A Better Big Ten Conference Championship

Submitted by ScottGoBlue on August 14th, 2012 at 1:50 PM


The 2012 season draws near.  This topic may have been more appropriate in the winter or spring, but I’ve only just now taken the time to type it all out.  Hopefully it will be one more way to get excited about the football year to come.  Go Blue!


A Better Big Ten Conference Championship

2011 was the first year of the Big Ten Football Conference Championship game, and as a Michigan fan the first time I’ve really paid attention to a college conference championship game.  When the teams were decided (Michigan State and Wisconsin), my immediate reaction was, “A rematch?  How boring.  What a waste.”  I don’t agree with everything sacred to the MGoBlog-osphere, but I do agree with the value of “the regular season should mean something.”  Wisconsin of course won the rematch in Indy, reversing the outcome of the regular season thriller in East Lansing, which served as a foreshadowing of the All-SEC rematch National Championship game.  Whoop-dee-doo.

Also, I was curious to see how common rematches are in conference championship games in other conferences.  The Big Ten is 1-for-1; what about the other conferences with championship games?  It turns out that more than 1-in-3 conference championship games are repeats from the regular season.








4 of 7    0.571

’07, ’08, ’09, ‘11



1 of 1    1.000




6 of 15    0.400

’99, ’00, ’01, ’02, ’05, ‘07



2 of 7    0.286

’06, ‘07



5 of 15    0.333

’99, ’00, ’03, ’04, ‘05



0 of 1    0.000




5 of 20    0.250

’00, ’01, ’03, ’04, ‘10



23 of 66    0.348



There must be a better way to determine the conference champion.

What if, instead of just two teams meeting up to play a 9th conference game, all 12 played a 9th game?  What if the 9th game was guaranteed to not be a rematch, but also was dynamic enough to get intriguing year-end match-ups?  The better way I’d like to propose is a “plus-one” 9th conference game, which we’ll call the “8+1 Conference Schedule.”

Each of the 12 Big Ten teams plays 8 of their 11 conference opponents, leaving 3 teams they don’t get to play.  The “plus-one” conference game would be against one team you didn’t play, determined at the end of the 8 conference games, with priority given to sorting out the conference champion and intriguing match-ups.  The “plus-one” game would be hosted on campus by the team with the better conference record through 8 games.  In the event of a tie, whichever team was on the road the last time would host the game. 

Practically speaking, this would probably work best if the 8 games finished the weekend before Thanksgiving, each Big Ten team then had a bye on Thanksgiving weekend, and then played the “plus-one” games the first week of December.  That would allow sufficient time to make the pairings and sell tickets, plus give the players a breather and a holiday.  Also, whether this would be a 13th game or would replace one non-conference game (keeping a 12-game schedule) is open for debate..

Okay, so here’s what it would have looked like in 2011.  The Big Ten Conference standings turned out as follows:









Mich, Iowa, NW

Penn State



MSU, Mich, Minn




MSU, Neb, NW

Ohio State



Iowa, NW, Minn




MSU, Neb, Iowa




Mich, Neb, Minn





Michigan State



PSU, Pur, Ill




Wisc, PSU, Ind




Pur, Ill, Ind




Wisc, OSU, Ill




Wisc, Pur, OSU






Michigan State at 7-1 gets first consideration, and could play Penn State (6-2), Purdue (4-4), or Illinois (2-6).  Best Match-up: Penn State

Wisconsin is next since they shared the top record in Leaders division with Penn State, but won head-to-head.  They could play Michigan (6-2), Iowa (4-4), or Northwestern (3-5).  Best Match-up: Michigan

Nebraska is the next team remaining after Penn State and Michigan got snatched up.   They could play Purdue (4-4), Illinois (2-6), or Indiana (0-8).  Best Match-up: Purdue

Iowa is the best team remaining, and they didn’t play Wisconsin (7-1), Ohio State (3-5), or Illinois (2-6).  Ohio State is the best match-up, but then Northwestern would have no one left to play.  Best Match-up: Illinois

