16 Teams, 4 Pods

Submitted by J.W. Wells Co. on December 4th, 2012 at 8:27 AM

With the addition of Rutgers and Maryland, it seems more or less inevitable that eventually the Big Ten will grow to 16 schools.  Given the NCAA's rule that championship game participants must come from separate divisions that play an internal round robin, dividing into two permanent divisions of eight teams each would ensure that a school plays schools in the other division almost never.

The answer that no one seems to be touting?

4 "pods."  2 non-permanent divisions.  Pods are B1G North, South, East, and West.

Let's assume for the sake of needing to pick two more teams for this discussion that Notre Dame finally sees what pretty much everyone else sees and finally decides to hitch its wagon to the Big Ten rather than the relative uncertainty of the ACC, and brings Georgia Tech with them.

We've then got 16 teams, which divide into four pods of four teams each.

We'll also assume that we're going to 9 conference games, because with 15 other teams to play on a somewhat regular basis, how could you really not?

Here's how the schedule works.  Every two years the pods rotate with each other to combine into divisions, like so:

  • Years 1 and 2:  North/South vs. East/West
  • Years 3 and 4:  North/East vs. South/West
  • Years 5 and 6:  North/West vs. East/South

Like the current set up, each division sends its champion to the B1G championship game.  There's no four-team playoff... just the championship game.

Whom do you play?

Every year a team will play everyone in its own pod, everyone in its division partner pod, and a fixed opponent from each other pod in the other division.  So every year a team will have essentially 6 fixed annual opponents; the other 3 games are played against the non-fixed annual opponents in the division partner pod.  So as the pods rotate to combine with each other, the nine teams that are not annually fixed on a team's schedule will rotate onto the schedule for 2 games in every six-year division cycle.  That allows for the maximum protection of rivalries while also ensuring that you'll play everyone in the league on average once every three years... that's a far better rate than what proposals for fixed divisions are giving us.

So each team's nine conference games are scheduled thus:

  • 3 games: play everyone in your own pod
  • 4 games: play everyone in your pod's division partner pod (these first two bullets create the necessary divisional round robin)
  • 2 games: play your fixed annual opponent in each of the other division's pods

The four pods are divided as follows, and numbered according to fixed annual opponents in each pod (1s play all other 1s each year, 2s play all 2s, etc.):


  1. Michigan
  2. Notre Dame
  3. Michigan State
  4. Purdue


  1. Ohio State
  2. Northwestern
  3. Rutgers
  4. Illinois


  1. Maryland
  2. Georgia Tech
  3. Penn State
  4. Indiana


  1. Minnesota
  2. Nebraska
  3. Iowa
  4. Wisconsin

Fixed annual final week games:

  • Michigan – Ohio State
  • Michigan State – Penn State
  • Maryland – Georgia Tech
  • Notre Dame – Purdue
  • Iowa – Nebraska
  • Minnesota – Wisconsin
  • Illinois – Indiana
  • Northwestern – Rutgers

Traditional, renewed, or natural rivalries preserved on an annual basis:

  • Michigan – Ohio State
  • Michigan – Minnesota
  • Michigan – Notre Dame
  • Michigan – Michigan State
  • Notre Dame – Northwestern
  • Notre Dame – Georgia Tech
  • Notre Dame – Michigan State
  • Notre Dame – Purdue
  • Michigan State – Penn State
  • Purdue – Illinois
  • Purdue – Indiana
  • Ohio State – Illinois
  • Northwestern – Illinois
  • Illinois – Indiana
  • Maryland – Georgia Tech
  • Maryland – Penn State
  • Rutgers – Penn State
  • Penn State – Nebraska
  • Minnesota – Iowa
  • Minnesota – Wisconsin
  • Iowa – Nebraska
  • Iowa – Wisconsin

Unimportant or "fake" rivalries lost on an annual basis:

  • Minnesota – Penn State
  • Ohio State – Penn State
  • Michigan State – Indiana

Initial reactions:

