In a move that shocked only Pat Reusse, the Big Ten formally announced the approval of both a straight geographic alignment for the divisions (beginning in 2014) and a 9 game conference schedule (beginning in 2016). This should come as no surprise to all of you given the fact that it was leaked last week.
A quick recap of the divisional lineup:
WEST: Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, Northwestern, Purdue, Wisconsin
EAST: Indiana, Maryland, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Penn State, Rutgers
As expected, Indiana/Purdue is the only protected crossover game. Most importantly? Legends and Leaders are officially dead. THERE SHALL BE MUCH REJOICING!
While most of the announcement was pretty standard, there are a few interesting nuggets to be found.
- No discussions about using divisions in other sports, though the new 14 team basketball scheduling is the next thing on the conference's agenda.
- The potential for parity based scheduling for B1G games. Let's go to the quotes:
"In the first 18 years, you're going to see a lot of competition between teams at the top of either division," Delany said. "We call that a bit of parity-based scheduling, so you'll see Wisconsin, Nebraska and Iowa playing a lot of competition against Penn State, Ohio State and Michigan. But it will rotate. Early on, we feel this gives the fans what they want."
So, that definitely sounds like a plan to have the top teams play each other more often, but as always the devil will be in the details.
- WWL Blog also mentioned a plan to get rid of FCS teams and to have each B1G team schedule at least one "major" FBS opponent in the non-con each season.
The league's athletic directors and presidents also approved a scheduling model that includes at least one team from a major FBS conference per year and no FCS teams. Delany hopes the model will be in place league-wide by 2016.
Delaney expanded upon this in later Q&A's:
We're shooting for 2016, but we have some contractual issues. People are going to try to make it work. The conference is going to try to help as much as we can and coordinate and communicate to other conferences who have a desire to upgrade schedules. You're only talking about three or four weeks, and then you're pretty much going to conference play. Everybody's looking for improved schedules. I think they will be. And the committee we finally establish will have guidelines in that direction. We're not saying everybody has to play the same schedule, but if you're a Top 10-type program, we want you to be scheduling a Top 10-type program. If you're in the middle, we understand that.
For the most part, [the FCS games] were wins, and in a lot of cases, they weren't good matchups. They're good football teams, but it's hard to compete when you're 25 scholarships less. We think it's a balanced package. We think it's progressive with what's happening in the future. All in all, we feel pretty good about it.
So...I have no idea what this means in practice. Nothing about this seems set in stone. Right now it just sounds like a series of scheduling principles rather than rules the whole league WILL follow or else.
- Per Corn Nation (among other sources), the breakdown of the 9 game schedule will give East division schools five conference home games in even numbered years, while West division schools get five conference home games in odd numbered years.
What does this mean for Minnesota? In 2016, it looks like we'll need to drop Miami (OH) from the schedule in order to guarantee 7 home games. Obviously they could also look at getting Miami to come to TCF and drop Indiana State or some other creative solution. The 2017 schedules (and beyond) are open enough where they should ideally be able to accommodate the current agreements, most notably the home/home with Oregon State.
- What changes will be coming for the B1G schedules in 2014 and 2015 now that the divisions will shift? As Joe C points out in the STrib:
• For 2014, the Gophers are currently scheduled to play four teams from the East — Michigan, Michigan State, Penn State and Indiana. Two of those need to be replaced with Illinois and Purdue.
•For 2015, the Gophers were set to play Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State. One of those games will be scrapped to add Illinois, which went 0-8 in Big Ten play last season.
Further guesses as to how things will look are completely hypothetical, as it isn't possible to know at this time if the conference will simply mix and match schedules or revamp them all from the ground up. But assuming the current slate is kept minus some swaps, here's what I'd guess will happen in both seasons:
- 2014: @PSU definitely goes away. So does either Indiana or Michigan State @ home. In the end, that means that the projected difficulty doesn't change too much. Having Michigan leave the schedule would help more. Still a daunting road slate with both major trophy games and Nebby being on the road.
- 2015: An already daunting schedule gets easier (unless Illinois makes this the 1 season in 10 where they are top notch). Best outcome for the Gophers would be replacing Ohio State @ home or @ Michigan with Illinois.
Given how the road/home matchups look for the U in both seasons the true best outcome would be a completely revamped schedule. But we can't assume that happens.
In summary? No major surprises but definitely some things that bear watching.