With the profound shift that the B1G is making with the addition of the USC Trojans, Oregon Ducks, Washington Huskies, and UCLA Bruins, the B1G will be a robust 18 teams for the foreseeable future. With that dramatic shift, the B1G needs to make just as much of one for their scheduling after the absolute failure of the Legends & Leaders and then the painfully obvious misaligned attempt of the West and East Divisions. To appease the TV networks with meaningful games moving forward, some things are going to need to change and the B1G is the one that needs to lead the way.
There are really two options that the B1G could take: Two divisions of nine teams a piece or three pods of six teams a piece. I think both are worthy of consideration as they have positives and negatives but what would those look like? Well, if you take into consideration historical success, potential for future success, some regionality, and rivalries into account, let’s see what they may look like.
Step 1: Ranking the Programs 1-18
If we are going to be dividing up these programs, the first thing that is needed to be done is ranking them from 1 to 18 based on those criteria listed above minus the rivalries. Consulting a number college football fans along with those at Hammer and Rails, here is that ranking:
1: Ohio State
4: Penn State
11: Michigan State
There are some hard decisions here, especially the programs outside of USC that are joining from the west coast. Oregon has been a bit of a rollercoaster lately but appear to be back on solid ground under their current head coach while Washington appears ready to take a leap forward under Kalen Deboer (let’s see how they are without Michael Penix though). With the ranking of 1-18, we can now divide up the divisions as evenly as possible to give the B1G an even distribution. The question then becomes, does the B1G keep the west coast programs bundled together or split them up by their own area with USC and UCLA staying together while Washington and Oregon are kept together. If the B1G wants to truly make this about evenly distribution, they’d have no problems dividing them up but it is more about extending games for twelve hours on Saturdays and dominating the airwaves for 13 Saturdays a year.
Two Division of Nine Teams:
Using the division that we have from above, it becomes easy to choose two divisions of nine teams. We’ll need to shift some things around to get those Los Angeles and Pacific Northwest schools together along with some other rivalries, so trades of similar programs will occur. Doing so would possibly look like this:
Division 1: Pioneer
Division 2: Frontier
With two divisions, you would play eight conference games per season but the big shift would need to come in the B1G going to a 10 game conference schedule that would boost ratings and give the tv networks more of the big matchups that they need to drive revenue. Leaving two non-conference games allows some flexibility for schools to schedule big matchups against premier opponents from other conferences while also providing smaller conferences the chances to get money games in. Let’s be honest, the conference is going to do what is best in their own interest to help drive revenue as high as possible and look to maximize that next contract and there likely isn’t much that the coaches or ADs can do to stop them from going to more conference games.
Three Divisions of Six Teams:
This is where it gets fun and where I think the B1G needs to go to moving forward. With two divisions, you are still going to get many years where the two best teams may not be playing for a conference title and that has left quite the sour taste in fans mouths over the last decade. With three divisions, you simply take the two teams with the best overall conference record and have them play in Indy for the B1G Title. The concept would be to play your five division opponents plus having as many as two protected games to ensure rivalries are held constant. Even if the B1G went away from protected rivalry games, this would ensure that each team would play a potential rival every four seasons at least twice. If the conference wanted to protect rivalry games, they could protect as many as two out of division games. In this regard, Minnesota would keep their rivalries with Michigan and Iowa within their division along with out of division games against Wisconsin and Nebraska (although I’m unsure how deep the rivalry truly is with Nebraska). For Purdue, they would be able to maintain their rivalry with Indiana while also ensuring they play Illinois while Ohio State would simply play their five divisional games and maintain the games against Michigan and Illinois from other divisions.
Division 1: Pioneer
Division 2: Frontier
Division 3: Trailblazer
In all honesty, the conference going with the three division concept and simply saying ‘the two teams with the best conference record play in Indy’ is the best option. If that means you get Ohio State and Michigan in back to back weeks then so be it, but more than likely with this setup it would probably be a good rotation of teams making it to the conference title game.
It would also benefit the conference by going to a ten game conference game schedule that saw each team get five home and five away games each season. This would leave each program the ability to schedule two out of conference games and get to the magic number of seven home games each season. It would likely mean less marquee out of conference matchups like OSU vs. Notre Dame but I would rather see more B1G games during the season anyway. This also allows smaller regional programs from the MAC and FCS to still be able generate the revenue they need from ‘buy games’ to support their athletic departments.
This type of schedule would also likely ensure that B1G teams could cycle through the entire conference in four to five years. This is one of the things that fans have wanted to see to ensure that the best teams are constantly being placed in situations that challenge them and that teams within the conference are not getting placed with consistently easy schedules. Simply put, a ten game rotating schedule such as this would ensure parity more often times than not.
Another major component to this idea is that it maximizes exposure as the College Football Playoff expands to twelve teams in the near future. The B1G, using this model, could easily see three to four teams selected into the playoff most seasons and should see some seasons with as many as six given the expansion that will have five teams with CFP experience (Oregon, Washington, Michigan State, Ohio State, and Michigan) and another three who appear they would easily enter that conversation in USC, Wisconsin, and Penn State.
A conference that previously had just two legitimate players in the CFP for most seasons will now have as many as eight most seasons and that is in large part to the massive tv network deal the schools will be enjoying. The key is to maximize this next contract and going to three divisions and eleven conference games means the B1G will be the one calling the shots moving forward.