Anticlimactic Big Ten Expansion Idea Dump

Submitted by Brian on April 27th, 2010 at 11:41 AM


When you do a Google image search for "sixteen" you get two types of results: the literally porny and the metaphorically porny. We're going with metaphorically. This is a wikipedia commons image used in the articles on "sausage" and "gluten-free diet."

So… yeah. As mentioned in Friday's UV, the big expansion news was exactly nothing and we can all resume our lives without feverishly plotting complicated ways to make a 16 teams have a meaningful championship with only 8-10 games at their disposal. Unfortunately for many, many people this comes too late.

First: Brian Fremeau points out that current NCAA bylaws demand you have at least twelve teams to stage a championship game. They also require that there are two divisions in which everyone plays each other and that the champions of those divisions play in the game. If we're blowing the world up here you can probably get this to change, but that's a hurdle for the more elaborate proposals.


Many people complained that anything other than something boring and unbalanced would never happen. Skepticism noted. Now please return to your crabholes and have crabfights with the crabwife. You are crabby.

(@ Right: the funniest thing that has ever been put on paper. Do you see what T. McCracken did there? I do. I do so hard.)

Pod People

As The Only Colors puts it:

With 16 teams, I think you have to go with something like this--basically playing a multi-round playoff, but hiding the first couple rounds in the regular season.  But I also hate to lose the familiarity of playing major rivals every year and being guaranteed to play everyone in the conference at least once every few years.

A lot of people suggested organizing the Big Ten into pods of four. Instead of two static eight-team divisions there are four four-team pods. Each year a pod is paired with a different pod, so instead of playing seven teams every year and eight teams very infrequently you play three teams every year and twelve once every three years. This is similar to what the WAC did when it was a 16-team monstrosity.

So keep the pods in the back of your mind as you ponder…

In-Season Playoffs

I came to the conclusion that the most feasible way to have a meaningful conference schedule was to play all your divisional games first and then have dynamically allocated crossover games against teams about as good as you. This appears to be a common solution, but most other people used the leftover games to stage an in-season playoff.

In-season Semifinals

TOC's proposal is similar to the Totally Bats Proposal with the following exceptions:

  • Four team rotating pods.
  • There's one bonus game where the #1 in division 1 plays the #2 in division 2 and vice versa, followed by a championship game.

Feasibility: Leaving aside TOC's ludicrous divisions, which cleave Michigan from Ohio State and Wisconsin from their triangle of hate with Minnesota and Iowa? About as good as BTWC. Maybe better since there only 8 conference games still, but if the BIg Ten really goes to 16 they almost have to add a ninth conference game; at that point I'd be in favor of a tenth, bowl eligibility be damned.

Efficacy: I like mine better because it's a better intersection of the top teams.

Fun factor: Not crazy enough for me.

In-season Semifinals With Pod Divisions

Maize 'n' Brew proposes four team-pods like TOC. Conference schedules are a round robin in your pod and five games against other opponents that are "selected by committee." That's a little odd. I imagine they'd put in a rotation of some sort. The winner of each pod heads to a semifinal game. The remaining teams play another conference game.

Feasibility: would require major change to bylaws to pass. Otherwise similar to other in-season playoff proposals.

Efficacy: eh… too much randomness in your opponents for my tastes

Fun factor: About the same.

In-season Eight(!) Team playoff

MGoUser U of M in Tx proposes what's essentially an eight-team playoff with the top four in each division making it. Seeds are not exact because he attempts to even up the home games and priority is placed on avoiding rematches if possible. Since everyone keeps playing, there are still nine conference  games for everyone. He also proposes the bottom eight have a similar tournament with some special bowl bid on the line; that adds a second championship-ish game on the same weekend as the actual championship.

There's another version of this from Tacopants that has four-team pods with two protected rivalry games outside of the pods, two more crossover games, and the eight-team in-season playoff. It does not use divisions.

Feasibility: worse than the backwards group because it requires the NCAA to approve a second championship-type game. Does violate the bylaw because two teams from the same division could make it to the final.

Efficacy: Eight team playoff ranks highly here. Playoffs make more sense as you add teams and remove games.

Fun factor: Good. Quasi-championship game would be kind of fun, if not that important.

Totally Impractical Stuff

And if I think it's impractical, everyone else does.

maddogcody suggests a divisional format where the last week of every season is a game against your counterpart in the other division at a neutral site that is another home stadium in the Big Ten. That's a really weird way to force everyone to travel an a guarantee of many empty seats.

The Mathlete suggests a wholesale reimagining of the BCS conferences that ends with five separate 15-team conferences that play an eight-team playoff at the end of the year. Individual conferences are broken down into five-team divisions that play each other and two or three opponents in the other divisions. Division champions plus one wild card make conference playoffs. This one requires 17 games for national championship game participants and for five different conferences to do the same thing. Too many cats to herd.

Boston College blog BC Interruption chips in with a question:

Why Stop At 16?

This is one of those questions where if they don't know, you can't tell 'em. BCI absorbs the entire Big East plus Notre Dame to create a 20-team league that operates as two separate Pac-10s. Michigan gets chucked in a division with UConn, Syracuse, Rutgers, WVU, Cincinnati, Pitt, Penn State, Michigan State, and Ohio State, never to play for the Little Brown Jug again. For a thousand reasons from "Cincinnati and Louisville in the CIC" to "gaaah," this thing is never getting off the ground.