  • The North and West pods appear to be complete no-brainers... ND's traditional rivalries with U-M, MSU, and Purdue, and the U-M & MSU rivalry make the North a pretty natural fit.  The West is the traditional triangle of hate, plus Nebraska.  That leaves the South and East to be sorted out.
  • Michigan's fixed opponents each year would be Michigan State, Notre Dame, Purdue, Ohio State, Maryland, and Minnesota.  In years 1 and 2 we'd also see Northwestern, Rutgers, and Illinois.  In years 3 and 4 we'd get Georgia Tech, Penn State, and Indiana.  In years 5 and 6 we'd get Nebraska, Iowa, and Wisconsin (for a murderer's row schedule, but come on, deal with it).
  • Impermanence of divisions is a concern, though a minor one; would be tough to remember on a year-to-year basis who's in what division.
  • There'd be no more "Legends" champ or "Leaders" champ.  A team would simply claim a "Division" championship each year, due to the rotating natures of the divisions.
  • Luckily for rivalry maintenance and flexibility, Rutgers seems to have no natural football rivals.  I've lumped them with Penn State for a start.  The three "lost" rivalry games listed above could potentially be annually preserved by tweaking the membership of the South and East, or the numbers assigned in them.
  • Schedule strength?  Each team's fixed annual opponents include some tough games and some cake walks.  And as the pods pair up to form divisions, teams will gain tough games and easy games.  As we've seen the past few years, strength of schedule is very fickle anyways as teams rise and fall in quality; in the end it's probably all a crapshoot, but the two years in which the South/East team up against the North/West will likely be the most unbalanced.
  • Rivalries?  As I've said above, all important rivalries are preserved.  And ND would start getting GT and Northwestern again.  Penn State would start playing teams from the east coast again.  And the old ACC teams play each other.
  • ND, GT: Yes, I know.  Who knows if this will happen?  But I needed to pick another two teams to get us to 16.  Chill out.

Is it just me, or does this make too much sense?  I think rotating pods is the only way to see every team in the conference on a somewhat regular basis without going to an eleventy-billion-game conference schedule.

[Edited to clean up some formatting.]


Jeff M

December 4th, 2012 at 9:21 AM ^

The only downside to that is that there are no "divisions" then, just the four "pods." I don't believe that it would fit in with the current NCAA rules for a championship game.


If not for the NCAA rules about divisions, I was thinking along the lines of something similar, but without division distinctions as well. Essentially, mirror the current NFL scheduling -- the four pods play everyone within their pod every year, and rotate the other pod. Then rather than have a floating de jure division, you just pick the two pod champs with the best record. The only difference with this version versus the OD's is that it would allow for a rematch if the two best teams were in the same pod-pairing that year (IMO, that's a better scenario than having a Wisconsin or Georgia Tech type be able to sneak in).


Other thought here is "secondary rivalries." When Michigan's pod is paired with Ohio's, there's an open "rivalry" game. If some of these lesser "rivalries" are a concern, like Indiana-Michigan State or Michigan-Penn State they could be the back-up to that rivalry game, so that it would be played two out of every three years (or four out of six) rather than one out of every three.

But, Brian's thought a way back is probably the best one to adapt. Would you really miss playing Indiana and Illinois?

The Big Ten Division


Michigan State

Ohio State






The Also Kind of Big Ten Division


Penn State





New Team A

New Team B

J.W. Wells Co.

December 4th, 2012 at 9:34 AM ^

Okay, don't want to start a fight here, but sure there are divisions under this proposal.  The divisions are fixed at the beginning of each 2-year period, and there are true round robins in each division each season.  The winner of each division plays in a championship game.  That meets the NCAA's standard.  Then every two years, the divisions are changed around as the pods rotate with each other.

As far as I know, the NCAA does not require divisions to be permanent; just fixed within each season.

Plus, it's got to be legal as far as the NCAA is concerned, because the 16-team WAC did something very similar in the 1990s, with rotating pods.


