IOWA CITY — Like a Thanksgiving Day turkey, the Big Ten’s annual tradition of ending its football season before the November holiday is, well, cooked.
Beginning next fall, the Big Ten adds a permanent bye to its league schedule. That stretches the eight-game league slate over nine weeks and now ends the fourth Saturday in November. Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz liked the status quo of completing the league season before Thanksgiving but now that his team must play after the holiday, he’d rather extend the season even later.
“Personally I’d rather start a week earlier in August and still have this week (Thanksgiving) off,” Ferentz said. “You could say, ‘Hey the SEC is playing in mid-December,’ but if that’s the case, let’s just push our whole season back. I’d vote for that, I would.
“I would take Thanksgiving off and come back and play in December. NFL teams do it.”
Ferentz said it’s a topic he’ll examine more closely once the regular season concludes on Saturday against Minnesota.
“I have thought about that (moving the last November game into December), and next week I’ll give it more thought,” Ferentz said. “I have thought about it for sure.”
Iowa has ended its Big Ten season against Minnesota 25 of the last 27 years. For future schedules, click here:
Big Ten Associate Commissioner Scott Chipman said schools can move league games to Thanksgiving or into December with permission. Illinois and Northwestern played on Thanksgiving in 2001. It’s doubtful the annual Michigan-Ohio State rivalry will shift to Thanksgiving or into December, but if two schools want to shift their schedule, they have that option.
“I don’t know if playing after Thanksgiving is the best scenario, but I do like the fact that we’ll have an opportunity to have an open date,” Michigan Coach Rich Rodriguez said. “I think that’s the biggest benefit of moving the schedule back a week.”
Ferentz and many of his fellow Big Ten coaches, including Ohio State Coach Jim Tressel, wanted to preserve the season’s traditional ending so players could return home for Thanksgiving. Tressel even called the league’s previous scheduling philosophy “a great advantage.”
“Kids work out all year-round, they train and so forth and play tough schedules and to have a chance to be with your family over Thanksgiving I’ve always felt was a real positive thing for our kids,” Tressel said.
The permanent bye became an issue in 2005 when the NCAA allowed schools to schedule a 12th football game, mostly to increase athletics department revenue. The extra game eliminated the Big Ten’s previous bye week, and league schools played through the season without a break. This year, beginning on Sept. 5 against Northern Iowa and ending Saturday, Iowa will have played on 12 consecutive Saturdays.
Some schools, like Wisconsin and Illinois, have scheduled non-conference games after Thanksgiving to gain a break in the schedule. Illinois Coach Ron Zook and Wisconsin Coach Bret Bielema were two of the biggest proponents in extending the season. They cite additional exposure and help with bowl preparation — along with a bye week — as factors in extending the season.
“When you grow up in this league, in the Big Ten, when they didn’t play past Thanksgiving, you never really thought about it,” said Bielema, a former Iowa player and assistant. “It was just the way things were done. So my eyes really got expanded when I went to Kansas State (as an assistant coach).”