A Pod Scheduling Alignment for the Big Ten

Submitted by oakapple on November 21st, 2012 at 10:21 AM

A 14-team Big Ten is a scheduling headache. Even with 12 teams, Michigan is not seeing Wisconsin for four years (unless they meet in the championship game).

Currently, the Big Ten has static divisions and one protected cross-over game per team. The schedule rotates every two years, and every team plays eight games in the conference. If this remained the case, many rivalries wouldn't be contested in the regular season for 12 years.

The time lag could be halved, to six years, by adding a ninth conference game. But that still means that a player or fan wouldn't face the whole conference at least once, during the course of a four-year career.

The time lag could also be reduced by rotating the schedule annually, instead of every two years. But that means if Purdue comes in and beats you, you don't get the chance for revenge until many years later.

Another option is to eliminate protected rivalries, thereby increasing the inventory of games that can rotate every year or two. I am able to come up with only ONE static and reasonably-balanced divisional alignment that preserves all of the games that I believe the conference would feel MUST be played annually:

1) Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio, Purdue, Indiana, Northwestern, Illinois

2) Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska, Penn State, Maryland, Rutgers

This preserves Michigan-Ohio, Wisconsin-Minnesota, and every intra-state rivalry. With nine conference games, a team could face 13 out of 14 Big Ten teams at least twice within a four-year period, assuming the schedule rotates every two years, as it does now. Of course, this alignment, like the current divisions it is not geographical.

[Addendum: I assume most people know this, but Wisconsin-Minnesota is the oldest annually-contested rivalry in the FBS. Along with Michigan-Ohio and the various intra-state rivalries, it is considered indispensable. The Big Ten would never organize in such a way that those two teams skipped a year.]

Finally, the conference could align in pods, as follows:

A) Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio

B) Penn State, Maryland, Rutgers

C) Nebraska, Iowa, Illinois, Northwestern

D) Wisconsin, Minnesota, Indiana, Purdue

One of the three-team pods would be divisionally aligned with one of the four-team pods, and they'd swap every two years. In any given year, you'd play your entire division, and either two or three of the teams in the opposite division (depending on whether there's 8 or 9 conference games).

These divisions wouldn't be static (they'd change every two years), but over a four-year period everyone would play everyone in the conference at least twice. My guess is the league won't do something this radical, but as an out-of-the-box idea it's worth considering.



November 21st, 2012 at 10:31 AM ^

The problem with division setup is that you force teams to play each other every that may not need to--e.g. Michigan and Northwestern. I like the pod system because it only forces you to keep the teams you must play every year. It reminds me of the pre-2011 setup where you had two protected rivals and everyone else rotated through.


November 21st, 2012 at 10:34 AM ^

It's a good idea (well as good as any with a 14 team conference) but one question - when do the 3-team pods play each other, and same with the 4 teams? How do those rotate? Otherwise a good idea.


November 21st, 2012 at 11:56 AM ^

But I'm not quite seeing how this works - if the 3s play the 3s and 4s with 4s as crossovers, that's an uneven number of conference games?

If I'm not missing something, I still think this works, but you'll need to have the crossovers rotate on and off too. I'm guessing that was your original plan? If we stay at 8 conference games, you still see everybody in four years.

Either way, you've got my vote with the pod-scheduling. Send it to Rittenberg, I say! The only problem is Dave Brandon probably thinks Michigan and Ohio should be in separate divisions every year. Idiot.


November 21st, 2012 at 1:59 PM ^

Let's say 3a and 4a are in a division together as are 3b and 4b. Each team has 6 divisional games. If you want to stay at 8 games, then each team plays 2 teams from the other pod of the same size. So, 3a plays two teams from 3b and 4a plays two teams from 4b.

Using his pods from above as an example


A) Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio

B) Penn State, Maryland, Rutgers

C) Nebraska, Iowa, Illinois, Northwestern

D) Wisconsin, Minnesota, Indiana, Purdue


Michigan plays Michigan State and Ohio every year

They play Nebraska, Iowa, Illinois, and Northwestern for two years, then play Wisconsin, Minnesota, Indiana, Purdue for two years. This repeats forever.

