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Josh A. from D.C. writes: First of all, I recognize that "parity-based" scheduling wasn't set to begin until 2016 -- along with the introduction of the 9 game B1G slate ... My question is, why? What were the primary obstacles to matching up OSU/UM/PSU with UW/UNL and Iowa in 2014 and 2015?
Adam Rittenberg: Josh, I hear you on this and wish there were a few more appealing crossovers. One issue in 2014/15 is that teams play only two crossover games, not three. It made sense for the Big Ten to have new members Rutgers and Maryland play crossovers with Nebraska/Wisconsin/Iowa. The league wants to give its new members as many showcase-type games as possible right away. The thinking also is that after 2016, we'll see more Michigan-Nebraska, Wisconsin-Ohio State, Iowa-Penn State, so there's less of a need to load up on them these next two seasons. I wish the Big Ten had sprinkled in a Nebraska-Ohio State series or a Wisconsin-Michigan series, but we will see more of those games soon enough.
Andrew from New York writes: Quick follow up to your story on how the divisions came about. I don't think many Michigan fans are upset about playing at East Lansing in back to back seasons so much as they are concerned about the fact that having OSU and MSU in a home/home, away/away alignment creates tremendous imbalances in the quality of home game slates from year to year. The 2014 home slate is probably the least attractive set of home games Michigan has ever played, with a sanction-ridden Penn State probably the best game. At a time when fans have to pay upwards of $1000 for season tickets (including required donation) that's a pretty bad deal. With that said, do you have a sense whether the MSU/OSU alignment is a permanent thing or just an 8-game schedule thing?
Adam Rittenberg: Andrew, I understand your complaint, but Michigan isn't the only Big Team with an unappealing home schedule for 2014. Ask Nebraska fans how they feel about the Huskers' home slate that year. Nothing is permanent regarding scheduling, and the next model, which kicks off in 2016, could break up the MSU/OSU home-road thing for Michigan. I agree that it's more beneficial for Michigan and its fans to split those games home and road, but as I noted in Thursday's second scheduling post, athletic directors have never asked for rivalry games to be split up home/away. That's not one of the league-wide scheduling principles on which the ADs agree. All Big Ten fans have to be open to scheduling models changing, because there has been so much recent change in the league. Michigan's schedule could go back to the old format regarding Michigan State and Ohio State, or it could flip back and forth in the next few scheduling models.
Joffre from San Diego writes: Adam,I just looked over your analysis of the 2014 B1G schedules and I'm a bit irked that my Lions don't play Nebraska in 2014. Moreover, the crossover game between the 11th and 12th members of the conference is no longer protected and that's something that all of Nittany Nation has to be displeased with. The Huskers got the best of us in 2011 after Joe (got fired a few days before the game, and last year we were adjusting under a new defensive coordinator (Ted Roof) which led to poor performances against running QBs (Braxton Miller, Taylor Martinez). Where do Penn State and Nebraska fit into the big picture now that they're no longer the "new kids on the block"?
Adam Rittenberg: Joffre, as you might or might not know, the Big Ten eliminated all protected crossover games aside from Purdue-Indiana when aligning the new East and West divisions. The goal is to protect as many rivalries within the division structure and create broader crossover rotations so that each team plays every other team at least once every four years. So Penn State and Nebraska no longer will play annually. The good news for you is that with parity-based scheduling coming in 2016, Penn State will play Nebraska -- as well as Wisconsin and Iowa -- more often than other West division teams in the first 18 years of the scheduling model. I liked the Huskers-Lions games as well, but I think it's more important to establish a structure that eliminates massive gaps between matchups like Illinois-Iowa, which last met in 2008 and won't meet again until 2014.
Tom from New Brunswick, N.J., writes: Hi Adam, a Nittany Lion in Rutgers country. With all of this talk about 7-5 vs 6-6 bowl eligibility, 9 game conference schedule, needing 7 home games for balancing a budget and out of conference rivalries tying up schedules it seems to me there is one solution that is inevitable...a 13 game regular season. How far away do you think this really is or is it a reality? It seems to me it would solve a lot of issues.
Adam Rittenberg: You know, Tom, I've thought a lot about the possibility of a 13-game schedule these past few months. The money is only going up, most leagues are playing more conference games and it seems like every major-conference school -- traditional power or bottom feeder, big stadium or small -- demands seven home games per year. There would be some pushback from university presidents, especially with so much recent attention on concussions in football. But these folks always have a hard time passing up money, and there's more of it to be made with a longer schedule. I don't think anything is imminent, but it's an issue worth monitoring going forward because of the issues you outline.
Rich from Des Moines, Iowa, writes: Adam, MAC teams can have a valid place on Big Ten teams' schedules so long as the rest of the non-conference games are scheduled correctly. They way I see it, given the financial realities that govern scheduling, Big Ten teams (and all upper-level conference teams for that matter) should schedule like this: 1 team from another big conference that is on about the same level as itself (Ohio State-Oklahoma; Iowa-Iowa State; Wisconsin-VaTech are good examples); 1 big conference team that is in the middle-tier (Nebraska-UCLA; Northwestern-California, etc.); and 1 game against a MAC team or similar opponent-preferably from inside the same state or nearby. A model for this is the MSU-EMU/CMU/WMU series, which is a great deal for all schools involved. I'm not saying Big Ten schools should make it a habit of playing at MAC schools like MSU is doing in this series, but scheduling in-state MAC teams is a good idea. Paramount is avoiding playing FCS schools or schools like UAB or Troy or any other low-hanging fruit from far away places. I think this scheduling philosophy results in maximizing the number of well-rounded, manageable schedules that meet financial obligations and produce interesting games with national appeal that Big Ten fans will enjoy. What do you think?
