Yesterday the Big Ten officially announced its new divisions, its new division names (thankfully), and its new scheduling plan. While not perfect — three of the league’s 13 “trophy games” will be lost as annual tilts — Jim Delany’s plan could provide Mike Slive and his conference with one very good idea.
Beginning in 2016, the Big Ten will feature a pair of seven-team divisions under simple East and West banners, just as the SEC currently boasts. The league will begin playing a nine-game conference schedule as well. And for those SEC fans who’ve barked about an uneven number of home and road games being the signature feature of a nine-game slate, the Big Ten came up with a pretty straight-forward remedy. In even-numbered years, teams from the East Division will play five home games and four road games. In odd-numbered years, all the West Division teams will host five league games and travel to play four.
In other words, no team within a division will hold a home/road advantage over another team in its division. Ever.
We believe that a nine-game slate with a 6-1-2 format still is the safest bet for the SEC moving forward. (Short of that, the league should adopt an eight-game conference schedule without divisions and simply ask the NCAA for a waiver regarding its championship game in Atlanta.) Currently, no one knows who will be picking the teams for the new College Football Playoff or what criteria they will use to do so. If schedule strength is as big a component as expected, the question then becomes a matter of personal opinion. And with just about everyone outside of the SEC footprint completely and totally exhausted by the SEC’s dominance, it’s not hard to imagine Slive’s conference getting the short end of the stick if its teams don’t play each other “enough.” What “enough” is will depend on those individual voters, of course.
So why not just go ahead and make the move that will someday be required? Eventually, a nine-game conference schedule will come to pass. The league will make more money with better inventory on its soon-to-launch network. Playing another game inside the league will also help negate any possible charges from selection committee members that Big Ten, Pac-12, and Big XII teams play nine conference games while SEC teams play eight and four patsies. There’s also the added benefit of keeping more SEC rivalries alive.
Some claim that an added SEC game would lead league schools to stop scheduling quality non-conference foes. Well, if those programs want to be taken seriously, that won’t be the case. It appears — though we won’t know for sure for a couple more years — that most conferences are planning to have their teams play 10 quality foes per year (nine conference games, one good non-conference game).
But most SEC teams currently play only nine quality games per season (eight league games, one good non-conference foe, and three creampuffs). The league’s 2013 schedule shows SEC teams squaring off against Georgia State, Chattanooga, Louisiana-Lafayette, Samford, Arkansas State, Western Carolina, Florida Atlantic, Toledo, Georgia Southern, North Texas, Appalachian State, Miami (Ohio), Alabama State, Kent State, Furman, Alcorn State, Troy, Bowling Green, Murray State, Southeast Missouri State, Idaho, Coastal Carolina, Austin Peay, South Alabama, Sam Houston State and UMass.
If you are interested in paying money to see any of those teams play an SEC school then you should look up a famous quote often attributed to PT Barnum. Keyword: Sucker.
Nine is coming. Sooner or later. The new playoff and push toward strength of schedule should allay fears that SEC teams will drop good nonconference foes to make room for the added league game. And the Big Ten just easily swept aside the overblown argument that some teams would hold an advantage over their division foes when playing five home games in a year.