Northwestern didn’t play Wisconsin (7-1), Purdue (4-4), or Ohio State (3-5).  Best Match-up: Ohio State

Minnesota didn’t play Penn State (6-2), Ohio State (3-5), or Indiana (0-8).  Battle of the basement-dwellers!  Best Match-up: Indiana


2011 “Plus-One” Conference Games (home team in CAPS)

·      MICHIGAN STATE (7-1) v. Penn State (6-2)

·      WISCONSIN (6-2) v. Michigan (6-2)*

·      NEBRASKA (5-3) v. Purdue (4-4)

·      IOWA (4-4) v. Illinois (2-6)

·      OHIO (3-5) v. Northwestern (3-5)**

·      MINNESOTA (2-6) v. Indiana (0-8)

* Michigan last hosted v. Wisconsin, in 2008

** Northwestern last hosted v. Ohio, in 2008


So, on the first Saturday of December, would you rather have the line-up above?  Or Wisconsin-Michigan State, The Rematch in Indy!!!

In this scenario, Michigan State would probably end up the undisputed champion, with a home win over Penn State.  The only confusing scenario is if Penn State and Michigan win their games, and then three teams end up with 7-2 conference records.  For the top bowl bid, we would then go to traditional tie-breakers.  The head-to-head results give the edge to Penn State, by virtue of beating Michigan State who beat Michigan (Michigan and Penn State didn’t play each other even with the plus-one).  In the event that head-to-head can’t break the tie, the next tie-breaker would be least-recent champion gets the top bowl bid.  Simple enough.


8+1 Conference Schedule Benefits:

·      No underwhelming repeat conference championship game

·      Values the regular season games already played

·      On-campus rather than neutral-site means most tickets will be sold to fans who care about the match-up

·      The whole Big Ten is playing in December, raising our end-of-season profile against other conferences

·      More interesting way of determining the conference champion AND unique to the Big Ten “brand” (sets us apart from the SEC, ACC, P12, and B12)


Thoughts?  Critiques?


Tulip Time

August 14th, 2012 at 2:10 PM ^

There's an old adage which says when two systems are presented that give equal results, use the simpler system. There's another saying which says "if it ain't broke, don't fix it."

Your proposal gives an unnecessarily complicated answer to something that isn't really a problem. There's only one scenario in your example which would give us an undisputed champion. Every other result leads to a tie. 

While a rematch isn't always as exciting as a matchup between two teams that haven't played each other, it is far superior to this proposal. 

"Hey dad, how do they decide who wins the Big Ten?"

"Well son, you see, they take the top teams that haven't played each other, and...er..."

Creative thinking, OP, but keep thinking harder.


August 14th, 2012 at 2:14 PM ^

Upvote, simply because I scanned back up to the top after reading this, looked for the "" tag, and found it.

EDIT: Although now I'm thinking about taking it away since the tag you were supposed to use was "". That tag has all of Brian's incredibly complicated solutions

turd ferguson

August 14th, 2012 at 2:30 PM ^

I like the creativity but don't like the proposal.  It has too many outcomes that are unsatisfying/unclear, creates some games of minimal interest (e.g., Minnesota-Indiana), and presents logistical problems since these games couldn't be determined until after the season.

I am with you in not being satisfied with the current system.  I'd much prefer [1] some shuffling across divisions and the elimination of that cross-division rival thing or [2] the removal of divisions altogether, leaving the top two teams to play in the conference championship game every season.  I'm not as bothered by the possibility of a rematch in the BTCG.


August 14th, 2012 at 3:09 PM ^

I think Minnesota and Indiana fans would have enjoyed that match-up. Which makes me think more Big Ten fans would watch Big Ten football the first weekend in December in this format. Each fan base has a game to watch, probably 2 or 3 to see what the outcomes will be. Last December I made myself watch the MSU-WISC game at first, but couldn't stay engaged in it. I didn't care who won, and I probably was in good company across the Big Ten football fan base.

