The Big Ten and Pac-12 have been playing footsie together for decades (and making out in public once a year in Pasadena), but they're about to increase of the profile of their relationship significantly:
The Big Ten and Pacific-12 are extending their partnership well beyond the Rose Bowl, announcing Wednesday that they'll step up interconference scheduling, cross-promote on their respective television networks and even set up academic and cultural exchanges.
By 2017, each team's nonconference football schedule will include one game against a team from the other league. One could be featured annually as a preseason kickoff event, perhaps staged at the Rose Bowl. Others could be played in neighboring NFL stadiums, including the planned Farmers Field in downtown Los Angeles, the San Francisco 49ers' new facility or Chicago's Soldier Field.
Basketball games similarly could land in such NBA arenas as Los Angeles' Staples Center or Chicago's United Center, four teams sometimes gathering for doubleheaders.
Many sports, including men's and women's basketball, are expected to start bumping up interconference scheduling as soon as 2012-13. Football's schedules typically are built years in advance and would require a ramp-up to 2017.
Given the general poor quality of non-conference scheduling over the last few years, I think we can all agree that anything that should improve that situation is a Very Good Thing. But what's it mean for Iowa?
FOOTBALL: In a way, this agreement formalizes something Iowa had already been doing. Iowa's preferred football scheduling format for the last several years has been one guarantee game, one non-BCS foe, one BCS foe, and Iowa State. From 2000-2010, Iowa played a Pac-12 (or Pac-10, as it were) team four times: home and home with Arizona State in 2003 and 2004 and home and home with Arizona in 2009 and 2010. In years where they didn't play a Pac-12 team, they played a Big East team (Syracuse in 2006 and 2007, Pitt in 2008 and 2011; there are also scheduled dates with Pitt in 2014 and 2015); this might simply transform the opponent in that second BCS game into a Pac-12 team every year.
This agreement also increases the possibility of Iowa playing a team like USC or Oregon in Kinnick, or traveling to the Palouse to take on Cap'n Leach and his merry band of brigands*. In theory, those games could have happened without the arrangement, but in reality it was difficult to make them happen. This arrangement would seem to make it easier to create those games. (Of course, we could also draw Utah or Colorado or one of the Arizona schools again, if you want to go all Commander Buzzkill on this notion.) Is it likely? Probably not, but who knows. Football schedules are typically set years in advance, which makes it difficult to do matchup-based scheduling (like the Big Ten-ACC Challenge in basketball); we might just see a rotation instead. Or not; there are still a lot of details in this arrangement that need to be hammered down. For now, it's fun to just dream of the possibilities -- and be excited about the prospect of actually playing non-conference games worth a damn.
* Yes, it's probably unwise to get excited about potential match-ups based on current coaching staffs -- by 2017, Lane Kiffin could be the head coach of the Orlando Pirates (is the idea of him coaching a South African soccer team really that far-fetched?) -- but for Cap'n Leach, we'll happily make an exception.
Of course, there's also the potential for this arrangement to throw a spanner into Iowa's series with its most-frequent non-conference opponent -- Iowa State. If the Big Ten goes ahead with a nine-game conference schedule, it would be very difficult to reconcile the needs of this arrangement, a home-and-home with Iowa State, AND the athletic department's stated need to play seven home games. It could be done, but it could require some very, very tricky scheduling (and that's just for Iowa; lord knows how tricky it gets when you factor in all the other Big Ten teams, several of whom also have regular games against certain non-conference opponents). In the article linked above, Delany noted that the Big Ten would likely "rethink" its decision to move to a nine-game conference schedule; if the end result of that "rethink" is a move to scrap it, the Iowa State series is likely untouched and Iowa simply slides an annual game against a Pac-12 team into the 2nd BCS Opponent slot on their Non-Conference Scheduling Plan. But if they decide to keep the nine-game conference schedule, it could definitely be the end of the Iowa-Iowa State series as we know it. So, ultimately, Iowa might be forced to choose between more frequent games with the likes of Illinois, Wisconsin, Penn State, and Ohio State or annual games with Iowa State -- what would your choice be? Hit up the poll.
BASKETBALL: Can you name the last BCS school that Iowa played a home-and-home against in men's basketball (not counting the annual in-state series with Iowa State)? Would you believe it was Arizona State in 2005-2006 and 2006-2007? (Iowa split those games, for the record.) Iowa's non-conference schedules in men's basketball have been a sore spot for several years; outside of the in-state foes and the ACC team they bring in every other year for the Big Ten-ACC Challenge**, we rarely play non-conference opponents of interest, unless we happen to run into them in a tournament. Pac-12 basketball isn't what it used to be (a Big Ten-Pac 12 Challenge would be hilariously lopsided this year), but Pac-12 teams are still opponents with more caché than the Chicago States and Campbells of the world. Bring on non-conference opponents with a pulse!
** And since those matchups are based on the teams' records from the prior year, we've drawn a few dog opponents in recent years.
WRESTLING: This is the first sport where this arrangement doesn't seem like an immediate positive. Just as they do in other sports, the NCAA limits the number of events a team can compete in during the wrestling season, although I'm not positive what that number is for wrestling. Iowa has a number of annual opponents (or events) that they face in non-conference competition: Iowa State, Oklahoma State, UNI, and the Midlands Championships. It would be disastrous to lose either the annual Iowa State or Oklahoma State dual meets. On the other hand, a dual with the likes of Arizona State, Oregon State, Stanford, Cal Poly, or Boise State replacing the likes of the Iowa City Duals wouldn't be a terrible thing.
WOMEN'S BASKETBALL: The women's basketball team has done a better job of scheduling interesting non-conference opponents in recent years than the men; they just completed a home-and-home series with Kansas State and before that they played a home-and-home with Kansas. Chances are regular games with Pac-12 teams would simply replace those games on their schedule.
BASEBALL: Hey, a chance for B1G baseball teams to get their brains beat in by more talented teams from warmer climates! Uh... yay? Yeah, this probably isn't going to help the struggling baseball team's fortunes all that much.
OTHER OLYMPIC SPORTS: I confess, I have no idea how they handle scheduling and what impact this will have on them.
Finally, there's also the question of what this arrangement might have on recruiting. Playing one game every other year out west isn't exactly sweeping change... but it's something. At the very least, it should give Iowa more visibility in the region, which is never a bad thing.