When the College Football Playoff was announced it took all of five seconds for pundits and fans to wonder aloud when the playoff would go to eight teams. So, naturally when the Big Ten made its announcement of a nine-game schedule coming to your favorite team in 2016, wondering minds immediately said hogwash—why not go to to a 10-game schedule?
It’s something that Iowa Hawkeyes head coach Kirk Ferentz indicated he saw in the Big Ten’s near future. Telling the media gathered at Big Ten Media Days as much:
Kirk Ferentz said he could see the Big Ten going to 10 conference games. "If we're going to nine, I don't see why not," he said
— Brian Bennett (@BennettESPN) July 31, 2014
This isn’t a new notion though; as BTN.com’s Tom Dienhart floated the notion in May, and the crux of his argument was that it would solve all the problems a nine game schedule created. Problems like an imbalanced schedule, having to find an extra home nonconference game every other year and gaps in playing certain Big Ten teams.
While that seems nice on the surface and problems do exist in a nine game schedule, does a 10-game schedule actually accomplish what needs to happen for the Big Ten to get back to its old position atop the college football world?
Hardly, instead it creates a whole different set of problems in the age of the College Football Playoff.
Chief among those problems is the Big Ten running the risk of becoming too insular. While it seems nice to think that your favorite team will see more of the top teams in the Big Ten, it also means less of an opportunity for your favorite team to test itself on a national scale.
True, as of now most Big Ten teams only play one “Power 5” opponent a season (and sometimes none, looking at you Penn State), but going to an official 10-game conference slate only serves to diminish conference teams’ ability to schedule those important non-conference games.
Gone would be the LSU vs. Wisconsin neutral site series, good luck finding an SEC team willing to travel to Big Ten territory too. In fact, the long-standing partnership with the Pac-12 could well be in jeopardy.
The whole point of the strength of schedule was to create better nonconference matchups for the fans and television viewers. Does replacing a Wisconsin vs. Virginia Tech game in 2018 for Wisconsin vs. Indiana really make any sense?
The cost of losing potentially big games out of conference for creating an even conference schedule only makes sense if you’re giving fans matchups they want to see as replacements. However, the fact of the matter is a look at the nine-game schedules for teams shows us more of those games are already coming.
Why not see how it plays out before jumping the ship? Two years of nine-game scheduling won’t kill anyone to live through, and who knows, it may be just the perfect mix of intra and intersectional play.
A 10-game schedule also creates the problem of further separating the conference from the rest of college football.
Let’s not forget that the SEC plays an eight-game conference schedule, and will do so for the foreseeable future too. The ACC is also playing an eight-game schedule. The Big 12 plays a nine-game round robin schedule (no championship game) and the Pac-12 also plays a nine game schedule like the Big Ten does.
Should the Big Ten go to 10 games without a partner in the move, it leaves the Big Ten on an island at a time when the “Power 5” are trying to gain even more power.
Just ask the Big 12 what it feels like to swim against the stream, it hasn’t really worked out in its favor ever since Nebraska, Texas A&M and Missouri were raided away from the conference ahead of the 2011 season. No Big 12 team made a BCS National Championship appearance following that move and the conference has faded a bit in to the background against the four other conferences with a title game to their names.
Being the “strange” kid amongst the cool crowd is never a good thing in the multi-billion dollar world of college football—unless you want to run the risk of being the “strange” kid doing the cool thing first?
That’s the risk the Big Ten runs if it does indeed decide to go to 10 conference games instead of nine.
I just hope that the Big Ten isn’t left alone in making this decision, because if it is it will likely leave itself hung out to dry in the ever-changing landscape that is college football today.