Section 1

August 14th, 2012 at 5:12 PM ^

...a week after we play Ohio State.

Think about that.  Then think about it some more, then get back to me.  Just please understand; I consider the Nationwide Insurance Conference Championship Game at Lucas Oil Field on the Fox Sports Sponsored By Cadillac to be no better than a necessary evil.  And probably not even that.

Blue in Seattle

August 14th, 2012 at 5:44 PM ^

It wasn't boring to watch the two teams with the best records play each other, just because they have played before.

I thought the Super Bowl where New England faced New York quite exciting, and more so because they had already met in the very important regular season.  the regular season is important because it determines who get's the easier playoff schedule.

As a fan I like to watch the games that put the strongest teams against each other.  Would I watch Michigan versus Ohio twice while giving up a Michigan vs Indiana, ummm, YES PLEASE!, and that with only one week separation between contests!

I don't really understand the hand wringing that Michigan gets the toughest schedule, and then there is a complaint that the non conference games are too easy.  Well which is it? Do you want to maximize exciting games, or decrease risk of losses?

What would really excite me is if the NCAA finally realized that they would have room for playoff games if they reduced the number of non-conference games allowed.  And we would really see some exciting schedules if the first two Non-Conference Games did NOT count toward the placement in the playoffs at the end of the season!  Then not only would Michigan have a chance of playing Alabama again after a loss in the first game of the season, it would be way more exciting at the end of the year watching the Big Ten Champion againse the SEC Champion, and all the hype about revenge, pressure on the first winner for "repeating" etc.  Yes way more exciting than watching both Umass and Air Force, no matter how many jets fly over Michigan Stadium.



August 14th, 2012 at 5:55 PM ^

I've been proposing something similar for one or two games (a "showcase") but I might flip to this idea because it is awesome and more fair.

To make it easier I suggest they just flip home/road games between the divisions each year so that the stadiums/cities/programs know far in advance they'll be hosting a game against one of three teams. All hotels etc. can be booked in advance. They would have to put the Bo Division host years the years that Michigan plays Neb-ND-OSU on the road, thus adding marquee game to the even year schedule. And tickets could be sold with season tickets so there would be little chance of not selling out, or at least they can sell the tickets on preseason hype and not just announcements at the end.

Please do this Big Ten!!!

Mr Miggle

August 14th, 2012 at 7:29 PM ^

why not just look at what other sports do to avoid rematches in the post-season? Now that I have my snarky response out of the way I'd like to point out some of the possible holes in your plan.

1) Whether this would be a 13th game or replace a non-conference game is not up for debate. You are eliminating the conference championship game as well as a non-conference game for each team.

2) Don't you think schools would much rather know how many home games they are going to have when drawing up their non-conference schedules and selling season tickets?

3) You are suggesting giving priority to intriguing matchups. Just who would make that determination? You can be assured that every school will want the extra home game. Hard to foresee any problems there.

4) How would you handle teams that are ineligible for the post-season?

5) With your 2011 pairings, a Penn State win leads to a 3-way tie. If it involved Wisconsin rather than us, it would be broken by sending the least recent team to go, MSU. How do you break a tie like that involving Nebraska?

6) After using a sample size of one, can you foresee the pairings being much less attractive some years?

7) Wouldn't a much simpler solution have been to simply make the championship game between MSU and PSU? You could say Wisconsin was ineligible since they had lost to the champion of the other division and take the highest finishing team that hadn't played them.



August 14th, 2012 at 8:00 PM ^

My thoughts (I am in favor of the idea, BTW, largely on the basis that it will increase the amount of football I get to watch without elongating the season.  i also think it will marginally improve the value of the regular season and the fairness of the title selection process):

1) Since every team in the conference would participate, it seems you could swap it for a non-conf. game if you wanted.  But I would prefer making it a 13th game because I am all for more football

2) Yes, but not a dealbreaker IMO

3) "Intruging matchups" could be determined by a selection committee or by Kate Upton.  Better yet, I am sure some kind of formula or rule could be written to pair the top two teams, then the next two, etc.

