We had been expecting it for a long time, but when the first nine-game schedules for the Big Ten in 2016 and 2017 came out, it was still a bit jarring. All those conference games, the marquee cross-division matchups and the overall difficulty of some of the slates required some getting used to. And not just for media and fans.
"It wasn't easy, and I probably would concede that when our administrators first reviewed it, there was probably a little bit of sticker shock," Big Ten senior associate commissioner Mark Rudner told ESPN.com. "Because when you go from an eight-game schedule to a nine-game schedule, it looks a lot different."
That's for sure. But the league had decided on some guiding principles, and the rest was just a matter of making everything fit. Remember that the Big Ten is committed to a few factors, including:
Parity-based scheduling. That means the top teams play each other more often, which is good for fans and TV. That's why you see games like Ohio State-Nebraska and Wisconsin-Michigan in 2016 and 2017, and Ohio State-Wisconsin in 2016 and Nebraska-Penn State in 2017. "We wanted to be more strategic," Rudner said. "It was our intent all along to start looking at 2016 to begin doing that."
Playing everyone. You'll notice the "mirror" concept is gone; the cross-division opponents you play one year won't all be the same the following season. Instead, the goal is making sure all 14 teams play one another in a four-year cycle. "Our philosophy is we're trying to make sure every player who stays for four years will have an opportunity to play everybody," Rudner said. "Until we create the 2018 and 2019 schedules, it probably won't be too apparent. But that was important to our coaches and ADs."
No more than two road games in the final four contests for any team, and no more than two consecutive road games at any point in league play. The Big Ten accomplished both those goals with these schedules and felt that was the fairest way to handle a slate that will necessarily be imbalanced with home and road games.
With all that in mind, there are still going to be things people don't like. Let's address a couple of the major ones.
No Nebraska vs. Michigan between 2014 and 2017?
"Michigan has Wisconsin as its cross-division opponent," Rudner said. "Nebraska will play Ohio State. Michigan and Nebraska will play in the out years, and they could play as soon as 2018, though I can't really say for sure right now."
Wisconsin opening 2016 at Michigan, at Michigan State and vs. Ohio State in three straight non-division games?
"We went with our principles, and that's how it came out," Rudner said. "There are lot of those kinds of stretches, whether that's at the start of the schedule or in the middle of the schedule. "
If you don't like the way things shook out, don't blame the league office. Remember that the conference athletic directors approved all of the guiding principals that went into the schedule.
And don't forget all those marquee matchups and extra league games we'll get in 2016 and beyond.
"It's going to be a lot of fun to see it all play out," Rudner said. "There will be a lot of fun, great games each week. What more could you want as a Big Ten football fan?"