December 4th, 2012 at 12:30 PM ^

If there's one ultimate lesson to take from the NCAA's nuking of PSU, it's that NCAA "rules" are fluid, often improvised, and that the likelihood of them being followed is solely dependent upon convenience.  If they can make more money by changing a rule, it will be changed.  A pod system and a de facto 16-team playoff counting conference semis and CC games would dwarf the bowl system and even the basketball tournament.

Besides, I'm not so sure that the upcoming four "super-conferences" even have a reason to stay in the NCAA.  Why share the pie with a bunch of mid-majors and smaller schools when they can form a breakaway division or association, and make their own rules that are more friendly to a major conference agenda?



December 4th, 2012 at 5:39 PM ^

... and there's no way anyone's dropping out of March Madness, or losing NCAA certification for other sports.  Not to mention what you're proposing is a de facto professional football league and the NFL would definitively have something to say about that.  (It could be semi-pro, but it can't be amateur, as you're explicitly removing the amateur govering body from the equation.)



December 4th, 2012 at 10:07 AM ^

Hear me out. I think this would work.

Division One: Division Two: Division Three:
Illinois Georgia Tech Arizona
Indiana Kansas Arizona State
Iowa Maryland Cal
Michigan Nebraska Oregon
Michigan State Notre Dame Oregon State
Minnesota Penn State Stanford
Northwestern Pitt UCLA
Ohio State Rutgers USC
Purdue Syracuse Washington
Wisconsin West Virginia Washington State

The winners of Divisions One and Three play a conference championship game every January first. Preferably someplace warm and sunny. The teams in Division two play each other or something, but only play the teams in divsions one and three by some kind of mutual arrangement between the schools during the first four games of the season, and those conference games do not count toward the conference record.



December 4th, 2012 at 10:40 AM ^

for the B1G to adopt unless you can unequivocally demonstrate this proposal will add television sets and piles of money that rival what The Joker burned in The Dark Knight. 

Otherwise, it is fantastically awesome. 


December 4th, 2012 at 11:48 AM ^

I like the pods idea.

However, I think that M and OSU need to be in the same pod, for the same arguments this site as made for keeping them in the same division.  I would essentially switch OSU and ND. 

Pod A              Pod B           Pod C                  Pod D

Minnesota      Michigan      Notre Dame      East 1

Wisconsin      MSU             Northwestern    East 2

Iowa                 OSU             Illinois                 PSU

Nebraska       Indiana        Purdue                East 3

The horizontal groupings are the teams that would play every year, even if the pods are not paired as divisions.

J.W. Wells Co.

December 4th, 2012 at 12:58 PM ^

I like this in theory, but I'd hate to lose an annual ND-MSU game in order to avoid a Michigan-OSU championship game rematch, which might happen once a decade, especially given that in two years out of every six, Mich and OSU would be in the same division and couldn't meet in a rematch anyways.

Ali G Bomaye

December 4th, 2012 at 11:55 AM ^

This is an awesome idea, but I think your pods need some tweaking.  Michigan is in a pod with Notre Dame, who in the long term is about as strong as Michigan, and Michigan State, who is usually an average-to-above-average team.  Meanwhile, Ohio State will never have serious competition for the championship of its pod, and Penn State will only have competition for theirs (in normal, non-probation years) during Georgia Tech's once-a-decade good season.

I realize that the pods will be paired up to form divisions in any given year, but this still could lead to some crazy imbalance.  In a year where the divisions are North-West and South-East, Michigan/ND/Nebraska/Wisconsin/MSU/Iowa would be in a dogfight for the championship of the North-West division, while the competition for the championship of the South-East division would be pretty much just OSU and PSU, with maybe GT in the mix if they're lucky.

J.W. Wells Co.

December 4th, 2012 at 2:02 PM ^

Yeah, imbalance was certainly a concern of mine (really it's only a glaring issue in the North-West vs. South-East split that we both mentioned), but then I really thought about it...

Excising the RR era, since 1993 Michigan's best seasons have been undefeated and worst seasons have had five losses; that's a pretty big swing.  OSU has had a few barely .500 seasons in that time as well.  Notre Dame, Nebraska, and Penn State have seen awful seasons in recent memory.  Schools like Iowa, Wisconsin, Purdue, Northwestern, Illinois, and Georgia Tech could be 4-8 or 8-4 or better or worse as the pendulum swings back and forth in the next decade.