4) NCAA waiver?  Force the penalized team to treat it as a regular season game and give up an early season cupcake?  I think this is surmountable.

5) The proposed method at least ensures all of the teams that are serious contenders for the league title meet at least once on the field.  It's not perfect, but neither is a system with division champs meeting in a title game.

6) Yes, but unlikely.  With each team missing three B1G schools, chances are there will be at least a few compelling matchups every season between schools that would have missed each other.

7) I cannot refute this.  However, simpler is not better when the more complicated alternative allows more football games to be played in an equal amount of time.



August 14th, 2012 at 10:32 PM ^

So you are saying that we have to drop a nonconference game probably against a directional Michigan school in order to play the best possible team from our conference that we haven't faced yet while moving the Ohio State game out of Thanksgiving weekend and losing a rematch in Indianapolis while putting together a six-game bang to end the conference season every year, and you have a problem with this? The Ohio State game won't be the last conference game of the season, but with the Big Ten championship it isn't anyway. I think this is a brilliant way to add a ninth conference game, well making the conference season work exciting, and at least giving the mediocre teams a chance to preserve their bowl eligibility against terrible teams.

Mr Miggle

August 15th, 2012 at 12:27 AM ^

but it has many serious flaws.

First of all, let's acknowledge a couple of things. This would eliminate the championship game. It's unrealistic to think the game this would replace on the schedule would be the one you want it to be.

No school would know whether they would get four or five conference home games  They might well get four several years in a row. Do you really think Brandon is going to schedule a lot of home and homes in that scenario? That kind of uncertainty is going to lead to more conservative scheduling. In this regard, simply adding a ninth conference game would be a better option.

Pairings would often be difficult to make. I actually have a fair amount of experience in this area. Run some simulations and you will see that the results are often far from ideal. For example, make one small change in last year's schedule. Switch PSU and OSU as opponents for MSU and NW. That leads to matchups of MSU-Purdue and Nebraska-Illinois. The only interesting game would be UM-Wisconsin and MSU would be guaranteed the title, win or lose, assuming they had beaten PSU. If PSU beat MSU, both divisions would have ties at the top. MSU still plays a 4-4 Purdue, while we play either UW or PSU. The other will play Iowa or NW, while Nebraska again plays Illinois. Change the result of the Nebraska-NW game and now either MSU or Nebraska is playing 2-6 Illinois. I don't know which matchup is more intriguing, but that can't be a realistic basis for making the pairings. Any pairing system is going to lead to a lot of complaints, even if it's designed to be fair.

Rather than having a winner determined on the field in a decisive game, we'd go back to using tiebreaks of dubious merit to determine our champion. I think that's a serious step back. Frankly, I don't see the problem with a rematch. The game last year was pretty good. They won't all be, but that would also be true if they weren't rematches.

I really hate the idea of having an ineligible team in our de facto championship game. It's not inconceivable that it could be PSU this year. To me this system sounds like a complicated mess that's going to leave a lot of money on the table. Sometimes it will add an interesting game or two and sometimes it will deprive us of a compelling title game.





turd ferguson

August 15th, 2012 at 1:02 AM ^

Well said.  The pairings would be strange, the unpredictability would be frustrating to the universities, and you'd have the potential for annoyingly inconsequential conference championship games - all for very little benefit, in my view.

Hell, think about this as a Michigan fan. 

First, let's say we win the Legends division.  We play OSU every season, so we couldn't play them again in this intra-conference bowl.  (You couldn't really call this a BTCG anymore, since the top teams from the two divisions might not play.)  That leaves Illinois, Indiana, post-death Penn State, Wisconsin, and Purdue.  If we happened to play Wisconsin, we're rewarded with a "conference championship game type thing" against... the team with the best record of Illinois, Indiana, PSU, and Purdue that we happened not to have played already?  Ugh.

