Big Ten 9-game slate still a work in progress, unlikely until 2017

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CHICAGO — Big Ten coaches and athletics directors have all the necessary information about a potential nine-game football schedule. It's now up to the league to make them like it.

"We’ve got to be able to put that together in a way that satisfies all 12 athletic directors-  if they can get seven home games," Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany said Tuesday. "I think in principle they are open to it. I think we can work with it, but we’re the ones that have to come up with it and give it to them in a timely way and then have them bless it."

Both coaches and officials heard presentations for and against a potential nine-game football schedule, up from the current model of eight conference games. The earliest the plan would be adopted is for the 2017 season because some schools have four non-conference games scheduled in future seasons, Delany admitted.

 The Big Ten's television contract with ABC/ESPN expires after the 2016 season, so a nine-game schedule adopted for 2017 would coincide with a new TV deal.

Iowa Athletics Director Gary Barta is optimistic that the Big Ten will adopt the  nine-game slate.

"The assumption is it will happen at some point," Barta said. "I think when you throw in the fact that we have a championship for the first time we're trying to figure out how that factors in. Still talking about it.

"The point that I've felt that our conference has been at is it's likely to happen. I feel like that's still where it is."

Among the lingering questions include overall revenue and unbalanced scheduling.

"We’d still want to have seven (home) games," Wisconsin Athletics Director Barry Alvarez said. "That’s the tricky part of scheduling. That’s part of our budget to have seven home games.

"One of the cons would be certain schools are playing five conference games on the road. You’re probably going to lose one team, to a bowl, possibly. We’ve had two teams in the BCS games, let’s say in a 10-year span, does that affect you? Those are things you can’t answer but those are question marks."

If the league adds a ninth game, it would force six schools to play five Big Ten road games each year.

"I don't know if I would call it a stumbling block, but it adds to the discussion," Barta said.

Alvarez said the positives of a nine-game schedule include playing non-divisional, non-protected opponents six times over a 10-year span. Right now the projection is four games over 10 years for games such as Iowa-Wisconsin or Iowa-Ohio State.

Revenue distribution or league-wide sharing has not become a sticking point, Barta said. Big Ten schools give 35 percent of home-game revenue from league games with a $1 million cap and a $300,000 floor.

"I think to the credit of our conference it has not been a bigger stadium versus smaller stadium discussion," Barta said. "It's been what is best for the Big Ten Conference. Certainly there's pros and cons in the revenue-share question, but I think at the end of the day what's going to make the Big Ten Conference the strongest from a football perspective."

The football coaches have less embrace for a nine-game schedule. Northwestern Coach Pat Fitzgerald said he prefers the current eight-game schedule, while Michigan State Coach Mark Dantonio said a nine-game slate would affect future non-conference schedules. Michigan State annually plays Notre Dame and has future non-conference games schedule against high-profile teams Boise State and Alabama.

"To go on the road five times and play four at home in the Big Ten, you're going to have to be a little better than you would if you were playing five at home and four away," Dantonio said. "You also have to take the approach you're going to be a road warrior."

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