In Chicago on Monday, the Big Ten's football coaches and athletic directors discussed changes in football scheduling as the conference expands to 14 (and maybe more). Afterwards, Jim Delany emerged to announce that the number of conference games is almost certain to expand:
B1G's Delany to Tribune: Status quo of 8 conf games "not even on the table" now. It'll be either 9 or 10. Decision in spring.— Teddy Greenstein (@TeddyGreenstein) February 11, 2013
One thing Nebraska fans have learned in their short history with the Big Ten Conference is that whatever Jim Delany wants, Jim Delany gets. So it's almost a certainty that the Big Ten will be playing at least one more conference football game each season; it's not a question of if, but when and how many more.
And that's a bad thing. Nine conference football games each season is a bad idea. Ten is even worse.
But wait, why is eliminating non-conference games a bad thing? Many people hate these games, which are usually uncompetitive mismatches against MAC, Sun Belt, and division 1-AA opponents. Why not replace one of these games with a conference game? To listen to Jim Delany, it's a compelling argument:
"We like to play each other, and those are not hollow words. We are getting larger and want to bind the conference together."
Getting rid of the body bag games is a great idea. Every football fan likes that idea. But those are not the games that are going away if the Big Ten goes to nine or ten game seasons, as much as some people would like us to believe. These body bag games exist for a reason: money. Money that each athletic department needs. And money is driving all of the changes as of late in college football. But each game added to the conference schedule means another game on the road every other year. A nine game conference schedule splits up 5 and 4. One year, it's five games at home, and four on the road. The next, it's only four at home and five on the road.
In 2012, nine Big Ten schools played three of their four non-conference games at home. Michigan played two at home, one at Notre Dame, and a game against Alabama on a neutral field (Dallas' Cowboys Stadium, aka JerryWorld). Illinois played two games at home and two on the road. Ohio State played all four non-conference games at home. Only two Big Ten schools played six home games last season.
With nine conference games, schools can only play a non-conference road game every other year to keep the revenue from seven home games. With ten conference games, it's even worse: both non-conference games must be home games.
And if Big Ten teams cannot play road games out of conference, that limits the pool of potential opponents to schools that won't require a reciprocal game. In other words, the "body bag" mismatch games against schools from the MAC, Sun Belt, and division 1-AA are the ones that survive.
Does anybody really think that Big Ten teams will forgo the opportunity to play at home in front of a friendly crowd and rake in the ticket sales? Nebraska's Memorial Stadium will top 90,000 seats this fall, and that's fourth in the B1G in capacity. Nebraska nets $5 million for a home football game. That's money that's needed to fund not only football, but every other sport in the athletic department. Nobody is going to want to give up home games.
So it's road games that go away. With a nine-game schedule, the ability for Nebraska to schedule 2-for-1 deals with teams like Fresno State, Northern Illinois, Wyoming, and Southern Miss disappears. With a ten-game Big Ten schedule, the ability to schedule home-and-home series with teams like Tennessee, Miami, UCLA, and Oklahoma disappear. Teams like that won't come to Lincoln without an agreement for the Huskers to return the game. And Nebraska won't be able to return those games unless Nebraska is willing to only play six games at home in a season.
And suddenly, it now makes sense why Nebraska signed a four-game arrangement with Colorado last week. I don't believe Nebraska wants nine conference games a season, but would prefer nine to ten. Staking out non-conference road games for the next twelve years with traditional opponents makes it very difficult for the Big Ten to implement a ten game conference schedule.
Nebraska may have no choice but to concede the nine-game conference schedule. Nebraska has developed a history of home-and-home games against BCS opponents, and that survives with a nine-game Big Ten schedule. Nebraska's scheduling philosophy had evolved in recent years to have one BCS opponent, two mid-majors (like Southern Miss, Fresno State, Wyoming, etc.), and one opponent that doesn't require a return date. Those two "mid major" games will now be replaced by a conference game and a second "body bag" game.
Is that really such a good idea? Not in my book, because some of these mid-major teams are better than the lower level conference opponents. And playing out of conference is about the only way to establish the strength of each conference. I like good out-of-conference games; it proves the mettle of the school - and the conference - on the national stage. And going on the road, even to a mid-major, brings your program into regions of the country that don't typically see Nebraska football. Nebraska will play plenty of games in Big Ten territory. Let's see other opponents from other areas of the country...and fewer "body bag" games that are played purely for the home ticket sales.
Not all of the Big Ten's scheduling changes are bad. I like the idea of playing conference games earlier in September, even in week one. If we're going to have more body bag games each season, at least spread them out a little during the season. I have mixed thoughts on playing night games in November. I understand that the Big Ten misses out on valuable television exposure by not playing in prime time that month. I also know from experience how uncomfortable night games in November can be as a fan, who's also paying a lot more than the television networks are for these games. A compromise might be to allow one Big Ten game each week in November in primetime, but only if it's going to be on a major network. (No BTN prime-time games in November, thank you.)
So what do you think: Would you rather play another Big Ten conference opponent and an extra meaningless game in lieu of a couple of mid-major opponents? Or is there a way to make playing only six home games each season financially rewarding?