Exploring Our Nine-Game Conference Schedule Future

By Kyle Rowland on April 24, 2013 at 9:30a
Ohio State football's traveling roadshow will be coming to five Big Ten stadiums every other year.

Conference realignment has been a source of frustration for fans since the first momentous shift in the summer of 2010. Nebraska abandoned its home of more than 100 years to join the Big Ten, while Colorado left behind more than a half century of traditions and memories for the Pac-12. 

The Cornhuskers were charter members of the Missouri Valley Intercollegiate Athletic Association when it was founded in 1907. Save for two years – 1919 and 1920 – Nebraska enjoyed a 101-year relationship with what would eventually be known as the Big 12 Conference. But in the senseless era of conference expansion, it all came to an end.

Now athletic directors, who have been supportive of realignment largely because it fattens their wallets, will live the hindrance firsthand. It was reported last week that the Big Ten will move to a nine-game conference schedule, similar to what the Big 12 and Pac-12 have already instituted.

This scheduling philosophy will always have kinks because it requires a handful of teams to play more road conference games than home games. But it makes sense why a 10-team league like the Big 12 would be in favor, because it allows a round-robin format where every team plays one another.

For the Big Ten and other leagues with more than 10 members, the addition of one game to the conference schedule makes less sense when you consider the 14 teams will not match up together. What it would do is add even more value to one of college sports’ most valuable brands.

The change reportedly will be implemented for the 2016 season, the final year of the Big Ten’s current $100 million TV contract with ABC/ESPN. The conference says the change is based on strengthening the teams’ schedules. A playoff is coming in 2014 and it’s clear that strength of schedule will be part of the selection process.

This isn’t the first time the Big Ten has toyed with the idea of a nine-game schedule. From 1971-72 and again from 1977-80, two of the 10 teams played nine-game schedules. From 1983-84, eight of the 10 Big Ten schools played a nine-game conference slate.

That inexplicable decision possibly cost Ohio State a shot at the 1983 Rose Bowl, when Michigan finished 8-1 in the conference and the Buckeyes were a half-game back at 7-1, even though they beat the Wolverines.

“It’s disappointing, I guess, not going to the Rose Bowl,” said then-head coach Earle Bruce in the Cleveland Plain Dealer. “I don’t feel bad for myself. I feel bad for our football players. But there’s nothing we can do about that. We came up percentage points short. I wish they could have counted the Baylor game as a league game.”

A more sensible and fair plan is in place now.

The thinking goes that Ohio State will continue playing one marquee non-conference game every season – they have them scheduled out to 2023 – and go away from playing FCS teams. Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith said in October that he wants to schedule games against only BCS conference opponents by 2018.

The expanded schedule should give fans more must-see games. Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon told Eleven Warriors in February that the league wants to increase the number of games between member schools.

“Fifty years ago, we had 10 teams in the Big Ten,” he said. “Now we have 14. If you’re a kid coming in as a freshman and you’re going to be part of the Big Ten Conference with 14 teams, if you only play eight conference games a season, you’re going to go through a whole four-year career and not play some of the other teams. That doesn’t feel particularly right.

“You’re trying to build conference continuity and cohesion. We want to travel to their campuses, they want to travel to our campuses, and you’re going to put yourself in position where you aren’t going to be able to do that. That would be why a lot of the conferences have moved to nine.”

It’s a legitimate concern and is something that’s already taking place. Northwestern and Ohio State just went through a four-year schedule break, and the Buckeyes will do the same with Nebraska from 2013-16, though that is subject to change with a new 14-team league.

Ohio State and the Wildcats first met on the gridiron in 1913 and have played a total of 74 games. Northwestern also is a popular landing spot for Central Ohio high school players, meaning that last year’s seniors not only didn’t get to step foot in Ohio Stadium, but they didn’t play against the Buckeyes, period. 

Economic concerns highlight the cons list. Football programs fund athletic departments, and the possibility of a lost home game raises serious concerns. Ohio State makes in the neighborhood of $6 million per home game. Take that away and it has to be made somehow.

