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Big Ten coaches discuss schedules

CHICAGO -- Big Ten coaches aren't thrilled about the idea of a nine-game conference schedule, which likely will debut in 2017.

But another potential scheduling twist is gaining support around the conference. Big Ten coaches are discussing the possibility of playing one league game earlier in the season, like you see in the SEC, ACC and other major conferences.

Big Ten teams typically open the season by facing three or four nonconference opponents before opening league play in early October. While some non-league games are sprinkled in later in the season, the Big Ten avoids league games in the first four weeks.

Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema wants that to change. Bielema has proposed playing at least one conference game in each of the first four weeks.

"You can have a showcase game every week," he said.

Bielema's plan also allows Big Ten teams to soften their late-season schedules, when injuries are piling up. Last November, national champion Auburn faced Chattanooga after a stretch against Arkansas, LSU and Ole Miss.

Another plus is it prevents the Big Ten from having a slate like Week 4 of 2010, which featured no games against opponents from BCS automatic-qualifying conferences. "It was bad timing, but it was reality," Bielema said. "So I'm trying to figure out, 'The SEC always plays one [league game] up front.' I started looking at that schedule, talked to a couple buddies in that conference, threw it out to [Barry] Alvarez and he said, 'Bring it up in the Big Ten meetings.'"

Bielema's plan is gaining support.

"It's a good idea," Illinois coach Ron Zook said. "The exposure of college football and the popularity, everybody's watching it and they want to watch the games that mean more. Maybe we could move a [conference] game up, second week, or each of us play one each week."