Big Ten coaches and athletic directors met at Casa de Delany a top-secret moonbase Big Ten headquarters in Park Ridge, IL, on Monday afternoon and while the pre-meeting buzz centered around Urban Meyer allegedly planning to tell his fellow Big Ten coaches to get their shit together when it came to recruiting, that ended up being a bit of a red herring. No, the real news was a bit more structural in nature.
Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany told the Tribune the status quo of eight conference games "is not even on the table right now."
It will be nine or 10, with the decision to be made this spring.
Sayonara, 8-game conference schedule! Barring an abrupt change of heart on the point, 2013 will be the final year when the Big Ten plays just eight conference games. In addition to welcoming Rutgers and Maryland to Big Ten competition in 2014, we'll also be saying hello to the brave new world of a super-sized Big Ten schedule.
Still TBD is whether it's a 9-game or 10-game schedule. Coaches have long groused about the hypothetical 9-game schedule and the scheduling inequalities it creates by definition (some teams will necessarily have five home games, while others will have four home games). That issue would be solved by a 10-game conference schedule, but such a schedule might also be the death of interesting Big Ten non-conference games. If teams are hellbent on maintaining seven home games a season (and athletic directors typically are, because they like money) and if five of those games are guaranteed to be Big Ten games and you only have two remaining non-conference games to schedule and... well, you do the math.
Maybe the money from the additional conference games (a 9-game schedule with 14 teams adds an additional 15 B1G games beyond the current 48, while a 10-game schedule would add an additional 22 B1G games to the mix; as Teddy Greenstein notes, it's no coincidence that the league is doing this before negotiating its next TV deal) is enough to off-set the loss of a home game. Maybe the impending playoff will necessitate that teams play at least one decent non-conference opponent in order to boost their standing in the eyes of the selection committee. There are still a lot of details to sort out here.
Of course, the other negative to playing additional conference games? More guaranteed losses for Big Ten teams, which will likely make it harder to reach bowl eligibility. Then again, if there are fewer 6-6 teams in the bowls, is that really a bad thing? So why play more conference games? Well, other than the money -- and the fact that Big Ten teams could avoid paying so many of those ever-increasing fees to (supposed) body-bag opponents -- Jim Delany says it's because the conference is "getting larger and we want to bind the conference together." I think they also want to avoid things like the ridiculous gap between Iowa and Illinois games (five years and counting!), which is certainly a positive.
The new divisions were also discussed and... could it be? Could Jim Delany actually be listening to the people? Has Big Jim's heart really grown three sizes?
The new seven-team divisions will reflect geography, with some ADs pushing for "East" and "West" to replace the much-maligned "Legends" and "Leaders."
Central time zone schools Nebraska, Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois and Northwestern could be joined by Indiana, Purdue, Michigan or Michigan State. Delany said the conference would try to "figure out a way" to maintain rivalries between in-state schools.
Gasp! No more "Legends" and "Leaders"? Division names that a) aren't embarrassingly pretentious and b) logical enough that we might actually be able to remember which teams go in each division? A division alignment that restores Iowa's rivalry with Wisconsin? Glory be!
It's still going to be a little muddy if you have to stick one of Indiana, Purdue, Michigan, or Michigan State into the new division, but overall these divisions would be much easier to remember and much more sensible. They would also lead to a lot more games with the likes of Wisconsin and Illinois, which is exciting from an Iowa standpoint.
Finally, per Delany & Co., night games in November are very much on the table:
Also of significance: More night games are likely for November, and conference play will begin earlier. In 2012, no Big Ten games were played until Week 5.
"This is a new day," Northwestern athletic director Jim Phillips said. "You have to get out of your comfort zone."
November night games weren't expressly forbidden in the past, but they were difficult to get approved and, thus, an exceedingly rare sight. It seems like that might be changing now. I doubt we're likely to see a massive uptick in primetime games involving B1G teams -- they're still a logistical nightmare and weather concerns are a very real thing when you're talking about November nights in Big Ten country -- but seeing 1-2 primetime games per weekend? That seems very possible: one for ABC/ESPN (or FOX or NBC) and (maybe) one for BTN. The Big Ten might finally be able to play some of its biggest games of the season in the most-watched timeslot available.
Mind you, none of the prosposed changes being discussed are exactly revolutionary. The Big XII has been playing nine conference games (a full round-robin) since 2011 and the Pac-10/12 has been playing nine league games for even longer. (Newsflash to B1G coaches: somehow coaches in those leagues have survived despite having to play nine league games a season.) Other leagues have division names that make sense and accurately describe the teams within each division (sit down, ACC, we're not talking about you). And November primetime games have been a staple of other leagues for several years. The Big Ten isn't breaking new ground here, it's catching up with where other leagues were in 2003 (more or less). But you have to start somewhere, right?