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IOWA CITY - The Big Ten's plan to increase the number of league football games from eight to nine could create a short-term nightmare scenario for half of its programs.
ESPN reported last week the Big Ten plans to revamp the league geographically in 2014 and expand the league schedule to nine games beginning with the 2016 season. But seven of the league's programs, including newcomer Maryland, already have four non-conference games slated for 2016. Those schools either must reschedule one non-league game that season or possibly pay damages for dropping an opponent.
“If it turns out that way, certainly there's going to have to be some adjusting done,” said Mark Abbott, Iowa's associate athletics director for legal affairs and handles football scheduling. “That leaves options to renegotiate: trying to find another opponent for somebody or paying out a damage clause.”
The problems lessen greatly in 2017. Michigan State is the only school with four non-conference games.
Iowa has only two official non-conference games in 2016 - Iowa State on Sept. 10 and North Dakota State on Sept. 17. Iowa has discussed a game with Central Michigan for that season, but nothing is finalized.
The league's recent scheduling changes in part have deterred Iowa from completing its 2016 slate. In August 2011, Big Ten officials announced the league schedule would expand to nine starting in 2017. Four months later, the league rescinded the nine-game schedule in favor of a collaboration with the Pac-12. But that was suspended in July 2012 when the leagues could not work out a scheduling agreement.
“It's a pretty fluid situation in intercollegiate athletics as it relates to conference affiliation,” Abbott said. “When changes are made, that has an impact on schools, including us.”
How the league chooses to sync the nine-game schedule could impact the league's high-profile non-conference games, including Iowa-Iowa State. Iowa Athletics Director Gary Barta told The Gazette “having seven games is high on the list in terms of importance.” Iowa and most of its league brethren require seven home football games each year to generate revenue. Iowa, for instance, earns about $2.8 million from a home date.
“That's a significant amount of money to each of our bottom lines, having a seventh home game,” Barta said. “It also has a big impact on the local economies.”
The Iowa-Iowa State football contract runs through 2017 with the teams playing annually on the second Saturday in September. Each school has an opt-out clause in the contract in case conference expands its schedule. The Big Ten previously synced its nine-game schedule to help Iowa maintain its rivalry with Iowa State. Likewise, when the Big 12 shifted to nine games in 2011, Iowa State's annual clash with Iowa was preserved.
But if the Big Ten gives Iowa five road games in a season when the Hawkeyes are scheduled to play at Jack Trice Stadium, it could create challenges.
“That's high on the list in terms of goals for me,” Barta said of continuing the Iowa-Iowa State football series. “At this point, nothing that I've heard is forcing a conversation otherwise.”
The Big Ten has yet to announce revamped divisions and the nine-game league schedule, let alone the five-home, five-away scheduling pattern. In its original plan set in 2011, the Big Ten rotated the five home games among the divisions. It's possible the league could give the proposed East Division five home games one year, and the West Division five games the next.
Iowa would need five home Big Ten games on the odd years to compensate for its road trip to Ames. Nebraska has road games scheduled in future odd years against Tennessee, Colorado and Oklahoma. But Minnesota, Purdue, Northwestern and Wisconsin all have future road games set in even years.
“There's never a dull moment when it comes to football scheduling,” Abbott said. “There's always something.”