Conference expansion/postseason playoff effects on scheduling.

Submitted by turtleboy on November 21st, 2012 at 5:01 PM

Currently the B1G and SEC are in a bit of a scheduling crisis as they transition from 10 team conferences to 16 team superconferences. One problem with this is many annual, traditional conference opponents play in a seperate division now, and many rivals go several years without facing each other, even though they belong to the same conference. Another problem is the scheduling of "gimmie games" that occasionally provide miraculous upsets, but are usually guaranteed to be uninspiring blowouts in the hosts favor. As Conferences expand from 8, to 10, to 12, 14, and even 16 teams, and the implimentation of a postseason playoff system is fast approaching, we could end up having no choice but to address these two problems.

Hypothetically: If the B1G expanded to 16 teams, and Michigan continued to play 4 out-of-conference games each year, plus it's 1 protected game against the Buckeyes, then we would never play another cross divisional opponent outside of a Conference Championship game again. We'd play 7 games in our Division, The Game, and 4 games against Western, Eastern, UConn, and Utah, and that makes 12. 

It's possible to add another regular season game, maybe 2, to rotate in 7 of the B1G teams we'd otherwise never face on a semiannual basis, but it's highly impractical. Schools like Michigan, with postseason play in mind, look to play a Conference Championship game, and 2, or maybe 3 postseason games every year, if/when they expand it. This already already puts us at a 14-15 game season, adding 1 or 2 more and potentailly playing 17 games for the sake of keeping 4 realtively meaningless ones is just silly, and many B1G matchups would still be rare.

Eliminating out-of-conference play in favor of cross-Divisional play would be an easy solution. Even if we played 1 marquee O.O.C. matchup each year, plus our 1 protected game, we'd be able to rotate 3 of our 7 remaining B1G opponents each season. That'd mean even if we don't play in the B1G Championship Game we'd be guaranteed to face all our Conference members every 3 years, with the possibility of that happening every 2 years, sometimes replaying Cross Divisional opponents in the B1G Championship.

Another reason for eliminating creampuff scheduling in favor of cross-divisional scheduling is that the new playoff system takes strength of schedule into account when picking at-large teams to participate. Playing the likes of Wisconsin, and Penn State is much more prestigious, and would look much better on a postseason resume, than playing UNLV, and BYU instead, not to mention the revenue playing a B1G team generates compared to paying MAC schools a million dollars to come lose to us.

Say in a few seasons LSU has 2 quality losses, but the SEC West in general is having a down year, if they played 4 FCS schools, and only played Missouri and Kentucky, or Vanderbilt, and Tennessee from the SEC East, then their S.O.S. might prevent them from getting one of the few at-large births into the postseason in favor of a, say, 1 loss Georgia, who they could handily beat, but didn't play. Same goes for ND. If they lose to Stanford and USC in a year where they only play the 5 weak ACC teams, play Purdue and a few Big East teams over Michigan and Staee, and schedule Service Academies over the likes of  Oklahoma (plus don't participate in any Conference Championship) then any 1 loss team, or 2 loss team with quality wins, will get taken over them for an at-large birth, and they'll be out of the postseason.

It would be in Michigans best interest to play as many of our cross-divisional opponents as possible, not only to enhace our S.O.S. by not playing non AQ teams, but to maintain our ties with all the B1G schools, enhance our S.O.S. over other schools with similar records, and to prevent an at-large spot from going to a cross divisional opponent we didn't play that year. We're already choosing to play Central, Akron, and ND over Penn State, Purdue, and Wisonsin next year, we should at the very least trade 1 of our OOC games for more B1G play, now. Very soon we could be choosing between them and any Leaders Division opponents at all.




November 21st, 2012 at 5:15 PM ^

I can't see them going to a 10-game schedule as long as the limit is 12 games.  Several Big Ten teams have more-or-less permanent non-conference games (Purdue v ND or Iowa v ISU, for example), and I don't see them agreeing to having only one open slot on their schedule per year. 

The Big Ten went to 9 conference games for 2 years in the 1980s, back when the limit was 11 games, and the athletic directors were unanimously in support of going back to 8.  I don't see them going above 9 under any circumstances, even at the cost of losing out on more interesting conference games.  10 or 11 conference games is a fan's fantasy, but an AD's nightmare.

Voltron Blue

November 21st, 2012 at 5:24 PM ^ if, in the era of 4 16-team superconferences, winning the conference results in guaranteed admission into a 4-team playoff.  THEN I could see forces align to get to the "fairest" conference champion possible, which means playing as many teams as possible.  But otherwise the higher likelihood of losses plus the lost home game or two relative to scheduling an additional 1-2 "guarantee games" would be too much to overcome.

Voltron Blue

November 21st, 2012 at 5:46 PM ^

Imagine a world where the Legends division plays everyone in its own division, plus Michigan plays Ohio State, Nebraska plays a decimated Penn State, and Michigan State plays Indiana from the Leaders, with no other crossovers.  Due to the protected crossover, Michigan would have the hardest schedule every year that Ohio State is better than those teams (i.e. every year).  That is an inherent disadvantage - and a fairly major one.  If Nebraska and Michigan State are also playing Ohio State, then it evens out.