You mention OSU as having a weak pod, and that's true.  But OSU gets Michigan on a permanent basis.  And four out of six years, OSU would either play ND, MSU, and Purdue, or Wisconsin, Nebraska, and Iowa.

Michigan's got a strong pod, but four out of six years Michigan would play either NW, Rutgers, and Illinois, or GT, Penn State, and Indiana.

I think competitive balance is a yearly crapshoot that can't be planned for on a yearly basis... only general trends emerge over time.


December 4th, 2012 at 12:10 PM ^

I like the pods idea and was talking with a fellow M alumn about something like this.  For me, I'd rather the pods be all about geography/traditional rivals rather than "competitive balance" because more and more I'm interested in seeing good football games week after week.  So I'd Pod the teams up like so:

POD A: Nebraska, Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin

POD B: Northwestern, Illinios, Purdue, Indiana

POD C: Michigan, MSU, OSU, Notre Dame

POD D: Penn State, Maryland, Rutgers, Syracuse/UConn/Etc

Keep everything else you said about pairing up pods into divisions, play one team from cross-divisional pods per year at random.

If Notre Dame is a pipe-dream (which, probably), then shift Penn State into POD C and let POD D be an East Coast leftover Pod.

Seriously, the more guarenteed interesting football each year the better.  Who cares about competitive balance if it means we have to play Maryland and Rutgers every year, and Wisconsin once every 5 years?



December 4th, 2012 at 12:40 PM ^

Let's keep the pods, but drop the permanent opponents.

Pod A:  Georgia Tech, Maryland, Penn State, Rutgers

Pod B:  Indiana, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State

Pod C:  Illinois, Notre Dame, Purdue, Wisconsin

Pod D:  Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, Northwestern

Let's not get too wrapped up on who is in what pod; I'm just using it as an example.

So we keep the 6-year rotation where each pod is paired with each other pod for 2 years.  That gives us 7 games, and we add 2 more cross-division games for a 9-game schedule.  If the cross-division games are rotated perfectly, each team will still play each team not in its own pod 6 times every 12 years (3 home, 3 away) and will play each team in its pod 12 times in 12 years (6 home, 6 away), for a total of 108 games (9 games/year x 12 years).

If you have permanent cross-pod opponents, you only see the other teams 4 times every 12 years instead of 6.  I think putting rivals in the same pods is a much better solution than having permanent cross-pod opponents.


December 4th, 2012 at 2:14 PM ^

It would be interesting if instead of protected rivals they did like the NFL does:

You play the two teams that finished in the same place in the pod the previous year. So if you win your pod, the next year you play your seven divisional games and then the previous years winners of the other two pods.  

J.W. Wells Co.

December 4th, 2012 at 2:20 PM ^

I wouldn't mind this if it could be done on a 2-year basis, so you'd have set opponents for a two-year term and have a head-to-head home-and-away and opportunities for revenge games.  The surges in new rivalries between MSU-Wisconsin and PSU-Iowa in recent years have been built on revenge games, and that kind of stuff is the essence of college football.

Not sure how local hoteliers/restauranteurs in true college towns would enjoy not having game dates set until the end of the previous season, but I assume they'd be able to adapt somehow.

J.W. Wells Co.

December 4th, 2012 at 2:24 PM ^

The downside I suppose is that by making your better teams play more tough games and giving easier games to worse teams, you're potentially watering down your product in terms of getting your best teams into a national playoff.  Along with the upside-down draft, the weighted schedule is what gives us so much parity in the NFL.


December 4th, 2012 at 2:41 PM ^

There is a way to control the schedule issue.  Have the "TBA" games all on the same two weeks, maybe the last week of September and the last week of October (to complement the rivalry weekend on the last week of November).  Once this happens, you can assign home games to all of the teams in Division A on the last week of September and home games to all of the teams in Division B on the last week of October.

So the schedule for Michigan would have 2 lines like...