Michigan also plays Penn State and Maryland the first two years. Then, they play Rutgers and Penn State for two years. Finally, they play Maryland and Rutgers for two years. This continues forever. Alternatively, you could have Michigan play Penn State at home and @Maryland in year 1, Maryland at home and @Rutgers in year 2, and Rutgers at home and @PSU in year 3. 

In any case, this makes it so that you never go more than 2 years without seeing an opponent.


November 21st, 2012 at 11:01 AM ^

Every Big Ten team wants at least 7 home games every year. In addition, two Big Ten teams have standing home-and-home rivalries outside the conference that are probably not going away: Purdue with Notre Dame, Iowa with Iowa State.

If you have nine conference games, then Iowa will play five on the road the years they have Iowa State at home, and vice versa. The remaining two games need to be one-and-done body bag opponents, to get Iowa up to seven games at home every year.

Teams like Michigan and Ohio State that lack a standing non-conference rivalry would have the flexibility to schedule a high-profile non-conference opponent every year (i.e., the kind of opponent that would demand a return game).

If you go to ten conference games, then nobody could ever schedule a high-profile non-conference opponent again.

Kilgore Trout

November 21st, 2012 at 11:02 AM ^

I posted it somewhere else, but this is how I'd do 16. (Assuming UNC and UVA, but the other two could be whoever).

B1G East - Penn State, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina 
B1G South - Indiana, Purdue, Northwestern, Illinois
B1G North - Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Rutgers
B1G West - Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska

If you do this and change the divisions every year, then at minimum you play everyone in the conference every 3 years and you play your close rivals EVERY year. My set up would be that you play seven division games first and have a crossover at the end of the season which includes semi-finals (2nd place D1 at 1st place D2, 2nd place D2 at 1st place D1) and then have a championship game. Michigan / OSU would still be the last game before the cross over, we'd play every year and could meet in the championship, but would never play back to back. It's the only way...


- Competitive Balance. Everyone competing for the same thing (spot in the semis) plays the exact same schedule, so no screw jobs like we get with unbalanced schedules.

- More money. Have to assume you could bid out those semis for good money.

- Every kid who goes to a B1G school gets a chance to play every school in the conference during their four years. (this is why you change every year instead of every two)

Red is Blue

November 21st, 2012 at 11:32 AM ^

Poor Rutgers -- in the most powerful pod (at least traditionally) and no real geographic rivals.

Why not keep the divisions static, but rotate the schedule?

Play everyone in your pod, last game of the year is against the other pod in your division and rotate the other games through the pods (B1G north pod plays everyone in their pod, north and east form a division, B1G north pod plays B1G East pod last game of the year rotating home site between north and east.  Big north play west and south pod one game per year (so far a total of 6 games) last two games are B1G north plays another game against 2 of the 3 other pods.

Flip OSU and Penn State. 

The last game of the year becomes a "knock-down" if needed.  So if the B1G North leader going into the last week hasn't played the B1G East leader going into the last game and it makes a difference for who could win the division, you swap the matchup. 

Lets say it the North's turn to host and the predetermined line up was


Maryland @ PSU

Virginia @ MSU

North Carolina @ Rutgers


If M is north pod "winner" and Maryland is east pod winner and they haven't already played and it could determine which of those two go the the B1G CG, then you swap and schedule becomes:

Maryland @ M



1) would potentially mean OSU and M don't play every year,

2) the road teams might need to adjust their travel plans with little time



1) Less time between playing different conference foes.

2) Set divisions

3) potentially a division championship game

Red is Blue

November 21st, 2012 at 11:11 AM ^

OP presents an interesting idea, but what if two teams are added and the fit the criteria to be in the same pod? For example, if the two teams that are added are UVA/VT or UNC/Duke those would need to go in the PSU/Maryland/Rutgers pod.  Now you have a 5 team pod and a 3 team pod.

Also, what happens in the years when the 3 team pods combine to make a division, you'd have one division with 8 teams and one with 6 teams.  To get to 8 conference games, the teams in the 8 team division need to play 1 non-division game each (8 total), the teams in the 6 team division need to play 3 non-division games each (18 total).


