Below I've presented what I believe is a solution to the Big Ten's scheduling in 2011. I know many have been thrown around and mine is yet another on the pile. All I ask is that you read it in its entirety.
1) Penn State
2) Michigan State
2) Ohio State
- All teams play everyone in their pod. (2 games)
- Pod 1 and Pod 2 play every year. (3 games); Pod 3 and Pod 4 play every year. (3 games)
- Year 1, Pod 1 plays Pod 3 (3 games); Pod 2 plays Pod 4 (3 games)
- Year 2, Pod 1 plays Pod 4 (3 games); Pod 2 plays Pod 3 (3 games)
8 regular season games thus far.
- All natural/important rivalries are preserved. (Michigan/Minnesota and Indiana schools vs. Illinois schools would be every other year.) Those schools could be marginally adjusted within EAST or WEST based on how the league desires those less sexy rivalries to shake out from year to year.
- The pods remain geo-centric, with some slight meddling in the East to offset the Pod 2 behemoth.
- Pods are slightly unbalanced, but opportunity within remains fair. Each team within a pod plays 8 common opponents. If a school doesn't get out of its pod there is nowhere to lay blame.
- A 2 division format leads to advancement where non-division scheduling must play a factor
- Michigan/OSU would be an “8th” Game. In a normal year, as much would be on the line, based on details of Game 9.
A full crossover matchup between skipped pods based on order of finish, with winners of the 1st vs.1st games (played at neutral sites) advancing to the CCG. This would grant fresh and exciting matchups for the playoff and potentially between 2nd place schools fighting for bowl eligibility.
- Home/Away pods for Game 9 can be declared before the season to avoid scheduling issues.
Conference Championship Game
Winners of 1st place matchups from Game 9 (neutral site)
- The pods would be equally sound with Michigan and OSU in different EAST pods by switching one with another school. However, the win-or-die importance of The Game may not be there (i.e. the losing team could still be in the playoff). The possibility of a Michigan/OSU Conference Championship Game would also be created. Whether that is appealing depends on your taste.
- It is possible, though unlikely, a team with a .500 or worse record could win a pod (like pod 3 in the year pod 4 and 2 are played). Unfortunately, the potential caveats to address the issue make an even greater problem. (I explored it.)
- If that scenario happens, no 2nd place team can complain with cause since the schedule is equitable within every pod.
- Any potentially aggrieved 2nd place school is still going to a quality bowl game. This school also receives a favorable Game 9 matchup that will add a win to its resume. That school could easily be considered a 3rd-ish place school in the eyes of the media.
- The pods need names, yes.
If the league goes to 14, pods are impossible, obviously. If it goes to 16 playing a balanced schedule becomes nearly impossible.