September 26, 2015:  TBA (home)

October 31, 2015:  TBA (away)

Hoteliers and restauranteurs should be placated, especially since the TBAs can be announced in early December 2014.


December 4th, 2012 at 12:47 PM ^

Members of each pod are compared to other members in their pod, with four teams (one from each pod) chosen (by best overall conference record) to participate in a four team playoff.  This will consist of a semifinal and final round.  Semifinal games will put the two individual pod champions from the pod-pairing against the other pod-pairing champions (ex: If Pods A, B are matched and Pods C, D are matched, then Pod A Champion will face Pod C champion and Pod B champion will face Pod D champion) at a campus location.  The team with the best overall record will host. 

After this semifinal game is played, the two winners will advance to the final round (i.e. the Big Ten Championship game).  This game will be hosted at a neutral site, the winner designated as Big Ten Champion.

In this model the Big Ten champion could conceivably be 14-0 entering the NCAA playoff, and if they win the whole thing, they would end at 16-0.  Lots of football.

Kilgore Trout

December 4th, 2012 at 4:29 PM ^

I put close to the same thing in the comments of a few threads a few weeks ago. Some alternate thoughts.

1. Change divisions every year, not every two. If you change every year, every four year player gets to play home and away against every other team in the B1G.

2. Figure out a way to get the NCAA to allow for flex scheduling. First seven weeks would be games against the other seven teams in your division. Week 8 is the flex week. First place in division A plays second place in divsion B and first place in division B plays second place in division A. These are your semi-finals and the winners play for the B1G championship. The otehr 12 teams play a "position round" where 3rd plays 3rd, 4th vs 4th and so on. This woudl require the NCAA to change its rules, but the NCAA is made up of schools, and it should work.

3. UM and OSU should stay in the same pod since there are no crossovers. My proposed pods...

North - Michigan, MSU, OSU, Rutgers
East - Penn State, Maryland, ACC#1, ACC#2
South - Indiana, Purdue, Northwestern, Illinois
West - Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Nebraska


December 4th, 2012 at 5:49 PM ^

I think the only problem with this is that it kind of makes sense.  And your proposed names of the pods are boringgggggg.

Need moar fancy names.

Keep the names Legends and Leaders and find two more awesome names to go with them.


December 4th, 2012 at 6:07 PM ^

 and consumes them in what Brian might call the dying glow of everything good about college football being torched by the pursuit of the almighty dollar.

I suspect we're more likely to poach two eastern schools, which would likely form a pod with Maryland/Rutgers; that locks in the East/West pods under your scenario.  M/MSU/PSU/Purdue could be the North which leaves OSU/Illinois/Indiana/NW for the South.

In the short term this looks relatively balanced - MSU and PSU are decaying, and NW is cresting, but the West pod is strong and the East pod is weak.  Hopefully the eastern schools are good at basketball ...

Hardware Sushi

December 5th, 2012 at 12:25 AM ^

Looks great. Notre Dame joining really helps make things easy to break up. We have a tough schedule most years but anyone complaining about that can't also complain about not playing teams we like to play consistently. Complaining about adding Rutgers and Maryland by saying they aren't good then complaining when we have a tough schedule is what crazy people do too often.

I'm down for this schedule, does a nice job of keeping consistent opponents but mixing up the teams we have on and off.

We'll see. I don't really know what to expect in the next few rounds of conference movement.



December 5th, 2012 at 9:00 AM ^

When the Western Athletic Conference had 16 teams in the mid-90s, it divided the programs into four 4-team quadrants.  Two of the quadrants were permanently assigned to one of the WAC's two divisions (Coastal, Mountain) while the other two quadrants shifted from one division to another in the course of a two-year rotation.  The teams played the three teams in their quadrant, four teams form the other quadrant in their division and one crossover game for a total of eight.  The winners of the two divisions met in a conference championship game called at the Silver Bowl in Henderson, Nevada.