Now, let's say that we don't win the Legends division.  You want to follow the emotions of the OSU game with a pre-bowl bowl game against Purdue?  Again... ugh.

I'd much rather preserve one of those early season games and skip all of this.


August 16th, 2012 at 8:39 AM ^

Thanks for your thoughtful response.

For the who knows if they'll get a home game part, I was imagining we would address that with my earlier suggestion of having the divisions switch off who's hosting and be done with it. You'd know years in advance that on X date Michigan is hosting one of three teams.

That's a bigger issue than we give it credit for, by the way. This is why the conferences are willing to throw away home hosting for playoffs. NFL playoffs are a logistical nightmare, and the bigger college stadiums would make them even more so (it's easier for MLB/NBA/NHL since their venues are way smaller, as our their teams and entourage). Knowing where and what date a major event will be happening is more important than who will be attending, though they'd like to know that too. In this case it's one of three teams.

What I like about this so much is that it's a way to add a 9th conference game while avoiding the big pitfall of a 9th conference game: instead of Minnesota and Illinois both playing the Southwestern Institute for Mimes and finishing the season 6-6 (2-6) and bowl-eligible, they play each other and one will finish the season 5-7 (2-7). Matching teams up by conference record could, for example, pair Minnesota with 4-8 (1-7) Indiana, instead of possibly adding Ohio State to their list of hurdles. Weakening the schedule for the bottom half of the league emeliorates at least some of the biggest downside for the half of the league that doesn't want a 9th conference game because it will f-- with their bowl eligibility.

The NCAA ought to just make that a thing for its new playoff system: if you want your conference champion to be eligible they have to have played 9 conference games. That would keep things fair for everyone.

Personally I think a Big Ten Championship Game is crappy. The chances of having a 2002 Iowa play 2002 Ohio State are miniscule, so usually the game will end up being a rematch and/or a chance for a team that won the right to go to Pasadena with superior play on college fields having that upended by a 2- or 3-loss team they beat handily. On turf. In Indianapolis. Get to the end of the season and I guarantee there are several more interesting games we could manufacture. This is why I've been advocating we replace the conf championship game with a showcase game or games that can be reactive.

turd ferguson

August 15th, 2012 at 1:15 AM ^

There are loads of questionable assumptions here.  What makes you think that we'd drop a weak non-conference opponent if we're adding the "best possible team from our conference that we haven't faced yet"?  Would other programs do the same?  What makes you think that the mediocre teams are more likely to have an opportunity to "preserve their bowl eligibility against terrible teams" than lose their bowl eligibility to superior teams who happened not to have played them?

Plus, it's true that Michigan-OSU is no longer in the last week of the Big Ten season, but as it stands now, those schools would only play another Big Ten team in the BTCG or national championship.  Now you're talking about making them both play a potentially meaningless post-rivalry game against one of the three schools that they happened not to play?

If you want nine Big Ten games, I can get behind that, but just make it a nine-game Big Ten schedule.  This adds all kinds of unnecessary complexity, uncertainty, frustration, and weirdness... and for what?


August 14th, 2012 at 11:20 PM ^

I don't quite understand what everybody's problem with a Championship rematch is.  I want to see the best two teams play for the title.  That's it.  There's nothing else.  You win your division, you play for the title.  If it's a rematch, then so be it.  MSU-Wisconsin was an amazing game last year.  MSU-Wisconsin part 2 was even better.  I don't want to see MSU-PSU last year just because Wisconsin already played MSU and lost.  PSU was an inferior team, lost to Wisconsin as well, and most importantly, DIDN"T WIN THEIR DIVISION.

