B1G Changes Ahead?

English: Big Ten Conference logo since 2010.

Changes on the horizon? (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The athletic directors from the Big Ten schools recently met in Chicago, discussing several key items that will likely shape the future of the conference.  Among the topics being discussed:

Increasing the number of conference games from eight to nine or ten.

From everything I have read and heard, the days of an eight game Big Ten conference schedule are done.  The question is will they do nine or ten games?  There are pros and cons for each, but I think the debate comes down to one big question:

Is the Big Ten more concerned with having a team qualify for the four team playoff or with having enough attractive matchups to get a bigger TV contract?

If they want the TV dollars, a ten game conference slate makes sense.  ABC/ESPN (or whomever buys the TV rights) will gladly trade an extra conference game (likely featuring at least one matchup of ranked teams and/or involving one of the marque name schools) over a Saturday featuring the “Big Ten vs. the MAC” showcase.

But if the concern is with qualifying a team for the playoff, they should stick with nine conference games.  As parity continues to spread across college football, winning nine conference games will be a huge challenge.  Winning ten would be damn near impossible.  So given the low perception of the league, why end up with a bunch of 7-3 teams that have no chance at the playoff when you could have one 8-1 or 7-2 team with a legitimate shot?

No more games against FCS schools.

If this goes through, the days of picking up an easy win (or an embarrassing loss) against the lower tier of college football would be over.  This proposal is all about raising the prestige of the league, and increasing the level of competition.  As a season ticket holder, I’d much rather watch a game against an FBS team – even one from the WAC or Sun Belt – over Northern No Name State from the FCS.

The cynic in me also notes that this proposal is also about making the league’s non-conference games more attractive to TV bidders, as well as protecting the integrity of the league by eliminating potentially embarrassing losses (i.e. Appalachian State, 2007).

Yet, I’m not in favor of this change.  Yes, a part of me loves to see a good old-fashioned 70-3 whoopin’, but I also understand the economics of the situation.  Athletic departments make their money from football.  Football programs typically make money off of home games, so most programs want to play six or seven home games every year.

The problem is it is pretty tough to find teams that want to come play at your stadium without paying them an arm and a leg.  In 2012, Nebraska paid $1 million for Arkansas State to come to Lincoln.  While Nebraska still made money on the game, they made more money the following week when they paid Idaho State of the FCS $600,000 to come to Lincoln.

With FCS teams off the scheduling table, the lower FBS teams (MAC, WAC, Sun Belt, C-USA, etc.) would be able to charge much more for games, or require home and home games or two-for-one trades, all of which takes home game revenue away from schools.  Long story short, if your school has fewer home games, they’ll need to either make up that revenue through higher ticket prices or cut the money that goes to other sports.

Night games in November will be allowed.

While not explicitly banned, the Big Ten has for some reason discouraged its teams from playing in night games after October 31.  As far as I can tell, the practice is about protecting fans from the chilly late-autumn nights.  That’s all well and good, but I can assume Jim Delaney of two things:  1) On most Big Ten campuses in November, there isn’t a big temperature differential between 11 am and 7 pm, and 2) Folks in Big Ten country are capable of dressing in layers to withstand four hours in 20 degree weather.

This change allows Big Ten schools to claim the marque primetime matchup (and the College GameDay appearance that usually comes with it) instead of being one of a dozen televised games at 11 or 2:30.  It also gives Johnny Five-Star plenty of time to make it to Happy Valley, East Lansing, or Lincoln for his official visit.  Bottom line:  greater exposure for the league is a good thing.  File this change under “Why didn’t they do this 10 years ago?”

Taking a unified stance against many of the recruiting rules changes going into effect this year.

The NCAA has greatly relaxed (or completely dropped) many of the rules regarding contact to prospective student-athletes.  Coaches can call or message kids (via text, Facebook, Twitter, smoke signal, pony express, or anything else) 24/7, and schools can hire an unlimited staff to assist in burying kids in messages and handwritten letters.

I respect the Big Ten leadership for being (rightfully) concerned about how these changes will impact high school students and their families.  However, I question if they will be able to do anything about it.  Regardless of how this turns out, I would strongly urge the Big Ten schools to get out in front of these changes, and try to use the new rules to their advantage – because I can guarantee that the SEC schools are already plotting their course of action.

Realigning the divisions to add new members Maryland and Rugters.

With Maryland and Rutgers set to join the Big Ten in 2014, they need to be added into the football divisional structure.  While a simple proposal to put one new school into each of the current divisions exists, it seems more likely that the divisions will be realigned.  The Big Ten floated some potential ideas a month or so ago, but it seems likely that changes will be based upon geography.

Assuming this happens (and I have not seen many valid reasons why it would not), it would be beneficial towards developing annual rivalries (Nebraska-Wisconsin, Penn State and one of the new east coast teams) that will strengthen the league.

Replacing the “Leaders” and “Legends” names with something less pretentious.

Is there anybody not named Jim Delaney who likes the Legends and Leaders names?  No?  I didn’t think so.  Those names have been rightfully mocked and ridiculed by media and fans, and it is time to switch to something that does not make the B1G sound like a bunch of pompous asses.  My hunch is that Delaney will let Leaders and Legends die a merciful death, but he’ll try to come up with something else like Great Lakes and Heartland.  Here’s hoping Jim utilizes the K.I.S.S. method and goes with East and West.


I forgotten your point about how night games tend to help recruiting. Michigan has clung to noon ET starts for forever, and maybe the population shift has caused a shift in their thinking. It’s also important to remember that in 2009, Nebraska played two night games and had balmy weather. In 2006, they played Texas at 11 AM on the third Saturday in October in a wintery mix (which Texas fans still whine about). Weather here is a crapshot, but from talking to people in the first aid station, overdressing for warm games is a bigger problem than underdressing for night games.

The FCS schools ban, I’ll believe when I see it, and when there are huge financial penalties for scheduling such schools. Teams still break contracts 11 months before a game, and schools have to scramble to replace them. Look at what the ACC went through when they added Notre Dame as a partial member and told their schools they had to schedule an extra game for this year. (Personal irk-they could have kept a 9 game schedule for this one year, and gone back to eight when ND joined in 2014.) I want the cupcakes off the schedule as much as anyone, but a lot of schools want 7 home games, games that have to come from somewhere.

Without question, the most ridiculous thing that was said when the no-scheduling-the-FCS story broke was when Mike Wilbon suggested on PTI that major conference schools should play road games at FCS schools. Florida State playing at Savannah State, in front of 15,000? Someone please just forbid Wilbon from ever commenting on college football ever again. (Sorry, had to get that one off my chest.)

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