Commissioner Jim Delany said at the Big Ten media days this week that the conference will keep an eight-game football schedule.
The decision comes on the heels of the suspension of the long-term scheduling agreement between the Big Ten and Pac-12. Delany said that the Pac-12′s nine-game conference schedule and “previous non-conference commitments” made the task of matching up 24 teams across two conferences “too difficult.”
When the plan was scrapped, there was speculation that the Big Ten would revisit the nine-game conference schedule. The nine-game schedule was actually voted on and agreed to by the Big Ten last summer.
But on Thursday, Delany said that there is a consensus to stay at eight league games and increase non-conference strength of schedule.
“We’re having good discussions on that, but I think we’re of a unanimous mind to stay at eight games,” Delany said. “We’re disappointed in the collaboration (dissolving). We had hoped the collaboration would have given us the opportunity to do serious scheduling. One thing that has changed since the collaboration is the four-team playoff. …We feel having more opportunities, instead of fewer, to demonstrate strength around the country is a real opportunity for us.”
One of the primary reasons for resisting a nine-game conference schedule is the imbalance it creates in home and away games. One year teams will play five home games and four away, then the next they will play four home and five away.
That makes it tough for some schools to fill out the non-conference portion of their schedule. Most schools want to have seven home games per year to maximize revenue. In years when they have five B1G road games, teams will need to find three non-conference opponents to play at home.
That can be a tall order, especially when you factor in strength of schedule. Mid-to-lower BCS schools and FCS schools are glad to play those games for huge paychecks, but they aren’t exactly the toughest contests.
Playing an eight-game conference schedule provides more flexibility to line up home-and-home or other series. Just this week Wisconsin announced a game and possible future contests against BYU. And last month, Michigan and Utah agreed to a home-and-home series.
The 8-game slate could also revive discussions between Georgia and Ohio State. The two schools were tentatively scheduled to play in 2020-21 until the Big Ten/Pac-12 agreement forced the Buckeyes to cancel.
Two Big Ten coaches that support the eight-game schedule are Wisconsin’s Bret Bielema and Northwestern’s Pat Fitzgerald.
“I want to play eight (league) games and I want to play one of our conference games in the first four weeks of the season,” Bielema said this week. “It’s similar to the SEC model,” he reiterated, “and anyone’s who has won six consecutive national championships obviously has figured out how to do things.”
“To have the four on the road and four at home just seems to make sense for us as coaches,” Fitzgerald said. “I think it would really impact our non-conference scheduling also if we were to go to nine games moving forward.”
There’s no shame in playing an eight-game conference schedule, but teams will need to make sure their non-conference slate is balanced enough to provide a good strength of schedule. They will need to counteract the extra conference game that the Big 12, Pac-12 and ACC will be playing.
When the four-team playoff begins after the 2014 regular season, strength of schedule will likely be one of the factors the committee will use to select the semifinal teams.