- Adam Rittenberg, ESPN Staff Writer
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A deluge of Big Ten content is coming your way Friday as we wrap up spring football around the conference, so your regular Friday mailblog comes at you a day early.
Let's get to it ...
Derek from Chicago writes: Adam, How in the world did this parity-based schedule come to be? This has got to be a classic case of the decision makers being way too immersed in their task and completely losing sight of the big picture. I see the benefit, but this completely destroys any credibility in the process of crowning a conference champion. It's one thing for the scheduling gods to bless a lucky team or two every year based on randomness, but to deliberately tip the scales so that some teams will have tougher/easier schedules than others is absurd. The concept of a champion has been completely marginalized. If a "mid-tier" team ever has a surprise year and wins the B1G, how could anyone call them a champion if the schedule is DELIBERATELY aligned in their favor EVERY YEAR?! How has this not been met with opposition by anyone with a brain? It's not too hard to imagine this system malfunctioning. Example: Iowa wins the west winning a couple crossover games against Rutgers and MSU, while Nebraska comes in 2nd in the west going 0-2 against Michigan and OSU. A scenario like this is almost guaranteed to happen at some point.
Adam Rittenberg: Derek, some excellent points here, and I agree that there could/will be a scenario where a team gets to the Big Ten championship playing a softer slate because of parity-based scheduling. From a business standpoint, I get it because TV completely drives the sport and having Nebraska or Wisconsin play Ohio State-Penn State-Michigan as much as possible is a no-brainer. But from an equity standpoint, it has some problems, at least during the 18-year period at the start of these new divisions. That said, I don't think it will be as dramatic as it sounds.
I would hope some of the "lower-division" teams would still play at least one name-brand program per year. I wouldn't want to see Nebraska and Wisconsin playing Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State all in the same season. But we'll see how it goes. I also think this type of scheduling has gone on in a different form in the Big Ten and in other leagues. When Nebraska entered the Big Ten, the league made sure to feature it in blockbuster cross-division games (Ohio State, Wisconsin, Penn State). Some of the no-plays in the previous 11-team league also were used somewhat strategically. Bottom line: you want to put forth your most appealing games for TV without creating a situation where a team skates through league play. Moving to nine league games versus eight also increases the degree of difficulty for any team, in my opinion.
IrishBlackHawk from Portsmouth, Va., writes: Adam, greetings from Ohio State's Mid-Atlantic branch! I have never written before even with loving the first recent expansion, hating the next, laughing uncomfortably with L&L divisions, undefeated years and national championship games, etc. However, it seems to me that in all this discussion of why the BIG went to this drastically unbalanced division format, no one has discussed the blatantly obvious reason for it? trying to shore up the greater New York city and Baltimore/D.C. markets to get BTN added to the basic cable packages. Think about it you add the two biggest name programs: The Ohio State University and They Of The Ugly Helmets (my own name for that school up north) as well as Penn State which is the next biggest brand which resonates most in the East. With all of Delany's talk of branding and demographics this is clearly the biggest reason for this move, and geography is just a convenient smoke screen to prevent the backlash of people who are against these obvious money moves. What do you think?
Adam Rittenberg: You're 100 percent, correct. The Big Ten's expansion moves were done in large part to increase the league's footprint, improve demographics, grow the Big Ten Network and make the league as appealing as possible for the upcoming TV contract negotiations. In that sense, of course you feature the biggest brands in new markets as often as possible. Geography makes it easier to do so, but to bring in these major markets and not put Ohio State, Penn State and Michigan there often makes no sense from a business standpoint. Commissioner Jim Delany mentioned it again this week -- how the number of existing Big Ten fans/alumni in the new markets was such a driving force behind the expansion moves. As I wrote last November, the Big Ten's biggest expansion gamble is itself and the ability to grow its existing brand in new markets where it already has a stronghold because of its fans/alums.
Marc from Morton, Ill., writes: Adam, the recent changes to the B1G scheduling have got me thinking. Both the addition of a 9th conference game and a removal of most FCS foes in the non conference seem like great changes. Though the changes will make it harder to get the required amount of home games and will also limit the exposure and pay days of the FCS schools. Both issues could be resolved by adding a preseason exhibition game. Is there any chance that this could happen in the future? Would the NCAA ever allow this? College football is the only sport I can think of without some kind of preseason competition. It would be an addition game of wear and tear on the athletes, but this could be limited since it would be an exhibition. Some teams, like my woeful Illini, would have a tough time selling tickets, but judging by attendance numbers at spring games there is still money to be made. What say you?