Now some people may throw Alabama-LSU in my face and argue that it's the same situation, but it's not.  MSU-Wiso is ok, because they each won their division, and thus earned the right to play for the championship.  They didn't earn the right based on arbitrary poles or voting.  They played each team in their div. and came out on top.  Alabama did not "Come out on top".  They made it to the title game because of voting.  They didn't get it done on the field against LSU the first time, and so didn't win their division, and didn't win their conference.  They shouldn't have been eligible.  Now, let's say LSU plays USC at the beginning of the year, then at the end, USC and LSU both win their conferences and end up #1 and #2.  Then I have NO problem with a rematch because they both won their conferences.  I'd still rather see a couple undefeateds go at it, but I can at least live with this situation.

In any case, the point I'm trying to make is this.  I like the set-up the Big Ten has come up with.  It ain't broke, so don't fix it.  It's as simple as it gets, and the teams settle things on the field, which is all you can ever ask for.  Don't try to complicate things when it isn't necessary.


August 15th, 2012 at 3:24 AM ^

Some year, something like this is going to happen:

Michigan State beats mediocre Iowa, Northwestern, and Nebraska teams, typical Indiana, some moribund Purdue team, the post-apocalyptic ruins of Penn State, and Michigan; MSU loses badly to an awful Minnesota team.  MSU does not play the very good Wisconsin and Ohio teams or the average Illinois team from the Leaders Division.

Michigan beats Iowa, Northwestern, Nebraska, Minnesota, Illinois, and late-vintage Wisconsin and Ohio State teams; Michigan loses a close game to Michigan State.  Michigan does not play the bad IU, Purdue, or Penn State teams.

In that scenario, Michigan State wins the Legends Division and goes to the conference title game; Michigan stays home, despite having no bad losses and one more quality win.  

When it happens, maybe you'll feel that is an ideal result because MSU would have defeated Michigan in the head-to-head matchup.  I won't.




Mr Miggle

August 15th, 2012 at 7:51 AM ^

You've made a good case that head-to-head isn't necessarily the greatest tiebreak. It could be changed to incorporate strengh of schedule. Which is worse, using tiebreak to determine the league champ or who goes to the championship game?


August 15th, 2012 at 4:30 PM ^

MSU has a better in-division record.  MSU goes to the title game.  No, I don't have a problem with that.  I don't care if UM Beats Wisconsin and OSU, and MSU doesn't even play them, instead beating up on empty shells like PSU, because for the sake of the B1G title, those games are meaningless.  The only games that truly matter for the sake of the Big Ten Championship are the in-division games.  Sure, OSU and Wisco wins would help us nationaly as far as our ranking is concerned, and our shot at a national title, but if we can't take care of business within the division, then it doesn't matter.  In your scenario, MSU and Michigan play the same teams in the division.  MSU gets the job done, UM doesn't.  MSU Gets to play for the title.  What's not fair about that?


August 15th, 2012 at 11:08 PM ^

Yes, I realize this.  They have the same division record after playing the same opponents.  Key point, however, is that MSU beat Michigan.  Hence, MSU goes to the Championship.  I have no problem with Head-Head matchup record being the tie-breaker, as long as every team plays every other team.  It's only a problem in scenarios like the B1G in 2010, when you have ties, but not every team played each other head to head.


August 16th, 2012 at 8:56 AM ^

Another suggestion:

If we're going to make this into a 9th conference game anyway, why not put it at the start of the season? Rather than create the matchups we want at the end of the year, we could create the matchups we desire this year. That avoids all of the formalization and makes it easy enough to switch off between divisions as to who hosts it. So my whole plan would be:

BiG TEN KICKOFF WEEK: Game 1 of the conference season is a matchup of teams off their rotational schedules that we most want to see, prioritized from the top down, and decided upon following the previous year's NCAA playoffs. Home venue would switch off between the divisions, with the Bo Division's host year the year Michigan plays OSU-Neb-ND on the road. So this year's schedule:

Wisconsin @ Michigan
Illinois @ Iowa
Ohio State @ Northwestern
Penn State @ MSU
Indiana @ Minnesota
Nebraska @ Purdue

The conference would be guaranteed a high-draw game to start the season on a weekend many teams are still going through their snackycakes.