Priorities and Conclusions

Any conference that bloats to 16 teams is going to have problems determining a real champion without resorting to some oddities. A plain old divisions-plus-random-crossover-games setup is going to make the other division feel alien and introduce scheduling quirks that promise to have a distorting effect on the conference title race. Virtually all solutions propose taking information from early in the season and applying it to the last couple weeks of the season so that good teams play each other, whether it's in the form of a playoff in all but name or a crazy World Cup group or divisions-plus-nonrandom-crossover-games. That seems like the only way to make a 16-team football conference functional.

And now I will stop talking about this for at least three months, promise.



April 27th, 2010 at 11:49 AM ^

I for one, can't get enough of this - even though it is all speculation and conjecture at this point. These articles also speak of a broader vision and leadership of the Big Ten. Thanks for the analysis.


April 27th, 2010 at 12:07 PM ^

...but in this piece by Rothstein, we are treated to a recap of some of what Dave Brandon had to say on WTKA last night. WRT Big 10 expansion:

“Anybody who comes up with a proposal that said Michigan shouldn’t play Ohio State,” Brandon said, “should be institutionalized.”

All devisers of 16-team schedule schemes must hew to that inviolable principle.

Also: mmmm, gluten free sausage.


April 27th, 2010 at 12:09 PM ^

I might sound like an old fart (I'm under 30), but I hope the Big Ten will stay at 11 or expand to only 12. I'm fearfull of compromising the natural rivalries throughout the conference and don't wanna see a school like Rutgers in the Big 10. Notre Dame, West Virginia, Missouri, or Pitt would be an acceptable twelfth team. I wouldn't mind seeing Cincinatti as the twelfth team as well, due to the fact that it would probably piss Ohio State off.


April 27th, 2010 at 12:33 PM ^

I still like the idea of the pods, but I can't seem to figure out what this would do to the ticketholder. How do you charge the season ticketholder when the schedule has variances after the first 3 scheduled games? How many home games gaurunteed? That also messes with hotel reservations, flight prices, and scheduling conflicts for those who want to attend the games last minute.

Since the last 3 games are a playoff, how soon do you know if your team is out? After 1 game? Might this give people less of a reason to go to the following games? I doubt it, but the remaining games may lose their luster.

Finally, what effect does this have on our bowl pairings? Will the BCS and other bowls be kind enough to take into consideration that say Iowa lost the upper bracket and ended up with a 6-6 record, while MSU won the lower bracket and also ended up at 6-6? Will the bowls acknowledge the competition level? Probably, but again, something to think about.


April 27th, 2010 at 4:57 PM ^

For situations where playoff games are home/away (rather than neutral), they'd probably do it like pro teams do: give you the option to reserve your seats for all playoff games, take your money, and earn interest on it while the season plays out. Once the team's out, they refund your money for games not played at home.

Even for road/neutral games, it could still follow the pro model to a certain extent. (The men's tournament isn't a good example because as soon as your team is drawn, you know exactly where and when all its possible games will be.) Sometimes you don't have a lot of lead time and you just have to roll with it. Yes, it'll cut down on attendance somewhat, but I don't think it would be a big factor for some teams.

You could probably divide the teams into three groups: those who'll draw well no matter where or why they play (Michigan of course, OSU, Penn State, maybe Wisconsin), those who are lesser draws but might travel well on occasion (Sparty, Purdue, maybe Iowa, maybe Illinois), and those who, well, probably won't draw at all, if it ever becomes an issue (Indiana, Northwestern). Add the other teams wherever; the problem is that you probably can't afford to have too many teams in the latter categories or else it becomes like the MAC basketball tournament. A format that costs the Big Ten money isn't going to last long.

I think the bowls will definitely acknowledge the level of competition. After all, with mega-expansion, the Big Ten becomes the Samuel L. Jackson Conference, and bowls like the Dallas Football Classic will take the teams we tell them to or will exit with very large bullet holes.


April 27th, 2010 at 12:36 PM ^

The grains in the photo cause me to believe it's some kind of conic shaped wooden bowl.

Then again, it could be the beige-colored colon wall of some massive carnivorous animal.

Oh why do you post such mysterious photos, Brian, and torture us so?

On Big Ten expansion, I still stand by the assertion that "PITT is IT!". Just take us to twelve teams and we're done. Easy Peasy Lemon Squeezy.


April 27th, 2010 at 2:24 PM ^

And now I will stop talking about this for at least three months, promise.

Okay, MGoGamblers,* I'm betting a "Worst State Ever" t-shirt and a 12-pack of Ale to the Victors that Brian breaks this promise. Who wants odds?


* Really, if you think about it, you can apply "MGo" to virtually anything. MGoSwordfish: relates to this blog, and Yum.


April 27th, 2010 at 2:29 PM ^

The NCAA bylaws on championship games et al. doesn't really matter, because that's just the first step to a big restructuring and a big FU to the NCAA, as the big boys say "bye-bye" to it.