Readjusting 2011 Big Ten football schedule won't create many problems

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Nebraska's Big Ten arrival in 2011 means the Big Ten will have to shelve the eight-year scheduling pattern it adopted in 2007.

Iowa skipped out on playing Michigan and Ohio State in 2007 and 2008. The Hawkeyes are in their second year of not playing Illinois and Purdue before those two are due to rotate back on the Hawkeyes' schedule.

In readjusting the Big Ten's future football schedule, it's obvious the key requirement is determining divisions. One lower-level -- but important -- consideration will be non-conference games contracted by league schools. Some of these have expensive buyouts that could cost a school an easy six figures plus put it in scramble mode to fill the schedule, which also can be costly.

Luckily for Big Ten schools, there are only a few minor speed bumps to iron out when revamping the 2011 conference schedule, should it remain eight games. Only three schools have scheduled non-conference games over the final nine weeks of the regular season. Purdue plays annual rival Notre Dame on Oct. 1, Michigan State has scheduled a non-conference game Oct. 8 against Central Michigan, while Northwestern is slated to host Rice on Nov. 26. The only other conference workaround involves Wisconsin and Illinois, which moved their Big Ten game from Nov. 26 to Dec. 3, the likely date for a Big Ten championship game.

It seems that all scenarios except the Northwestern-Rice game provide an easy workaround for the Big Ten. Rice doesn't even list the game date on its Website so on the surface it appears that game can be shifted around as well.

As for developing divisions, that's a different discussion altogether. I've written that five western schools -- Nebraska, Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin and either Northwestern or Illinois -- should join Penn State in one division with Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Purdue, Indiana and either Northwestern or Illinois in the other. That could affect scheduling, as could potential annual cross-over opponents in opposite divisions.

Should the league adopt one cross-over divisional opponent and turn the regular season's final weekend into a rivalry weekend, here are the match-ups that make sense:

  • Michigan-Ohio State
  • Wisconsin-Minnesota
  • Purdue-Indiana
  • Iowa-Nebraska
  • Northwestern-Illinois (cross-over opponents)
  • Michigan State-Penn State (cross-over opponents)

In 2008, I wrote about how the Big Ten scheduling pattern was adopted in the mid-1990s. When Penn State joined the league, Iowa-Wisconsin fell off the schedule for two years, sending the league to scramble and develop two rivalry opponents for each school.

Here's an excerpt from that story:

Mark Rudner, a Big Ten associate commissioner who handles football and basketball scheduling, said the league never defined traditional rivalries before Penn State. But, he said, the league understood which rivalries “made sense.” For instance, Iowa didn’t play Indiana in 1985-86 and 1989-90, or Illinois in 1987-88, but it had played Minnesota since 1930.

Each school tabbed two others as permanent. A few rivalries were automatic: Michigan-Ohio State, Indiana-Purdue, Wisconsin-Minnesota. Some grew in intensity, such as Illinois-Northwestern. Others, like Penn State-Michigan State, began with friendly college presidents and escalated into season-ending trophy games.

“If you take the the 11 schools and multiply it by two for rivalry games, 21 of the 22 are pretty good rivalries now,” Rudner said. “The one that you could argue isn’t really a rivalry is Northwestern-Purdue.” 

Since the mid-1990s, when permanent opponents took effect, no school has asked to change.

“It all sort of fell into place,” Rudner said. “During that time there’s been no request from athletic directors to reexamine the rivalries. It’s been constant since it was first adopted.”

Here is some of the background from that story:

Games considered "rivalry games" by the Big Ten Conference and played annually:

  • Iowa vs. Minnesota
  • Iowa vs. Wisconsin
  • Minnesota vs. Wisconsin
  • Illinois vs. Northwestern
  • Illinois vs. Indiana
  • Indiana vs. Purdue
  • Purdue vs. Northwestern
  • Ohio State vs. Michigan
  • Ohio State vs. Penn State
  • Michigan vs. Michigan State
  • Michigan State vs. Penn State

How Big Ten does it

The Big Ten's annual football scheduling begins with permanent opponents. Iowa's permanent opponents are Minnesota and Wisconsin.

The next step is determining the league's eight-season rotation. Outside of its permanent opponents, Iowa will play each Big Ten school six times over eight years. Opponents shifting off Iowa's schedule during the current rotation (circa 2008) are: 

  • 2007-08 -- Michigan, Ohio State
  • 2009-2010 -- Purdue, Illinois
  • 2011-2012 -- Michigan State, Northwestern
  • 2013-2014 -- Penn State, Indiana

Once a Big Ten school's permanent opponents and league rotation is set:

  • Computers determine the annual league schedule
  • The final week is saved for at least one round of rivalries
  • Each school must get two home games in the first four weeks and final four weeks
  • Athletics directors approve the schedule

How others do it (based in 2008)

  • ACC

    The 12 teams split into Atlantic and Coastal divisions and play eight conference games. All division schools play one another, totaling five games. Each school has a rivalry opponent in the opposite division to play annually.

  • Big East

    Every school in the eight-team league plays each other annually for seven conference games.

  • Big 12

    The 12-team conference has North and South divisions and plays eight conference games. All division schools play one another, totaling five games. The other three games against non-division opponents rotate after two seasons.

  • Pac-10

    The 10-team league plays every conference school annually for a nine-game league slate.

  • SEC

    The 12-team conference has East and West divisions and plays eight conference games. All division schools play one another, totaling five games. Each school has a "rivalry" opponent in the opposite division to play each year. The other two SEC games stagger annually (one school on, one school off) with non-division, non-rivalry opponents meeting four times every 10 years.

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