Another rise in ticket prices, more expensive concessions, steeper parking prices, etc. could be the end result. You, the fan and the consumer, would be the one losing out.

“Specifically to Michigan and, certainly, Ohio State, because Gene (Smith) and I have talked about this, it is exceedingly important that we play a minimum of seven home games,” Brandon said. “Both of our business models are driven by that. If we were to get into a circumstance where we were playing six home games that would be very problematic.

“The consequences are that in a world where we go from eight to nine conference games, we would still have the ability to schedule three non-conference games. You could schedule two at home and schedule a home-and-home and make that work.”

According to the Toledo Blade, Michigan recently counted more than $45 million in revenue from ticket sales after eight home games in 2011. Ohio State collected $37 million for seven home games during the same season. Gameday revenues also include TV contracts (nearly $13 million), more than $9 million for sales of club seats and luxury suites and $3.5 million from ticket surcharges.

A solution to the imbalance would be playing 10 conference games, a scenario that was proposed. It would give each team an even five home and five road conference games. But the roadblock would still be having seven total home games. With a 12-game schedule, that would mean the termination of intersectional non-conference games, unless teams were willing to only have six home games in some seasons.

Marquee games have been in vogue for the better part of a decade, and Ohio State has carried the torch. Texas, USC, Miami, Oregon, Oklahoma, TCU, Virginia Tech, North Carolina and Boston College are all past or future opponents for the Buckeyes. 

The change in scheduling philosophy has thrilled fans from Columbus to Blacksburg to Boise. Aggressive ADs who schedule with assertiveness are one of the best movements in college football since the playoff push was in its heyday.

Money is another player in this matter. Weaker opponents demand a higher price tag, often surpassing a million dollars. It seems silly to pay that much and diminish the bottom line on gameday returns. Less money is doled out to big-name opponents while TV contracts are larger.

Another popular trend is the increase in neutral site games, which also bring along attractive TV deals. How games such as Alabama and Michigan’s first-weekend matchup in Dallas last year would fit into a nine-game conference schedule remains to be seen.

“We would not do that on any kind of regular basis and we wouldn’t do it if it were at the expense of home games, because our fans deserve and want to see games on campus,” Brandon said. “That’s where our priorities are going to be. However, in some cases, if we can go on the road and play at a neutral site, we can play in a bigger venue and the economics are going to be far more attractive. You don’t have to do a home-and-home. It’s only a one-game deal, and the networks want those matchups to the point where they’ll pay up to get them.

“It won’t completely offset the loss of a home game-type revenue, but it’s much better than you’d get if you went on the road and played somebody. So financially it’s a good deal and, as an occasional departure from the norm, I thought it was a great experience for us. But that would be as a plus to seven home games, not at the expense of a home game.”

As is, the nine-game schedule will feature an inequity that could alter the Big Ten divisional races and, in turn, who wins the championship.

“I know a lot of ADs and coaches are concerned about a season where Ohio State plays four conference home games and Michigan plays five, and we’re competing for a Big Ten championship,” Brandon said. “There are some that would argue that that isn’t a level playing field, and I understand that.

“There are tradeoffs in whatever direction this goes.”

Just so long as the balance sheet shows a surplus.


Comments Show All Comments

tdible2132's picture

That is one BA truck.

Doc's picture

I can't believe I'm about to type this, but...    I really like AACC's AD.  He seems to be sensible and gives straight forward, non BS type answers to questions.  Not like our mush mouthed, Notre Lame graduating, dolt of an AD.  10 game conference schedule is the way to go.  OSU would still be able to get to 7 games a year and cover their nut. 

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tdible2132's picture

I actually agree, Brandon is a good AD, and while I don't like him because he is Michigan's AD I respect the job he does.  I don't know if I can say that I respect the job the Gene Smith has done, but everyone makes mistakes so I am doing my best to give Gene Smith another chance and perhaps my impression of him will change.  He's definitely not my favorite part of OSU athletics though.

