Thursday, August 4, 2011
Pac-12's slant on nine-game slate
By Adam Rittenberg
As our poll shows, most of you are excited about the Big Ten adopting a nine-game conference schedule beginning in the 2017 season.
Colleague Ted Miller might make you think twice.
Miller, our Pac-12 blogging wizard, understands the true impact a nine-game conference schedule has on a league. The Pac-12 (then Pac-10) implemented the nine-game schedule in 2006 -- when the NCAA approved the 12-game regular-season schedule -- and will continue to use it with a 12-team league that, like the Big Ten, will introduce division play and a championship game this season.
Those of you who read Ted regularly (and you should if you don't) know his view on the Pac-12 and the nine-game schedule. He has written extensively on the topic and has a very clear opinion.
For those who don't know ...
"It has been the bane of the Pac-10 in terms of perception," Miller told me today. "All these 6-6 teams end up 5-7, and you lose those eight-, nine- and seven-win teams that make you look better. It's just a huge burden to the conference because no matter what happens, if you have 12 teams, you're going to have six extra losses in the conference. That's always going to hurt you.
"It doesn't matter how it helps you. It's always going to hurt you by hurting the perception."
Last year, the Pac-10 sent only four teams to bowl games (8-5 USC was ineligible). Two teams, Oregon State and California, finished 5-7 and both had five or more losses in conference play. Arizona State, which nearly upset Wisconsin, finished 6-6 with five Pac-10 losses but didn't go bowling because two of its wins came against FCS opponents.
Miller notes that former Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh tried to eliminate the nine-game league slate two years ago. Most Pac-12 coaches don't like the setup "because you never get credit for it," Miller said. College football differs from college basketball in that schedule strength rarely means anything.
Most Big Ten coaches also oppose the switch, as do some athletic directors.
"If you have a competitive conference, what happens is everybody gravitates toward the middle," Miller said. "So you end up with a lot of 5-7, 6-6, 7-5 teams instead of those elite teams. ... If you can schedule four nonconference games, that gives you four wins, so all you have to do is win two games in conference to be bowl eligible.
"Then all of a sudden, everybody talks about your depth, [saying] 'They've got nine bowl-eligible teams.' It's a game-changer."
Miller also points out that the alternating schedule -- five home conference games one year, four the next -- combined with the quality of no-plays creates tension among coaches. New Pac-12 member Utah, for example, plays five conference home games this season and misses league title favorites Oregon and Stanford.
This might be less of an issue in the Big Ten, which has had multiple no-plays for years, but it shouldn't be dismissed.
One issue many of you are raising is how nine-game league schedules impact nonconference scheduling. Will Big Ten teams be less inclined to play at least one marquee nonconference foe, or will they simply trim the fat (cupcakes are high in fat) from their schedules?
The Pac-12 has maintained its aggressiveness in nonleague scheduling despite the nine-game conference slate.
"It's up to the ADs," Miller said. "The coaches in the Pac-10 always talk about the ABC model. You play another AQ conference team for an 'A' game. Then you play a 'B' game, and it could be a team like Nevada that will beat you if you don't show up, embarrass you, in fact. Then you play the Tennessee-Martins in the 'C' game. But not all teams do that."
There is upside to the nine-game league slate. Miller notes it will be more attractive to fans and ease the burden on athletic directors for nonconference scheduling.
But if the change impacts the Big Ten much like it has the Pac-12, the league's reputation could take some hits.