The Big Ten will release the football schedules for 2015-16 later this month. Considering we don’t have the times set for most of this year’s match-ups or dates for any basketball games, it might be premature to circle the calendar and wait with anticipation for the football announcement.
But football drives the train for college athletics in terms of prestige, economics and interest. And in the new-look, 12-member Big Ten, it matters who you play as much as when you play them.
Each team already knows six opponents — five in divisional play, one protected in non-divisional play — on an annual basis. The intrigue comes with the combination of picking two opponents among the other six for an eight-game league schedule.
It’s likely Iowa finally will play Illinois in 2015-16. The teams last met in 2008 in Champaign, and they’re at six seasons and counting without playing. It’s the longest gap among Big Ten schools since Iowa and Illinois skipped each other’s schedules for 14 consecutive seasons until playing again in 1967 after a 1952 apple-throwing incident at Kinnick Stadium.
The reason this time around was simply scheduling. When the Big Ten stood at 11 schools, each team designated two opponents as annual rivals and played the league’s other schools six times over an eight-year period. In 2009-10, Illinois and Iowa rotated off one another’s schedule for two years as scheduled. When the league added Nebraska in 2011 and split into two football divisions, Iowa and Illinois were placed into opposite divisions. After all the time and effort league officials spent determining divisions and selecting priority match-ups, Iowa’s non-protected, non-divisional opponents (Indiana, Penn State) were picked randomly for 2011-12. No big deal. It was a busy time.
Cross-divisional scheduling was more calculated for 2013-14. The league placed long-time rival Wisconsin back on Iowa’s schedule, which was in motion once the divisions were set. The other choice was between Ohio State and Illinois, and the league tapped Ohio State. If it had been the Illini, that would have meant four straight years — and six of eight years — without Ohio State-Iowa. There’s no winner either way.
Should the league select Iowa-Illinois in 2015-16, Iowa will face one of four possible opponents — Wisconsin, Ohio State, Indiana or Penn State. It’s unlikely (and unfortunate) Iowa will play Wisconsin or Ohio State four consecutive years as non-divisional opponents. Iowa facing both Illinois and Indiana (and Purdue) for two straight years without playing Wisconsin, Ohio State or Penn State will be met with jeers around the league and possibly the country if Iowa is a national contender. My guess is Penn State is Iowa’s other opponent.
But to me, Big Ten non-divisional scheduling is a mess that takes away from the conference’s best attributes, which includes its proximity, longevity and history. It’s a problem when teams from the same conference fail to play one another for more than two consecutive years. Rivalries dissipate and interest wanes unless something is at stake. I applauded Commissioner Jim Delany in 2010 when he advocated for a nine-game league schedule beginning in 2015. He told reporters multiple times, “We want to play each other more, not less.”
Of course scheduling issues — primarily most schools’ desire for seven home games — made 2015 a bit ambitious. So Delany modified the proposed nine-game league schedule to begin in 2017, and that policy was announced on Aug. 4, 2011. Then on Dec. 28, 2011, the nine-game plan fizzled as Big Ten officials announced an all-sports partnership with the Pac-12. By 2017, Big Ten schools strongly are encouraged to play at least one annual football game against a Pac-12 opponent. It’s an alliance that includes the leagues’ mutual affection for the Rose Bowl and shared academic values.
While the alliance sounds interesting on the surface, it’s going to create more headaches than cartwheels the deeper you go. For every USC-Ohio State football game, there’s an Indiana-Washington State match-up. For every Indiana-UCLA men’s basketball game, there’s a Penn State-Oregon State showdown. Let’s not even start with the Olympic sports.
For all the scheduling and travel issues associated with traveling halfway across the nation (Nebraska/Iowa/Minnesota) or all the way across the country (Penn State/Ohio State) and at times eye-rolling rhetoric associated with student-athlete welfare, let’s consider the biggest focus of all: cost.
One administrator at a Big Ten school told me his first thought about the Big Ten-Pac-12 challenge was “how expensive it was going to be.” In 2010, Iowa football paid $93,700 for a flight to Tucson, Ariz., to play Arizona. When flying to other Big Ten locales, Iowa spends about $59,000. When riding by bus to Evanston, Ill., or Madison, Wis., the football program spends about $6,000. Of course with inflation, all of those costs will soar in the future, even the bus trips.
So when the 2015-16 schedules are unveiled, fans and media will look intently at who plays whom when and where. Then we’ll all remember who isn’t playing whom and wonder when they’ll play again. That’s worst part of realignment — until Iowa and its Big Ten brethren spend more than $100,000 in chartered flights to play a night game 2,000 miles away and eschew a $7,000 bus trip to a neighboring state. Then it becomes personal.
– Scott Dochterman
– What is the nation saying about former Iowa Athletic Director Bob Bowlsby becoming commissioner of the Big 12 this morning? Click on the links to get their complete takes.
Chip Brown of Orangebloods.com: Bowlsby has been in the room when a lot of deals have been made and has a very measured personality. He’s also got such a strong background in college athletics that he would have strong ideas about what college athletics should look like in the next 25 years. I think it’s a good fit.
Mark Purdy, San Jose Mercury News: If Bob Bowlsby is leaving his job as Stanford’s athletic director to become commissioner of the Big 12, more power to him. That’s a rugged, punishing job.
If you want to know why, listen to this from a longtime college sports administrator I trust: “I think the Big 12 job is probably the toughest of the BCS commissionerships other than the Big East. They’ve taken a lot of hits in the past year and nearly collapsed. They lost Nebraska and Texas A&M and then had to give in to Texas’ television demands to keep the league together. But Bob has stature and clout in the industry. If anyone can build the Big 12 back up, he’d be the guy.”
Burns Hargis, president of Oklahoma State: “The institutions of the Big 12 wanted a commissioner that could take us to the next era as a conference. The search committee looked for a candidate that has a vision for the next generation of college athletics, and his credentials and ideas exceeded this.”
– He is Steve Greenberg of The Sporting News, and he ranks Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz as the fifth-best Big Ten football coach.
Greenberg writes: Ferentz will win his 100th game at Iowa this season, but a first-place finish in the Legends Division seems out of the question. That’s where Ferentz is at right now, in a nutshell. He’s very respected, based on a fine 13-year body of work at Iowa, but he’s no longer one of the very best (if he ever was).
Greenberg’s top four are Urban Meyer of Ohio State, Bret Bielema of Wisconsin, Mark Dantonio of Michigan State and Brady Hoke of Michigan.
– Indiana Athletic Director Fred Glass flies in the face of his Big Ten colleagues when it comes to an opinion on the league’s policy on denying scholarship football and basketball players to transfer directly from one league school to another.
“I think if a kid wants to stay in our conference, and he’s a quality kid and a good player,” Glass said, “why should we force him to help make some other conference famous?”
– Compiled by Mike Hlas
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