Adam Rittenberg: As always, some good thoughts here, Rich. The problem for athletic directors isn't so much the MAC game, but that second game against a major-conference foe. The UCLAs and Californias are going to want home-and-homes, and it's hard for athletic directors to structure things so they have two simultaneous non-league home-and-home series plus at least seven total home games per season. That's very difficult, especially with at least five guaranteed road games every other year as part of the Big Ten's nine-game league schedule. I'm fine with Big Ten-MAC games, as long as non-league schedules also include more marquee opponents. And while I'd love to see Big Ten teams adopt your model, too many ADs have told me they're resistant to that second major-conference series.
Steve Z. from Lafayette, Ind., writes: Is it just me, or is Northwestern getting screwed (again) with teams having Byes the week before playing NU? Five teams have bye before they play NU, and they are ALL division opponents!
Adam Rittenberg: Great observation, Steve, as that seems to be an odd trend for Northwestern in recent years. I don't think it's intentional, and bye-week avoidance, much like opening Big Ten play on the road year after year (read: Penn State), isn't among the scheduling principles the Big Ten athletic directors agreed on for the league office. While I understand the perception that Northwestern is getting screwed, if you look at recent results for teams coming off of open weeks, it's not nearly as favorable as you might imagine. In fact, many Big Ten teams seem to struggle more after a week off. Sure, it's a chance to get healthier, but there's no significant correlation with success.
Joel from Virginia Beach, Va., writes: I understand that the B1G has made a push to no longer schedule FCS games, and is encouraging a tougher non-conference slate, but with how the league has done the initial 2014 schedule, are there any plans to play league games earlier in the season? I think the brand will greatly benefit, by have exposure and big games (if only cross-over games) earlier in the schedule. I understand that there can be scheduling complications at this point, but there has to be some teams that this could work for? Or are we expecting more years of the MAC weekend slate?
Adam Rittenberg: Joel, the Big Ten is warming up to earlier league games, but the general attitude remains to play most if not all non-league games before entering the conference schedule. I doubt we'll see Big Ten teams open the season with league games any time soon, but putting 1-2 Big Ten games in Weeks 2 and 3 isn't a bad idea. The league certainly wants to avoid the MAC invitational weekends we've seen in the past, and hopefully, the directive to beef up non-league scheduling will create at least a few appealing games every Saturday in September. I agree that the league brand could be enhanced with a sprinkling of league games in Weeks 2 and 3 going forward.
Barry from Sheboygan, Wis., writes: I find it interesting that Purdue is considered an also-ran at basketball in the B1G. Note that Purdue has a winning record overall against every school in the B1G and has more B1G championships than every other school. Even recently, Purdue has been one of the top schools in the B1G. Just because we had an off year, it doesn't diminish what the school has accomplished over its history including the majority of the last 5 years.
Adam Rittenberg: Barry, that post was more about recruiting prowess than on-court success. I included Purdue among the Big Ten programs that could rise up to a nationally elite level in recruiting, but might not do so year after year. It had nothing to do with the Boilers' on-court success, which has been very impressive. Purdue finished No. 19 in RecruitingNation's basketball class rankings for 2012, but didn't make the Top 25 in 2011, 2010 or 2009. That speaks to my point -- Purdue has the ability to rise up in recruiting, but might not be among the nation's elite as often as other Big Ten programs.
T.C. from Philadelphia writes: Adam -- I just read your recent article on the Big Ten ADs new focus on game-day improvements and I just have one thing to say....Are you kidding me Michigan State??? Students didn't show up for the Iowa game in the rain last year because they couldn't text!?!? Hollis should have kept that one to himself, because that is embarrassing. Hopefully that was not the primary reason for most students not attending the game, because if it was, that says a lot about the students at MSU and their commitment to their football program. I graduated from PSU two years ago and I can say from experience that students at Penn State, Ohio State and other Big Ten schools would never even think about this is a reason to not attend a game. It rained all day and night for the Iowa/PSU game a few years ago when Iowa beat us at night ... My phone was broken the next day from the rain -- I never thought "oh man, I should have stayed home last night."
Adam Rittenberg: T.C., I doubt the rain was the only reason some Michigan State students stayed away that day, as the team also was off to a disappointing start after lofty preseason expectations. Hollis' greater point is that students/fans are looking for different things in their game-day experience now than 10-15 years ago. Having good Wi-Fi in the stadium is important, and not just for sportswriters like me who pin their livelihood on it. Supplying good video, audio and out-of-town scores is important as well. These schools need to make the in-game experience comparable with what you get at home. Penn State student support for games is among the best in the country, if not the best. But Michigan has had major problems getting its students to show up for noon kickoffs. Athletic director Dave Brandon this week called student turnout "unacceptable." So it's not just Michigan State. All schools have to be cognizant of what it will take to either bring students back to games or, in the case of Penn State, keep them there for years to come.