November 21st, 2012 at 10:45 AM ^

Now that we're at 14 teams, at this point the thing to do is hope for an extension to 16 and the implementation of a similar pod system.  I drew up something for the ACC on my blog once that lined up 16 teams in a 4x4 grid, and you permanently played everyone in your same row and column and rotated the rest.  It requires a nine game schedule, preserves rivalries, and is a much better situation as far as the gap in between playing various conference teams than the traditional setup; in fact you play the rest of the conference more frequently in a podded 16-team league than in the current 12-team setup with eight games.


November 21st, 2012 at 11:52 AM ^

When there were rumors of the Pac-12 becoming the Pac-16 potentially, I think that is something along the lines of what was suggested for that theoretical set up. For example, you would play all the teams in your pod, and then two from the other three pods, making for a nine-game conference schedule. With 14 teams, using the OPs model, you have two pods with three teams, so if we play everyone in ours (Pod A), the distribution could be two from each of the remaining as well if we wanted to retain an eight-game in-conference schedule. The only question becomes this then - what about Pod B, in the OPs case, where you played 2 of the 3 teams? Do you then play the remaining team and then three Pod C and two from Pod D? It seems like with 14 teams, this incarnation of the pod idea - which is much better than the old WAC quadrant system - has some potential to be quirky regardless of alignment.


November 21st, 2012 at 10:57 AM ^

With 16 teams why don't we go to a10 game conference schedule? 5 conference home games and 2 cupcakes. Gives each team 7 home games annually. Why isn't this a thought? Michigan only had 6 home games this year...


November 21st, 2012 at 3:14 PM ^

There were a few seasons at least, prior to PSU joining the B1G, where we played a full conference schedule, 9 games with 2 non-conference games. The problem with that was the 4-5 / 5-4 home road split, but with 10 conference games and 2 non-conference games it works out. Very few schools can demand the 7th home game. You need to be able to fund the buy-out games. M, Ohio, and PSU with 100,000+ fans can do that. The rest of the B1G likely can't (except maybe Nebraska and Wisconsin, maybe.)

Big Blue Ball

November 21st, 2012 at 4:29 PM ^

I think the 10 conf games is the way to go with the 14 team conference.  That is still 7 home games for the bigbboys most years.  With this proposed pod schedule, i think it justifies price of my tickets.  And if non-conf becomes home&home with sec or pac12, is still acceptable.  After all, still need quality games to get the big money from ABC. 

Sons of Louis Elbel

November 21st, 2012 at 11:31 AM ^

The OP's suggested divisions may well be about the best we can hope for, though it'd be too bad to play for the Jug so much less frequently. I doubt it'll happen, but I think they ought to split MD and Rutgers. I wish they weren't here at all, but for recruiting purposes, we shouldn't cede these markets to our rivals. If, e.g., Nebraska gets regular games in NJ, we should get them in MD.


November 21st, 2012 at 11:34 AM ^

Maybe I'm confused here, but it seems like balance of divisions is going to be heavily skewed. Whichever division has M/MSU/OSU in it is going to be WAAAAAAAAAY stronger than the crater of PSU/Maryland/Rutgers.

I don't see how you can have two semi-equal pods (C and D, although C seems a bit strong since Min/Ind/Purdue are definitely worse than Iowa/Illinois/NW) and then two completely lopsided pods (M/MSU/OSU are all going to be better in any given year than PSU/Maryland/Rutgers). In fact, MOST years I would assume all 3 of Pod A would beat all 3 of Pod B.


November 21st, 2012 at 11:37 AM ^

The only real solution is to petition the NCAA to change the rule that to have a conference championship game, you need to be broken out into divisions.   With the ever expanding conferences, requiring them to be broken out into divisions just adds another layer of scheduling complexity and will ultimately result in the feeling of a loose affiliation for teams in the two divisions rather than a true conference.   If you can have all 14 or 16 teams, you don't have to worry about seeing some schools annual while you don't see other schools for 6 or 7 years, and 12 years between home contests.    You can still protect certain games (for arguments sake lets say Ohio and MSU) and then you have 6 or 7 games to play with everyone else in your conference.   Then you can schedule it similar to the pre-expansion era where certain teams drop off the schedule for two years and then rotate back on.   And then you just take the two teams with the best conference records to meet in the conference championship game.

