Conference commissioners and coaches have been talking about what teams’ schedules should look like for years. At its media days event the B1G took the lead in scheduling. Beginning with the 2016 season, all Big Ten members will be required to play 9 conference games and an out of conference game against a team from another Power 5 conference (or BYU or Notre Dame). No more FCS schools can be scheduled either. The B1G moved unilaterally, and it remains to be seen if others will follow suit.
Other conferences have always had their talking points about their strength of schedule. The SEC has called itself the deepest conference and promoted its regular season as more difficult than other conferences’. The Big 12 sought to sell its round robin format as the only schedule to produce “one true champion”. Now the B1G has positioned itself at the top of the strength of schedule debate.
Having teams in the playoff is now of chief importance to all conferences. As we saw last year there is going to be plenty of teams vying for the last spots in the Top Four. Often there is little to distinguish teams competing for the last spots in the playoff, and without head to head results perception is as important as results. The Big Ten’s scheduling gives their candidates the benefit of the doubt in the strength of schedule debate.
With extra quality games B1G playoff hopefuls may not make it into playoff consideration at all. Look at Michigan State last season. The Spartans were talented enough to be a Top Four team, but they had two losses and weren’t in the conversation. Had they avoided playing Oregon in the regular season, they might have snuck in with one loss.
The difference between Top Four, playoff teams and Top Ten also-rans is usually one loss. Having an entire conference add two more difficult games means more losses, potentially dropping B1G teams from Top Four contender to mere bowl participant.
The rationale behind playing FCS schools was money. A Power 5 school could send some money to a FCS school and schedule a game or series of games at home. There was no need to for an away game because the FCS school lacked the leverage to demand one. The Power 5 school could then enjoy the revenue of selling tickets to another game, every year. That revenue has kept FCS schools on the schedule.
Upsetting the financial model is risky, and Big Ten presidents will have to make sure this isn’t detrimental economically. Perhaps the money can be recouped through increased prices. Most schools vary the cost of their tickets based on the opponents. If they can double the cost of the FCS school ticket for the out of conference Power 5 opponent, that should cover most of the loss. It would be shocking if the B1G hadn’t thoroughly vetted the economics of the scheduling move before hand, so we can probably assume the money will be fine.
The biggest losers from this announcement, and the other announcements/arrangements that are sure to follow in the coming months and years, are the FCS schools and the non-power 5 schools. The FCS schools are about to lose a tremendous revenue source that supported many programs. The non-power 5 schools have found more dates on the schedule when they are not welcome. It will be very difficult for the Boise States of the world to load up on Power 5 teams to balance their conference schedule.
The B1G schools will now be searching for opponents to add to their schedule from the ranks of the Power 5 conferences, and you can bet each program will have its own way of finding the perfect fit for them. You will see some schools look for marquee match ups and will be calling Alabama and Southern Cal. Others will look for an easier game and will be ringing Vanderbilt and Kansas. Some will try to eschew the home and home set up for season opening neutral site games.
Whether they are trying to schedule a cupcake or a blockbuster match up, watch for the schools who are wise enough to use this extra game for a recruiting advantage. The B1G has talent within its borders, but not as much as the Floridas, Texases and Californias of the world and not enough to fill all its rosters. Several coaches have already started going to satellite camps to get in front of recruits, and they will be happy to be able to sell recruits on playing a game close to home, too. Look for schools in fertile recruiting grounds to be getting lots of calls from B1G area codes.
Assuming the revenue issues of ceasing to play FCS schools and probably playing fewer home games are worked out, the announcement is a home run for the schools and the fans. Other conferences are going to be forced to address it as well. The SEC won’t be able to have FCS teams on their schedules and eight conference games if they want their teams to get the nod come playoff selection time. Hopefully, this move will drive everyone else to create what we all want: more good games.