The other way around it is to have the division winner determined only by intra-division games, but then The Game literally doesn't count.  And I doubt that's the outcome.


November 21st, 2012 at 6:04 PM ^

Only playing one cross divisional game does bring up the point of fairness in our scheduling, but that's always been a year to year thing. Even when Michigan would schedule Harvard, Princeton, and Army writers would ask if we were playing for a big payday over an undefeated season. To me I'd rather play prestigious teams in the playoff era because it won't matter if your undefeated (and lets face it, undefeated happens one every 10 years or so to a major program so we might as well factor in the 1 or 2 loss years,) only if you're one of the 4(+) quality teams with quality wins. Beating Hawaii, Colorado, and Ball State in 2016 does nothing to convince people we belong in that top group.

That's all a sidenote to me, though. I just don't like that we're not playing B1G teams, now. We always, or at least regularly played all these teams, and now we're choosing to play not play B1G teams and continue to schedule Oregon State, and Appalachia State. I don't get that, excluding rivals in our own conference for 3 or more years for the priviledge of playing teams I don't care about at all. Why do that? Why not exclude playing teams none of us care about for the sake of playing our traditional rivals instead?


November 21st, 2012 at 11:28 PM ^

With just one crossover game, all Michigan would have to do is beat everyone in their division and they win. The cross division game would be irrelevant. By adding more cross division games, you make the randomness of the schedule more significant, not less, by increasing the number of opponents that teams don't have in common.

With 8-team divisions and an 8-game schedule, teams in the same division know that 87.5 percent of their games will be against common opponents.  With 8-team divisions and an 11-game conference schedule, only 64 percent of the games are guaranteed to be against common opponents.  The more cross-division games, the more random the division championship gets--the more it is based on strength of schedule rather than actual ability.

Voltron Blue

November 21st, 2012 at 11:51 PM ^

Hadn't thought of it that way. It reduces the margin of error for Michigan but any year they go undefeated in the division, then you're right, they win regardless of crossover game outcome. But if they drop one to a non-contender, then it flips back to being unfair.


November 21st, 2012 at 5:41 PM ^

We can complain about the cupcakes all day long... but I have YET to see anything that says a SOS ranking is better than a win-loss record.

We can't play 9-10 conference games and expect to be in the national title picture...especially if we play Ohio ever year and MSU gets Rutgers/Maryland

Not until the overall landscape is evened out, and teams like LSU and Bama stop playing their cupcakes.. or conference champions are guaranteed a shot in the playoff.

Lets say Alabama was our only loss... Had we not played Bama, yet instead say NTM, then we are in the title hunt... but because we aren't in the ESSSS EEE CEEE.. that Bama game ended our MNC hopes.

Is the goal here to play games fans want to see, win just a B1G championship or to be in the hunt for a national title?

Don't get me wrong.  I love a B1G title, but who doesn't DESIRE a NC?  I'm sorry, but right now, and even when we get into this 4-team playoff.. CUPCAKES are the only path to a national title.


November 21st, 2012 at 5:45 PM ^

If any conference were at sixteen teams, a nine-game conference schedule would probably be ideal for ease of scheduling if you went to the so-called "pod" system or some version of it, at least theoretically. You could play every team in your pod and two  from the remaining three pods each year. Generic example (teams with strikethrough would not be played in a hypothetical year):

Pod A Pod B Pod C  Pod D Year A
A2 B2 C2 D2  
A3 B3 C3 D3  
A4 B4 C4 D4  
Pod A Pod B Pod C  Pod D Year B
A2 B2 C2 D2  
A3 B3 C3 D3  
A4 B4 C4 D4  



November 21st, 2012 at 5:49 PM ^

I think the Pac is leading the way by going to nine game conference schedules and B1G will follow. I agree that it may look better based on SOS, but it is really good for the B1GN because they get another game.

I don't think the B1G or any conference has gained much by playing cupcakes. It used to be a low-risk thing to schedule MAC or FCS schools but Minnesota and Indiana have been doing that for years and their programs haven't improved. I know there is a lot more to cfb, but why not set the sights a little higher? You give a team a lot of money because you know it will sell out, and you may get a low-quality win. That's it. If you lose or the game is close, you take a hit in the rankings with a game that lowered your SOS.

Personally, I liked the matchups in the 80s an 90s with OOC games of a Pac school, ND, and a team like Colorado, Miami, or FSU. ND obviously won't be happening but I will take games against Utah and BYU over UMass and Toledo.


November 21st, 2012 at 6:16 PM ^

Exactly. We used to have the toughest OOC schedule. If you look at seasons past we had an even tougher non-con schedule under Bo, and Gary than anybody now. We'd regularly schedule the #1 team in the country. FSU, or Miami, or ND when they were at their peak, sometimes 2 or 3 ranked teams a year, with an rare occasional small conference school mixed in. First year we started scheduling even consecutive snowflake schools was '98 with Eastern. Now it's 3 MAC schools and ND every year, and not even ND anymore coming up.


November 22nd, 2012 at 1:55 AM ^

I love the idea. I could live with less home games every year if it meant rotating among more cross over Big Ten teams. Schools have been arguing that they need the home revenue but it looks like money is no longer a problem with these new teams joining the conference. That argument is no longer valid.