As the title indicates, this is yet another interesting way to make a 16 team Big Ten work. It has some similarities to Brian's backwards plan, but adds a few new elements and works to protect some old ones.
Protected rivalries have to stay. There is just too much tradition in college football and shifting to a 16 team league is such a big change to begin with, I just don’t see people being ok with ditching the rivalries. Schedule variability is pretty cool, but it has to be done in a controlled manner. The logistical challenges of bringing 100,000 people to a city on such little notice would be pretty overwhelming. I’m no expert in the area, but I have to imagine that the city of Ann Arbor has to plan for OT for a lot of people to make that happen. Something like that might work in basketball when you’re bringing in 15,000 people, but I think it’s a pretty tall hurdle for football.
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So, here’s how I’d do it.
Step one, split the sixteen teams into four permanent “pods” or “groups” or whatever you want to call them. The goal here is to protect as many rivalries as possible. Obviously you will play the other three teams in your pod every year, rotating home and away. Every year two pods are paired together to form a division. You play everyone in your division. This rotates on a three year, set basis (year one AB-CD, year two AC-BD, year three AD-BC). This gives you seven conference games per year that you can schedule ahead of time into eternity.
There seem to be two “most likely” 16 team scenarios. Both assume Pitt, Rutgers, Missouri, and ND are in. One gives another east coast team (UConn or Syracuse) while the other gives Nebraska. Here’s how I’d break down the pods in each scenario.
Pod A Pod B Pod C Pod D
Penn State Michigan Illinois Iowa
Notre Dame Michigan State Northwestern Minnesota
Rutgers Ohio State Nebraska Indiana
Pittsburgh Wisconsin Missouri Purdue
East Coast Scenario
Pod A Pod B Pod C Pod D
Penn State Michigan Illinois Iowa
Pittsburgh Michigan State Northwestern Minnesota
Rutgers Ohio State Missouri Indiana
UConn Notre Dame Wisconsin Purdue
The scheduled Big Ten season would run from the last weekend in September to the second weekend in November, straight through. The third weekend in November would be open. This would allow the teams to fit their three non-conference games into the first three weekends of September or into the third weekend of November, whatever they think is best.
Now you have to allow for some flexibility. At the end of the seven game schedule, the league would be split into four new pods. Championship pod, second, third, and fourth. Top two in each division into the championship, third and fourth into second and so forth. The bottom three pods just play a home game and an away game against the two teams from the other division. One game on Thanksgiving weekend and one on the first weekend of December. This ends in a 9 game Big Ten season with zero chance for rematch among 12 of the 16 teams. The championship flight is a simple “final four” type situation. The two division champs host the second place teams from the opposite division on Thanksgiving weekend and the winners play in the Big Ten Championship game at a predetermined neutral site on the first weekend in December. I guess the two losers would play each other on someone’s campus on the first weekend of December too. While that game would certainly be a downer in a lot of ways, it would almost certainly affect the bowl destinations of the two teams, so they’d have something to play for.
I think this really is the best of both worlds. Some bullet points…
- 10 of a team’s 12 games are prescheduled.
- Obviously seven games is unbalanced home and away. I recognize this flaw. The way to even this out would be that in each pod, two teams are “even” and two teams are “odd.” The even teams get four home games in even years, and the odds get them in odd years. If you don’t make the championship pod, you’re getting another home game there. If you make the championship pod and lose out on a home game, I think you’d be ok with that.
- I think this is the best way to mitigate the whole UM / OSU last game of the season thing. They will always play on the second Saturday in November and it will be the last game of the regular season. Assuming UM gets it together, there’s probably even a better likelihood that something will be at stake. They could be playing for a spot in the championship pod, playing to keep one of them out, or playing for seeding. Since the difference between winning the division and second place is huge (home or away in the final four would be significant), it would be a big deal even if they were locked into the first two spots in the division. The same obviously applies for any other season ending rivalry. If there was a rematch, it would be three weeks later with a game in between, so it would be “better” than just playing the next weekend.
- You could always just play the seven division games and then do a 1vs1, 2vs2 and so on weekend, but I think this is a lot more awesome. Imagine the hype of Thanksgiving weekend, Big Ten semis… Nebraska at Michigan followed by Ohio State at Notre Dame...
- The trio of Wisconsin, Iowa, and Minnesota caused me issues in making the pods. They seem to need to go together, but there’s no obvious fourth member and no “singles” really out there. In my mind, Wisconsin seemed to be the one who could stand on their own the best, so I moved them.
- In the east coast scenario, Michigan’s pod looks unbalanced (as in too tough), but those are teams that they schedule every year now, so it wouldn’t be any worse than they already have it.
- I like ND in the east coast pod. I think it would make them feel better about coming and would help to make sure the BTN gets into those markets.
- The basketball regular season is kind of tough. I don’t know what you do. I love what the Big East did with the double and single byes in the tournament though. That would be nice.
Here’s some potential standings and how it would play out as an example for the Nebraska Scenario.
Division AB Division CD
1. Michigan 7-0 Nebraska 7-0
2. Ohio State 6-1 Iowa 6-1
3. Penn State 5-2 Purdue 5-2
4. Notre Dame 4-3 Missouri 4-3
5. Wisconsin 3-4 Northwestern 3-4
6. Pittsburgh 2-5 Illinois 2-5
7. Rutgers 1-6 Minnesota 1-6
8. Michigan State 0-7 Indiana 0-7
Semi: Iowa at Michigan, Ohio State at Nebraska
Week 1: Missouri at Penn State, Purdue at Notre Dame
Week 2: Penn State at Purdue, Notre Dame at Missouri
Week 1: Wisconsin at Illinois, Pittsburgh at Northwestern
Week 2: Illinois at Pittsburgh, Northwestern at Wisconsin
Week 1: Minnesota at Michigan State, Indiana at Rutgers
Week 2: Michigan State at Indiana, Rutgers at Minnesota
As a bonus, an example of Michigan’s conference schedule in a six year block under the Nebraska scenario.
Year 1 Year 2 Year 3
@Wisconsin Wisconsin @Wisconsin
Penn State @ Illinois Iowa
@Notre Dame Northwestern @Minnesota
Michigan State @ Michigan State Michigan State
Rutgers @Nebraska Indiana
@ Pittsburgh Missouri @Purdue
@ Ohio State Ohio State @Ohio State
Year 4 Year 5 Year 6
Wisconsin @Wisconsin Wisconsin
@Penn State Illinois @Iowa
Notre Dame @Northwestern Minnesota
@Michigan State Michigan State @Michigan State
@Rutgers Nebraska @Indiana
Pittsburgh @Missouri Purdue
Ohio State @Ohio State Ohio State