Red is Blue

November 21st, 2012 at 4:41 PM ^

So, a 16 team conference with 8 game schedule and 2 protected games means 6 other games against 13 teams.  So on average you play non-protected teams almost every other year.  That works and there is even more frequent interactions with more conference games.

The only question in my mind about such a model is how to maintain relatively even strength of schedules.  The teams with the two best conference records ought to be more than simply two of the better teams that ended up playing the weakest schedules.


November 21st, 2012 at 11:42 AM ^

Unless the NCAA allows 13 game seasons and a bowl game


they are already at 12

gotta be smarter with your scheduling

have 3 non conference home games in years you have 4 conference home games

have 2 non conference home games in the years you have 5 conference home games

thus you can have 1 marque matchup at home and make it a home and home

and still play 2 cupcakes


that way you get your 7 every season

Kilgore Trout

November 21st, 2012 at 12:59 PM ^

This great. 14 had me confused, but your solution is beautiful in how it works out. Let me flush out a four year "rotation" with a few assumptions.


A Michigan MSU OSU  
B Penn State MD Rutgers  
C Neb Iowa Ill NW
D Wisc Minn Ind


Assumption - Everyone in a 3 team pod needs to have a permanent crossover. I chose...

OSU - PSU, seemed like a good natural rivalry.
UM - RU, lots of Michigan people on the east cost??
MSU - MD, you were left over. And MD people seem to be pissed about that NCAA basketball game.

On to the divisions and schedules...

Years 1 and 2.

Division AC = UM, MSU, OSU, Neb, Iowa, Illinois, Northwestern
Division BD = PSU, MD, RU, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Indiana, Purdue


AC Team CO 1 CO 2
Michigan PSU RU
Nebraska Wisconsin Minnesota
Iowa Wisconsin Minnesota
Illinois Indiana Purdue
Northwestern Indiana Purdue

Years 3 and 4

Division AD = UM, MSU, OSU, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Indiana, Purdue
Division BC = PSU, MD, RU, Nebraska, Iowa, Illinois, Northwestern


AD Team CO 1 CO 2
Michigan MD RU
Wisconsin Illinois Northwestern
Minnesota Illinois Northwestern
Indiana Nebraska Iowa
Purdue Nebraska Iowa

And repeat....

Part of the beauty of this is that it's so symmetrical. In any four year span, you play three teams 4 times and the other 10 twice, all in home and homes. So you can tell every kid coming to one of these schools that they will play every team in the Big Ten home and away at least once. That's pretty solid.

"4 Plays"

Team 4 Play Teams  
Michigan MSU OSU RU
Nebraska Iowa Illinois NW
Iowa Neb Illinois NW
Illinois NW Neb Iowa
Northwestern Neb Illinois Iowa
Wisconsin Minn Indiana Purdue
Minnesota Wisconsin Indiana Purdue
Indiana Wisconsin Minn Purdue
Purdue Wisconsin Minn Indiana 

Anyway, I think this is a great idea and by far the best solution to this odd marriage that I've seen.


November 21st, 2012 at 2:35 PM ^

The B1G is now  TV-Cable driven and "no longer a Midwestern conference" (per Jim Delany). You'll always play OSU, but now its all about maximizing the different combinations of UM-OSU-NEB-PSU games for the media markets.

For now, they'll just move Illinois or another Leaders team over, because pretty soon it'll be a 16 team conference. They're not going to stop at 14 and likely we'll end with say, Virginia and North Carolina.

Then we'll have the four power schools each heading up a division and playing 9 conference games:

3 in-division games

3 locked cross division games - 1 from each division

3 outside-division games

I'm not advocating this, but it best fits the TV-driven, Midwest/NE reality and future.

[Note posted something similar on another thread but more on-topic here]