See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Western_Athletic_Conference#Second_wave_of…

If the Big Ten were to do someting similar and let's say the 15th and 16th teams ended up being Virginia and Georgia Tech, then the four quadrants could be set up in this manner:

Plains Division Permanent Quad (PDPQ):  Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, Wisconsin

Lakes Division Permanent Quad (LDPQ):  Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Penn State

Quad A:  Illinois, Indiana, Northwestern, Purdue

Quad B:  Georgia Tech, Maryland, Rutgers, Virginia

So in Years 1 and 2, the Plains Division would include the PDPQ and Quad A and the Lakes Division would have the LDPQ and Quad B.  In Year 3 and 4, Quads A and B would be swapped between the two divisions as such:

Plains Division (Years 1 & 2):  Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, Northwestern, Purdue, Wisconsin

Lakes Division (Year 1 & 2):  Georgia Tech, Maryland, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Penn State, Rutgers, Virginia

Plains Division (Year 3 & 4):  Georgia Tech, Iowa, Maryland, Minnesota, Nebraska, Rutgers, Virginia, Wisconsin

Lakes Division (Years 3 & 4):  Indiana, Illiinois, Michigan, Michigan State, Northwestern, Ohio State, Penn State, Purdue 

With a nine-game conference schedule (unlike the WAC, who had eight games), a team would play seven games within its division plus two teams from the other division.  The remaining three games on the schedule would be with non-conference opponents.

For Michigan, the nine-game conference schedules might look like this (division games marked by asterisk):

Year 1  (LDPQ plus Quad A plus two teams from the PDPQ):

Michigan State*, Penn State*, at Ohio State*, Georgia Tech*, at Virginia*, Maryland*, at Rutgers*, Iowa, at Wisconsin (5 Home, 4 Away)

Year 2 (same as Year 1):

at Michigan State*, at Penn State*, Ohio State*, at Georgia Tech*, Virginia*, at Maryland*, Rutgers*, at Iowa, Wisconsin (4 Home, 5 Away)

Year 3 (LDPQ plus Quad B plus two teams from the PDPQ):

Michigan State*, Penn State* at Ohio State*, at Illinois*, Northwestern*, at Indiana*, Purdue*, Nebraska, at Minnesota (5 Home, 4 Away)

Year 4 (same as Year 3):

at Michigan State*, at Penn State*, Ohio State*, Illinois*, at Northwestern*, Indiana, at Purdue*,  at Nebraska, Minnesota (4 Home, 5 Away)

The arrangement above ensures that most of the rivalry games are played on an annual basis (althought the Little Brown Jug will only be played two games out of four).  It's also set up so that each team in the conference plays the other at least twice in a four year period.  The divisions are set every season in order to ensure there's the structure necessary to stage a conference championship game.

One negative in this arrangement may be that the four marquee programs aren't evenly divided between the permenant divisions (3 in the Lakes, 1 in the Plains).  That, unfortunately, is a product of basic geography and comes out of a desire to keep rivalries largely intact.  The WAC's failure to do those two things is one of the reasons why it didn't work out as a 16-team confernce.  See also http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2010/writers/andy_staples/05/20/16-tea…

Another problem that fans had with this set up was that the composition of the divisions changed every two years and that led to some confusion for the fans.  I used the nomenclature Plains and Lakes for my two divisions, but that's going to sound awkward for the two-year period when the former division (Plains) includes four teams from states on the Atlantic Coast.  Perhaps not as head scratching as Leaders and Legends for division names, but perhaps still problematic.  

If the B1G went to two permanent 8-team divisions and adopted a nine-game schedule, we'd probably see a situation where teams played seven games within their division and two against teams from the other division.  The downside of that would mean that individual inter-divisional matchups during the regular season would only occur two years out of every eight.  On the plus side, it'd be easy to label the divisions (East, West), their membership would be permanent (thus reducing the confusion levels) and the driving distances for fans would be minimized on an annual basis.

West - Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, Northwestern, Purdue, Wisconsin

East - Georgia Tech, Maryland, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Penn State, Rutgers, Virginia

Michigan would play seven games each year against teams in the East Division plus two apiece from the West Division for nine total conference games.  If the pairings for games against West Division teams was based on their relative strengths plus geography, then they might go like this: