Can you name all the Michigan players in this photo from the last Purdue-Michigan game in Ann Arbor? [photo: a much younger Eric Upchurch]
Since going to 14 teams the Big Ten schedule has been a mess. Some teams rarely face each other, other teams face each other twice a season. The divisions are historically and presently uneven. The last two years in a row this resulted in a Big Ten “champion” that had a demonstrably worse season than at least two other Big Ten teams. Congrats Penn State and Michigan State, but I think we can do better. In fact I have an idea how.
I’ll get into the details below but the idea isn’t for everyone to have to memorize the details. The simplest description is every year you play three locked-in rivalry games, three games of your choosing, and three games against schools near you in the standings. Your biggest rivalry is played at the end of the season, and its result (half) carries over to next season.
On FiveThirtyEight’s Solution: Nate Silver’s proposal and mine share a few concepts: locked in rivalries early in the year, a mini-playoff at the end of the year, and eradicating divisions (which is essential to any good schedule reform). But it has two big flaws I tried to avoid:
1) It puts The Game in September, which: no, or in Week 7, which again: no, and then you’re seeding with less information.
2) Teams at the top will rarely face those at the bottom. I don’t like that because it cuts down on variety and could easily lead to things like long droughts between Michigan-Purdue tilts which are one of the things we’re trying to fix. Also it’s not good for the long term health of the conference since it would redistribute more losses from the bottom of the conference to the middle and middle-high. In effect it would result in fewer and lower ranked teams at the top, and fewer bowl-eligible teams from the conference. A few more competitive games is good, but 538’s proposal takes that to an extreme to the detriment of other important considerations.
- Maintain the annual rivalries and maximize their importance, keeping the big rival games at the end of the season.
- Play 9 conference games.
- Split up rivalry games so every team has a compelling schedule every year to sell to season ticket holders.
- Produce a fair and least disputable conference champion by playing all or most of the relevant games during the season.
- Play as many competitive games between similarly ranked teams as possible.
- No rematches!
- See a variety of opponents over a 10-year period.
- Encourage Power 5 opponents in non-conference scheduling.
- Be relatively simple.
The system I came up with hit all of these benchmarks to varying degrees (#9 being measured in Kelvin). #5 conflicts with #7 so I left it up to the schools themselves to prioritize between them. As for #9 it’s actually complicated, but can have the appearance of simplicity.
The schedule has four components:
- Three locked-in games versus your annual rivals.
- Three games where the top teams draft their opponents.
- Three games where you play like competition, and the top four teams all play each other.
- A “Big Ten Showcase” invitational during conf championship week to play the best three games that weren’t played.
This is the easy part. The teams are all separated into four pods of three or four with rivals they ought to be playing every year.
|East Coast Cable Subscribers||Intercollegiate
|Corn Corn Corn Corn Cheese Corn
|C||Michigan State||Penn State||Indiana||Iowa|
The division names are not important but the order is—if you want a clue as to why, look at the A-B and C-D matchups. Teams in your pod are the two or three teams you play every year. There are two ways to handle the three-team pods and I haven’t decided which I like better—either works about the same:
- Option 1: Lock in rivals. Each team gets an annual rival from the opposite division, e.g. Michigan-Maryland is played the week of OSU-MSU, PSU-OSU always comes when Michigan plays State, and Rutgers-Michigan State is played annually on the last week of the season for bragging rights and the Situation Trophy.
- Option 2: Rotate every 2 years. So after two seasons of the above, Michigan plays Rutgers on week 1, Ohio State plays Maryland, and the Land Grant Trophy becomes the end-of-year rivalry for MSU. Then after two years it becomes M-PSU, OSU-Rutgers, MSU-Maryland.
I sorta prefer Option 1 but Option 2 seems more feasible.
[HIT THE JUMP to see how I worked it all out]