Adam Rittenberg: Marc, it's an interesting idea and one that should be explored a little more. Several Big Ten coaches like Michigan's Brady Hoke have expressed interest in having spring scrimmages against other schools. I don't know how keen they'd be about preseason exhibitions, as the injury risk gets a little higher even if the competition isn't great. Ultimately, there's so much focus on the number of games being played and the physical toll on players, especially with concussions very much in the national spotlight. Ultimately, those factors likely would prevent exhibitions from happening, and I don't know how many teams would make major pay days off them, or whether that money is worth the risk factors.
Jeremy from Columbus writes: I don't understand the major scheduling issue for most teams with needing to get seven home games every single season, rather than just averaging seven. To use Purdue as an example, they say they need their home game against Notre Dame on the years when they have only four home conference games. But how is that really any better than having Notre Dame home on the same year as five home conference games, and therefore have eight home games one year, and six the next? It just seems like teams are making scheduling more rigid than is necessary.
Adam Rittenberg: Jeremy, I tend to agree. Michigan had six home games last season, and it brings in way more football revenue than Purdue from each game at the Big House. So it can be done. I understand that in most seasons, these schools need at least seven home games, but one season with six -- especially followed or preceded by one with eight -- seems to work out in the long run, if the budgeting is correct. There are always time-sensitive projects like facilities where the funding needs to be there, but I have a hard time seeing how, if planned correctly, one season with six home games every 5-7 years will cripple a school's athletic budget.
Max from Grosse Pointe Farms, Mich., writes: Adam, Adam, Adam, you missed my point. I do not want MSU to duck anyone. I am glad that they are playing Alabama and Oregon in the future. I will probably travel to both games. What I am angry about is they way that the Big Ten "protects" some programs at the expense of others. I know that MSU will continue to get the shaft as long as Delany is running the show. He can't help himself. The point is no matter the division we would continue to play Michigan on a yearly basis. We would also be playing OSU often in the Big Ten Championship. No one in "Sparta" is trying to avoid tough opposition. Just asking for equal treatment. Is that to much to ask for?
Adam Rittenberg: Max, you have to be specific on how the Big Ten "protects" some programs rather than others. If you're referring to Ohio State going to the Sugar Bowl after the 2010 season, keep in mind that at the time the bowl selections were made, the only person we can prove knew Ohio State had committed NCAA violations was former coach Jim Tressel. The NCAA investigation into the Tat-5 only started a few weeks after the bowl selections. If Commissioner Delany had known in December that Tressel had knowledge of the violations, he wouldn't have lobbied for the Buckeyes players to be eligible. It's way too big of a risk to knowingly take for a person in Delany's position. As for 2011, Michigan State wasn't eligible for BCS at-large selection as it finished No. 17 in the final BCS standings, outside of the top 14. Not much that could be done about that. Are there other examples? Also, does it really matter whether Michigan State plays Michigan or Ohio State in the division or in the league championship game? You still have to beat those teams to get back to the Rose Bowl. And, as we've seen a lot in recent years, division runner-ups usually get put in better bowls than championship game losers.
James from Indy writes: About your piece about Spartans accepting the challenge of the east division. I wouldn't have a problem with it execpt that now it will be even easier to screw over the Green and White on a yearly basis. In the West I feel we could have a little bit more control. I feel that, in the East, it just makes it that much easier for the B1G to keep us under their thumb.
Adam Rittenberg: James, I don't understand your view at all. How is it "easier to screw over" Michigan State? The beauty of division play is that every team controls its own fate in the race to the league championship game. If Michigan State takes care of business on the field, there's nothing the Big Ten can do about it. If you're implying officiating crews will be biased against the Spartans when they play Ohio State/Michigan/Penn State, while it's a common fan complaint, I just don't buy it. I realize Michigan State had some highly questionable calls go against it last season, but the path to the league title game is pretty clear to me, no matter which division they're in.
Alden from Chicago writes: Adam, apparently I'm going to dissent from what you say is the majority of the Spartan congregation and tell you that I was honestly really excited to hear we were in the East Division. You are who you beat. WHEN we surpass Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State, and the others to win the Division Title, again, that's something I'm going to be damn proud of. I too challenge SpartanNation to set up and view this as an opportunity, not at all a set back.
Adam Rittenberg: Bravo, Alden. Max and James, hope you follow Alden's lead on this topic.
3dDan Murphy and Mitch Sherman
3dSharon Katz, ESPN Stats & Information
4dMitch Sherman and Dan Murphy