Peppers at 10, which seems low.
When announcing the schedule for the 2018 and 2019 seasons, the conference's web release proclaimed, apparently proud of itself, that "Every [team will] play against every other team in the conference at least once during a four-year period."
This is inane.
What if I told you that delay could be cut down to the point where you play every team in the conference twice every three years? The catch I'll put right up front: except for your designated rival, whom you play every year, you only get any other team twice every three years.
Caveat: I've done a quick search both on mgoblog and the rest of the web to see if anybody else has had this idea. I haven't found it elsewhere. If you came up with it first, claim credit!
Here's how it works: a 14-team conference can easily be split into you, your rival, and twelve other teams. Those "twelve others" can be broken down into three per-school pods of four each. In any given year, you play two of your pods.
Here's a sample of how the conference might be broken down:
Unfortunately I couldn't figure out how to get the grid lines to show, but corresponding to this particular arrangement, we get the resulting schedule of opponents:
A couple notes:
- Each school and its rival play the same teams in any given year. Additionally, teams are paired up rival and rival, so that home/away sorts itself out fairly naturally. Unfortunately for perfect comparison purposes, although Michigan and Ohio State (say) have the same opponents, Michigan will e.g. play Iowa at home and Nebraska on the road while Ohio State gets Nebraska at home but has to travel to Iowa. I did not go through and work out what the whole home/away schedule would be, but the process should be fairly straightforward (if annoying) unless I've missed some crucial detail.
- The rivalry games are the 9th game on each team's schedule and naturally will alternate home and away.
- I set up this particular set of pods with the goal of making sure Michigan's home schedule stays interesting and fairly balanced every year. Some other pairs of schools come off well also (Iowa/Nebraska get balanced schedules, while Indiana/Purdue and Illinois/Northwestern are no worse off than they have to be) but others are unbalanced year to year based on current expectations (Penn State/MSU and Minnesota/Wisconsin get easy-hard-balanced, while Rutgers/Maryland get killer-balanced-balanced). I've played around with the pairings a bit to try to fix this and this was the best I could come up with.
Wisconsin and Purdue have agreed to move their 2013 game up to the 4th week of the season (the traditional, "every Big 10 team plays a snacky cake" week), opening the Big 10 season a week earlier than the rest of the conference. A good move in what is typically an atrocious week of Big 10 football (though we play ND in the 4th week this year). It also allows Wisconsin to add a November game against BYU.
On another note, man, does the potential decline of Penn State make Wisconsin's 2013 schedule easy.
Aug. 31 Massachusetts
Sept. 7 Tennessee Tech
Sept. 14 at Arizona State
Sept. 21 Purdue
Sept. 28 at Ohio State
Oct. 5 Open
Oct. 12 Northwestern
Oct. 19 at Illinois
Oct. 26 Open
Nov. 2 at Iowa
Nov. 9 BYU
Nov. 16 Indiana
Nov. 23 at Minnesota
Nov. 30 Penn State
Obviously, they'll be underdogs at OSU and maybe Iowa, but they'll likely be at least touchdown favorites in every other game, missing Nebraska, MSU, and UM. This schedule here makes the need for a 9 game conference schedule plainly evident.
In an Unverified Voracity last week, Brian made the case for adding a ninth conference game to the Big Ten schedule, and indicated that a number of schools (including Michigan, apparently) are leaning in favor of it.
A few purported advantages are cited. First, schools find they are having trouble selling tickets to non-conference games against no-name opponents. Second, it reduces the need for protected cross-division rivalry games. And third, it reduces the advantage of any scheduling disparities.
Although not mentioned by Brian, another factor is that it keeps more revenue in the league. Every time a Big Ten team visits a non-Big Ten stadium, the conference does not get the benefit of television or gate revenue from that game.
These advantages seem to me over-stated. If games against low-quality opponents don't sell, don't schedule them! Nothing prevents the Big Ten from adopting a conference-wide policy limiting or eliminating games against mid-major, FCS, and Division II opponents.
Protected cross-division rivalry games are not needed, because the current Big Ten scheduling formula protects only two games per school. In a six-team division, you'd have five rivals you're guaranteed to face every year. If the Big Ten can manage with just two protected rivalries per team, as it has done, surely it can manage with five.
I do agree that a nine-game schedule reduces—though it does not eliminate—the possibility of a team winning its division without having faced one of the major powers in the other division. But it introduces disparity of a different kind, since teams would play an unequal number of home and road games.
There are other significant disadvantages to a ninth conference game. Mediocre programs rely on weak non-conference schedules to reach bowl eligibility. Whatever you may think of the value of a bowl game featuring two 6-6 teams, the fact is that such games exist, somebody is invited to play in them, and the payout is shared by the whole conference.
Replace a patsy with credible opposition, and the Big Ten can probably count on some teams not making a bowl, that otherwise would have. This, in turn, would increase the pressure on athletic directors to avoid scheduling serious non-conference opponents, since there would now be only three games under their control, instead of four.
Bear in mind that about half the conference has an annual rivalry with a non-Big Ten BCS-level opponent. Michigan, Michigan State, and Purdue all play Notre Dame; Iowa plays Iowa State; Illinois plays Missouri. It's too soon to tell which, if any, of its rivalry games Nebraska will choose to retain, but chances are there will be at least one.
As a practical matter, then, teams like Michigan would be down to just two discretionary games per year. Over the long term, that's less exciting for fans, as you lose the opportunity to see unfamiliar opponents coming into Michigan Stadium. With ten games a year locked in against BCS-level opposition, Michigan fans might never see a serious non-conference opponent again, aside from Notre Dame.
From a strictly parochial standpoint,when Michigan doesn't schedule home-and-home series against better opponents, it can schedule one-and-dones that don't demand a return game, and play a total of eight games at home to four on the road. The Wolverines had that advantage last year, and will again in 2011. That's harder to do when you're locked into nine conference games.
Incidentally, a number of Big Ten teams already have a full four-game slate of non-conference games scheduled in 2011. I doubt that schools will want to pay cancellation fees, so 2012 is probably the earliest this could be done, if it is done at all.
College football scheduling has become a farce, because the existing system does not sufficiently reward a tough schedule. The rankings penalty for playing a highly-ranked opponent, and losing, is far worse than the penalty for playing Delaware State, and winning. Rankings value wins (no matter against whom) far more than they credit excellence in defeat. This is a problem the Big Ten can't solve on its own.
But I strongly suspect that if the Big Ten goes to a nine-game conference schedule, it will simply increase the incentive for athletic directors to schedule meaningless games early in the season. In the aggregate, Big Ten schedules would become a lot more boring. That's not what we need.
All this talk of home-and-home contracts and revenue splitting brought this question up in my mind. Have any BCS teams played in a winner take all (revenue wise) home-and-home series ?