If you've been following our Ultimate 2013 Big Ten Road Trip, you likely noticed a pattern after the first four weeks of the season: limited games and not many appealing ones.
All 12 Big Ten squads are in action on each of the first three weekends this fall, and Week 4 features nine matchups. But then the number goes down. Way down.
Week 5 features only four games and, sadly, only six Big Ten teams. Weeks 7 and 9 also feature only four contests.
Although a drop-off in total games is typical after the first four weeks, especially in a league like the Big Ten that frontloads its nonconference schedule, a Saturday with only four games is highly unusual.
Blame the double-bye.
Every Big Ten team -- every FBS team for that matter -- will have two open weeks during the 2013 season. The same holds true in 2014. The NCAA allows for an extra week in the college football season whenever Aug. 30 or Aug. 31 falls on a Saturday. Most FBS teams will kick off the 2013 season on Saturday, Aug. 31 and will start the 2014 campaign on Saturday, Aug. 30.
The double-bye last surfaced in 2008, but its impact was minimal in the Big Ten because the league wrapped up regular-season play before Thanksgiving, so the Saturday after Turkey Day served as the second open week for all 11 teams. The Big Ten also didn't have a championship game until the 2011 season.
Big Ten senior associate commissioner for television administration Mark Rudner, who crafts the league schedule each year, told ESPN.com that most of the nonconference games for 2013 were scheduled before the Big Ten moved its regular season to after Thanksgiving and added a championship game. The non-league games are bunched in the first four weeks, their traditional spots, which forces the league to spread 48 conference games over 10 weeks rather than nine.
"That's why there’s gaps in the schedule," Rudner said. "Like Sept. 28, it's going to be tough because you only have four games. Two of them are conference games, and two of them are nonconference games. We tried to get folks to move nonconference games into that week and they said, 'We've already contracted on this date or that date. We can't move.'
"The '13 and '14 schedules were done before we had a championship game and probably when we were ending the season a week before Thanksgiving. [The athletic directors] didn't really feel the need to look at [non-league] dates other than the first four weeks."
The result is a Saturday where half of the Big Ten is off. Ohio State hosts Wisconsin and rivals Iowa and Minnesota meet in Minneapolis, while Purdue and Illinois host non-league games against Northern Illinois and Miami (Ohio), respectively.
The limited slate will impact TV selections. ESPN/ABC gets the first picks and have selected up to four Big Ten games on a given Saturday, but the Big Ten Network is entitled to at least one game per week.
"There is a bit of an impact quantitatively and also qualitatively," Rudner said. " The selection process has to be conducted in a way that BTN has at least a game every week to televise. [Sept. 28 is] sort of the outlier this year."
Four Big Ten teams will be off on Oct. 12 and Oct. 26 (note: Wisconsin and Purdue originally were scheduled to play Oct. 26 but moved their game to Sept. 21). Conversely, at least 10 Big Ten teams played every week during the 2012 season, which never had a Saturday featuring fewer than five games.
Things pick up in November, which will feature all 12 teams in action for league games Nov. 2, Nov. 23 and Nov. 30. The Nov. 9 and Nov. 16 dates each will feature five games with two teams having byes. Big Ten athletic directors want every team playing on the final two regular-season Saturdays, and while there could be some tweaks to the policy in future seasons, they'll get their wish this fall.
The 2014 Big Ten schedule has yet to be released as league brass still must determine divisional alignment as both Maryland and Rutgers enter the conference. But the overall schedule should be a bit beefier as the Big Ten will have 56 league games to spread out in 10 weeks, rather than 48 (remember, each team still will play eight league games until most likely 2016).
While the 2013 schedule features only one non-league game played after Oct. 1 -- Wisconsin hosts BYU on Nov. 9 -- the 2014 slate includes Northwestern visiting Notre Dame on Nov. 15 and Indiana hosting North Texas on Oct. 4.
"For 2014, we'll be a lot more strategic with our scheduling," Rudner said.
The double-bye returns in 2014, 2019, 2024 and 2025, but it's unlikely to impact the Big Ten as much as it does in 2013. The Big Ten is taking progressive scheduling steps such as earlier conference games, November night games and more league games (9) likely beginning in 2016.
Better schedules are on the horizon, but the double-bye will be a bummer this coming season.