MackRM408's picture

*Troll alert* Balance sheets cant show a surplus.

darbnurb's picture

Although I enjoy the preseason known as September, I am delighted when conference play starts.  So if 9 games brings it sooner, then I am all for it.  Ten games = even better!  

robert goulet's picture

Saw this yesterday as a reasonable solution to the imbalance issue: one year, all the teams in one division get 5 homes games and the next year, all the teams in the other division get 5 home games.  It levls the field for determining a division winner.  The problem is that it would for OSU's (and presumably others) hands for future non-conf schedules.  In 2016-18, OSU is @Oklahoma, @UNC, and @TCU.  At least one of those would have to move...

laser17's picture

The perfect number in my eyes for a conference schedule would be 11 which in turn would need the league to become a 16 team league. Which each team plays one out of conference game like a MAC school to simulate as a warm up game then your 7 teams in your division then half (4 teams) from the other division. This would mean we get to play 4 teams in the other division every other year. In my eyes this would be way better then playing a UAB and whoever else every year and play against 3/4 of our conference.

ohiostbux5's picture

In a perfect world I would love to play as many in conference games as possible in football and basketball. But the reality is it's just not going to happen. No way you can get the 7 home games you need with an 11 game conference schedule. And the only way you can do it with a 10 game conference schedule is at the expense of the big time non-conference matchups. We would literally never be able to play a road non-conference games, which in turn means get used to seeing two MAC teams playing in the Shoe every September.

laser17's picture

I understand all of that it was more wishful thinking rather than thinking that this would happen. I know there is no way in hell that the BIG would do this just thought I would throw my 2 cents in for what it's worth and show another scenario that to me would be ideal.

45has2's picture

If kids from central Ohio want to play in The Shoe then they should go to TOSU not NU.

"I don't like nice people. I like tough, honest people." -W.W. Hayes

ohiostbux5's picture

I'm assuming these are mostly players who were not offered scholarships by OSU. I could certainly be missing someone, but off the top of my head, I can't think of a single recruit we lost to NU. Even Backes and Sutton (I know he's from NE Ohio, but still...), two of the more highly publicized NU recruits I can remember, did not get recruited to play RB at OSU.  

Hovenaut's picture

"The change in scheduling philosophy has thrilled fans from Columbus to Blacksburg to Boise. Aggressive ADs who schedule with assertiveness are one of the best movements in college football since the playoff push was in its heyday."

Just want to ensure Gene S. is paying attention.....

Buckeye in Illini country's picture

A 9-game schedule is better than a 10-game league schedule because it allows for more marquee out of conference games.
In home and home sets: years where we have 4 home games, we would play the likes of Oregon at home, and then the following year when we have 5 league home games, we would play at Eugene.
And then we would still have two MAC/ UC type games at Ohio Stadium in the non-conference.

Columbus to Pasadena: 35 hours.  "We're on a road trip through the desert looking for strippers and cocaine... and Rose Bowl wins!"

hetuck's picture

The push for the nine game schedule comes from the IUs of the league. They have difficulty getting teams to come to Bloomington for a paycheck game. By forcing Nebraska to come for a visit more often (or the opportunity to sell the game to Kansas City), they gain. 
I think an outgrowth will be conference games in the first three weeks of the season. That is  good thing for the TV partners. Along with that, I'd take a page from the SEC's book and play a non-conference game the week before the rivalry games. I'd like to see the B1G buy 12 home games from the MAC, but don't decide the match ups until two weeks before the date. Match the top teams in the MAC with the top B1G teams to help with CFP ranking. This year, for example Nebraska would have played Northern Illinois and OSU (if bowl eligible would have got Kent) You know you'll have a home game for tickets, admin. purposes. One rivalry pair gets their bye that week so there is no competitive advantage. 

Winning is a habit. Unfortunately, so is losing.

Vince Lombardi

hetuck's picture

Has anyone heard a rationale for scheduling FAMU? 

Winning is a habit. Unfortunately, so is losing.

Vince Lombardi

razrback16's picture

I'm not sure if one exists.