So the Big Ten spring meetings are this week where such things like where the conference title game should be played (it SHOULD rotate between a number of cities, but if it's staying in one place it should be Chicago. Period), what the division tie-breaker should be (BCS Standings, duh), and most interesting to me, just when the heck we're getting a nine game conference schedule. With the schedules set through 2014, it won't be for a few years, but if everybody can get their stuff together and stop whining about things that don't matter, we should have a nine game schedule in place for 2015.
Why a nine game conference sched? Because it'll help determine a truer conference champ. And it gives us one less crappy, meaningless game against a non-conference opponent no one cares about... wait I'm just being told that replacing a virtually guaranteed non-conference win for another conference foe actually hurts the Gophers chance at glory. Well in that case...you know what? I don't care. I still say 9 games helps overall, and as a fan I want it. And doesn't my opinion as a fan matter? Oh that's right, it doesn't. Still there's plenty of good reasons for going to nine Big Ten games per year instead of eight.
While the current system favors the Gophers because they don't have to play Ohio State for the next 19 years (ok it's only four but it might as well be 19), it's also ridiculous that two teams in the same conference will go that long without playing each other. A year or two off is about all that should be needed. Currently you play everyone in your division (5 games) and one against a protected cross-over "rival" from the other division (in our case it really is a rival in Wisconsin) every season, and then the other five teams in the opposite division rotate into the other three available conference games. The Big Ten goes on two year cycles (home and away), but with five teams for just three available games, it means two teams will get left off your schedule for four years.
By adding a ninth conference game the Big Ten would give each team a second protected cross-over game with the other division, which would then leave just four opponents to rotate in the other two spots. The Cedar Rapids Gazette has a good breakdown of how a nine game schedule could help balance the B1G's schedule. The second protected cross-division opponent would be more about balance than adding another rival, although in the scenario given by the Gazette there would definitely be some rivalries renewed like Iowa/Wisconsin and Penn State/Michigan State (just kidding both fan bases! We know neither really cares about the Governor's Bell tr- oh wait, that's the trophy between Minnesota and Penn State neither side cares about. What's the other big ugly trophy Penn State plays for? Oh yes, the Land Grant. Uh-gly).
Of course creating perfect parity with the second game is impossible because- at least right now- there's just more balance and depth in the West than the East. So while a team like Michigan would play Ohio State and, say Indiana, for their protected cross-overs, a team like Penn State would end up with Nebraska and Michigan State. If you're wondering, Minnesota's projected second cross-over game would be against Purdue, which I would be just fine with.
Anyway, the idea is still better than what we have now with 12 teams and just eight games, and the common arguments I've heard against a nine game schedule just don't hold water for me...
Every school NEEDS 7 home games every year
Fine. This shouldn't be that difficult, right? In the years a B1G school has five conference road games (and therefore just 4 conference home games. See? I can do math. Really, really, basic, simple math), then they can schedule all three non-cons at home to get to seven. Maybe this means you won't play quite as daunting a non-con schedule in those years, but again, I don't see this being a big deal.
It's unfair some teams will have five conference road games while others have four
It's too bad you can't see or hear me rolling my eyes right now, because that's how I react whenever I see this. Really? A competitive disadvantage? It's unfair? You know what else is unfair? The current system where, say, Michigan has to play Ohio State in a cross-over every year while Michigan State gets Indiana. Or cycles like the one Minnesota is in where they don't play Ohio State for four years while other teams do. Or just look at Nebraska's 2011 schedule: five games against The Toughest Division in America, and three more against the three best teams from the East- Ohio State, Wisconsin and Penn State. Or that every other year Minnesota will have to play Nebraska, Sconnie and Iowa all on the road? Fair? Nope, but we're rolling with it for an eight game schedule. Why? Because it's cyclical and these things will balance out over time. Adding a ninth conference game only helps it balance out quicker. Except the Minnesota scheduling quirk.
This will make the non-conference schedule even weaker
I am of the belief that the schools who have scheduled tougher in the non-con (like Ohio State) will continue to while teams that traditionally haven't (Wisconsin and Northwestern, for example) still won't. Maybe in the year a school has five conference road games it might give a weaker non-con schedule, but it's still a better trade-off to get nine conference games and three possible cupcakes than eight conference games and four cupcakes. Plus this allows the Big Ten to spread the conference schedule out further (perhaps starting as early as week 2), meaning we don't get stuck with completely meaningless week 4's like we had last year where everyone plays a terrible non-conference opponent the week before the B1G slate begins.
A nine game conference schedule will hurt the Big Ten's chances of getting 2 teams in the BCS every year
Sure the CHANCES might increase, but I still don't see the B1G having a hard time putting two teams in a BCS bowl every year. People point to the Pac 10 (now Pac 12) as an example of how they've been hurt by going to a nine game conference schedule because they so rarely put two teams in the BCS because of it (last year being an obvious exception). While this might have hurt the Pac 10 on occasion, this is NOT the real reason they don't get two teams to the BCS: the real reason is because they carry a reputation that their fanbases don't travel well outside of their region (the Rose and Fiesta Bowls). The only reason the Pac 10 got Oregon and Stanford in the BCS last year was because one bowl HAD to take Stanford because they finished in the top 4. Had they not, even with Andrew Luck, they still may have been left out for school with a fanbase that travels better.
Obviously, this is not a problem for the Big Ten. Sure there might be a season or two where a team is knocked out of the NATIONAL title chase because of an increased conference schedule or a conference title game, but it's rarely going to impact having two teams in the top 14 be eligible. The BCS bowls have shown over and over that if two Big Ten schools are eligible, then they're going, and that's not going to change.