Big Ten set on 9-game conference schedule

SEC, ACC stick with 8, but B1G ADs not blinking

The Stagg-Paterno Championship Trophy is on display at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City on Thursday, October 12, 2011 as part of the Big Ten's
The Stagg-Paterno Championship Trophy is on display at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City on Thursday, October 12, 2011 as part of the Big Ten's "Honoring Legends, Building Leaders" tour. The first Big Ten Championship Football Game will be held on December 3rd at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. (Cliff Jette/SourceMedia Group)

ROSEMONT, Ill. — The nine-game league schedule is happening in the Big Ten.

Even with a couple of the other power conferences announcing they are staying with eight games, the Big Ten won’t reverse course. Beginning in the 2016 season, the conference will play a nine-game league schedule and that’s that.

B1G Commissioner Jim Delany has backed that statement since the SEC and ACC announced recently that those leagues will stay with their traditional eight-game schedules. However that translates in strength of schedule in the new world of the College Football Playoff remains to be seen, but the Big Ten, which has a TV contract to negotiate after the 2016 football season, wants to play more Big Ten games against Big Ten teams.

“At this point, we’re committed to nine games,” Nebraska athletics director Shawn Eichorst said Tuesday from the Big Ten’s spring meetings, “for all of the reasons we talked about, student-athlete experience, the fans, strength of schedule and television.”

In a recent interview with USA Today, Delany set out those talking points. He wants Big Ten vs. Big Ten on the Big Ten Network. He also mentioned having happy season ticket holders.

“We want our fans to come to games,” he said. “We’ve got to give them good games ... What I really like is that every athlete in the Big Ten who plays football will play every opponent inside the four-year period. That’s what I like.”

One very small part of this deal is scheduling relief. This takes a non-conference game off the table, leaving B1G schools with three rather than four non-conference games.

There are important scheduling factors for most athletic directors in the B1G: For the most part, schools need seven home games. FCS schools are officially off the table for further scheduling by B1G schools (Iowa has Northern Iowa this year, Illinois State in 2015, North Dakota State in ‘16 and UNI again in ‘18).

Neutral games will be up to each school’s athletics director, but the economic need for seven home games will guide schools away from that, in most cases, said Illinois AD Mike Thomas, whose school played host to Washington at Soldier Field last season.

“It was easier for us to play neutral site games before we got into the ninth conference game,” Thomas said.

Iowa’s last neutral-site game was at Soldier Field against Northern Illinois in 2012. The Hawkeyes have played NIU twice at Soldier field (2007 was the other). Athletics director Gary Barta has said he’s open to more neutral sites, but the economic impact it would take from Iowa City, the budgetary need for seven home games and nine B1G conference games would make it difficult.

“Well, if we want to pay all the bills,” Barta said, in February, of needing seven home games. “It’s not just at Iowa. When we went to nine games in the Big Ten, every athletic director chimed in, ‘If we’re going to go to nine Big Ten games, all of us have scheduled our situation so we have seven home games.’”

The parameters are set, and don’t look for the Big Ten to blink on the nine games.

“I don’t think that’s on the radar,” Thomas said when asked if there were any second thoughts on the nine-game schedule. ”We’re set at nine and we’re more than happy with nine. I don’t see us retreating from that. I think that’s here to stay.”

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