Skull Session: The Big Ten Goes B1G with New Schedule Format, Jaxon Smith-Njigba Dusts All Comers, and Why Notre Dame is Likely to Stay Independent

By Jason Priestas on June 9, 2023 at 5:00 am
A pylon from the Big Ten Championship football game

It's summer vacation season at Eleven Warriors HQ, and with Chase enjoying some well-earned time away, you're stuck with an old, unfunny guy like me for your Friday Skull Session. Apologies in advance!

 THE BIG TEN SETS A NEW COURSE. It wasn't too long ago that we all banded together to shame the Big Ten into bringing an end to "Legends and Leaders," the conference's first stab at divisions. That was actually a decade ago!  Yesterday, the Big Ten said goodbye to divisions altogether, announcing a new model that will start next season with the arrival of USC and UCLA.

Say hello to the Flex Protect Plus model, which a) is the real name of the league's schedule, b) features protected opponents and rotating opponents for universities, and c) will see each team play every other conference opponent at least twice – once at home and once away – in a four-year period.

Ohio State's protected opponent is Michigan, and that's it. That means they'll face other programs like Penn State twice every four years. The Nittany Lions are not on the schedule in 2025, ending a streak of 32-straight seasons in which the two storied powers will meet.

That's going to take some getting used to (and maybe Penn State fans will quit trying to make a one-sided affair a rivalry).

In other scheduling news, Ohio State will make its first conference game season visit to UCLA next season, while USC will visit the Shoe in 2025. The new model also has massive chaos potential: in 2024, 19 different groups of three teams could all finish the conference schedule unbeaten, while the following year, 16 groups of three teams, and five groups of four teams (!!) can possibly finish the conference slate without a loss.

Oh, and you might want to start getting your mind ready for the possibility of facing Michigan three times in one season, thanks to the Big Ten eliminating divisions and the College Football Playoff expanding next year. It's not likely, but there's a chance!

 THE BIG 12 IS LIKE, "HEY, WE GOT NEWS, TOO!" Big 12 commissioner Brett Yormark took a break from his quixotic quest to turn his soon-to-be Oklahoma- and Texas-less conference into a basketball powerhouse to make yesterday's scoop official by announcing Big 12 Mexico?

The conference announced plans for Kansas vs. Houston to play men's and women's basketball games in Mexico City's Arena CDMX in December 2024, exhibitions between Big 12 soccer and baseball teams against clubs Mexican clubs, and a potential football bowl game for Monterrey.

"Mexico is a natural extension to the Big 12 footprint," commissioner Brett Yormark said Thursday.

I mean, maybe? It's creative and possibly worth the effort to grow the conference's reach, but the one thing that would really help do that – holding a football game in Mexico – will never happen because who wants to give up the cheddar that comes with hosting a home game?

 JSN DOING JSN THINGS. Who's surprised to see Jaxon Smith-Njigba toast the player taken 15 spots ahead of him in the first round of the 2023 draft?

Nobody? Figured as much.

 THESE GUYS CAN DO IT ALL. Joe Burrow and Justin Fields are two of the best young quarterbacks in the NFL. And you better believe they can ball in other sports, too.

Wait, is Fields wearing Reebok Pumps?

 AND NOW FOR SOME MEDIA NEWS. Notre Dame announced longtime athletic director Jack Swarbrick will step down next year, with NBC Sports Chairman Pete Bevacqua replacing him. Bevacqua, a 1993 graduate of Notre Dame, is set to begin work July 1 as a special assistant for athletics as he makes the jump from sports media to athletics.

This is probably not great news for those of you holding out hope that the Irish will finally wise up and join the Big Ten. Notre Dame's current deal with NBC, which pays the Irish $22 million annually, ends in 2025. A renewal of the deal has been pegged at $75 million per year, and Bavacqua will no doubt be useful for Notre Dame in negotiations with his old network.

In other news on the broadcast front, Reggie Bush is likely out at Fox following a contract dispute, according to the New York Post. The Post's Andrew Marchand says Fox Sports' "Big Noon Kickoff" is close to signing Mark Ingram to replace Bush.

 THE SAGA OF BISHOP SYCAMORE, COMING TO MAX. Who could forget the story of Bishop Sycamore, the Columbus school that wasn't really a school, that made national news after getting pasted by IMG Academy on ESPN in 2021?

HBO hasn't forgotten, and the network's new documentary on the school, "BS High," will air on HBO's new streaming service, Max, on Wednesday, June 14.

Get that popcorn ready.

 LET'S CLICK ON SOME STUFF. Who needs an Apple Watch when you can wear a mechanical watch made from Apple Watch e-waste… Does Stephen A. Smith even watch the NBA? Casa Bonita is set to reopen soon, thanks to Trey Parker and Matt Stone… Jack Daniel's wins a very serious and important trademark fight… There's a factory boom taking place in the United States… When language localization goes wrong… Chat-GPT's inner bro has always been there.

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