to-lower BCS schools and FCS schools are glad to play those games for huge paychecks, but they aren’t exactly the toughest contests.

Playing an eight-game conference schedule provides more flexibility to line up home-and-home or other series. Just this week Wisconsin announced a game and possible future contests against BYU. And last month, Michigan and Utah agreed to a home-and-home series.

The 8-game slate could also revive discussions between Georgia and Ohio State. The two schools were tentatively scheduled to play in 2020-21 until the Big Ten/Pac-12 agreement forced the Buckeyes to cancel.

Two Big Ten coaches that support the eight-game schedule are Wisconsin’s Bret Bielema and Northwestern’s Pat Fitzgerald.

“I want to play eight (league) games and I want to play one of our conference games in the first four weeks of the season,” Bielema said this week. “It’s similar to the SEC model,” he reiterated, “and anyone’s who has won six consecutive national championships obviously has figured out how to do things.”

“To have the four on the road and four at home just seems to make sense for us as coaches,” Fitzgerald said. “I think it would really impact our non-conference scheduling also if we were to go to nine games moving forward.”

There’s no shame in playing an eight-game conference schedule, but teams will need to make sure their non-conference slate is balanced enough to provide a good strength of schedule. They will need to counteract the extra conference game that the Big 12, Pac-12 and ACC will be playing.

When the four-team playoff begins after the 2014 regular season, strength of schedule will likely be one of the factors the committee will use to select the semifinal teams.

Comments (9)

Kevin, what do you think of the idea of a nine-game conference schedule?

I personally really dislike the idea (unless you’re the Big 12 or MWC and have 10 teams). I think the ACC should stick to eight, and give more flexibility to its teams on whether or not they want to schedule tougher OOC games to hope to get into a playoff, or weaker in order to get to a bowl game. I also think it’s much more fair to have a balance of home and away games in-conference.

I like the 8-game schedule myself (SEC fan). A nine-game schedule creates imbalance in home/away. Plus several SEC teams (Florida, Georgia, South Carolina) play ACC teams annually that are in-state rivals.

My preference is 8 conference games, 2 BCS non-conference games, and then two mid-lower games. One of those can be FCS, but it doesn’t have to be every year.

Sounds like a reasonable schedule, although whether one plays BCS opponent Ohio State or BCS opponent Indiana (for example) makes a big difference for SoS.

I’d like to see more ACC & SEC teams match up with each other every year. I don’t think it has to be a formal thing but it’s nice to see the competition. I could see NCSU (or UNC) vs. Tennessee, Duke vs. Kentucky (both great bball, both lousy fball), Miami vs. Alabama, etc. Wake & Vandy already have something going. Even Maryland vs. Arkansas or some other long-distance game(s) might be nice.

I agree the 8 game conference schedule is ideal. I think the biggest disadvantage of the 9 game schedule is the imbalance of the home/away each year. However in adding teams the SEC has gotten itself in somewhat of a bind. As an example, Florida will go to Tuscaloosa every 12th year. It was every 5th year before they went to 14 teams. It is like that all across the SEC with cross division teams except of course the single permanent cross division rival. To maintain conference continuity the SEC about has to go to 9. I have heard it is just a matter of time.

I agree, the home/away imbalance is definitely not good, nor is the long time between seeing other conference opponents.

I saw a really interesting proposal elsewhere. It was for a 14-team ACC (proposed by a VT fan) and it was actually a pod system, with two 4-team pods and two 3-team pods. One 3-team pod and one 4-team pod would join up to form a division for two years, and then they would swap partner pods for the next two years. There would also be cross-pod games between each of the 4-team pods and each of the 3-team pods.

The end result was that each team played every other team in the conference at least twice every four years (once home and once away). I don’t know if either the SEC or ACC would actually consider it, but it’s a really neat idea.

Random off-the-top-of-my-head pods for the SEC:

(A) — Texas A&M, Arkansas, LSU
(B) — South Carolina, Georgia, Florida
(C) — Ole Miss, Miss State, Alabama, Auburn
(D) — Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee, Vanderbilt

In going to many college football sites, I have seen fans propose many of these Pod scheduling systems. I do not recall seeing the 14 Team schedule you diagramed above. It would obviously work fine, much better than the present system. A writer at “Out Kick the Coverage” has been writing for several years that the SEC will eventually go to a 16 Team, 4 Pod system. If you follow the SEC, you know Slive wisely keeps everything close to his vest. I listen and analyze all he says, whatever it is worth? Whenever the current schedule came out down at the SEC meetings in Alabama several months ago. Slive said, “This will be our schedule plan for at least the next 2 or 3 years”. I think there will be change then or maybe even before, perhaps big change!