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Earlier league games on agenda for B1G

2/12/2013

The Big Ten has more pressing items to decide than when to play conference games, including how many league contests (nine versus 10), the new division alignment and a new bowl lineup.

But the prospect of scheduling league games earlier in the season -- rather than after most or all non-league games are played -- generated interest at the recent athletic directors' meeting at Big Ten headquarters. Other major conferences play league games in early to mid September -- sometimes even in the season opener -- and the Big Ten soon could join them.

"We need to look at that, what our best inventory looks like," Northwestern athletic director Jim Phillips told ESPN.com. "If we're going to have seven conference games for nine weeks, why wouldn't we want to consider spreading that out over the course of the season, as well as some great nonconference scheduling?"

The Big Ten in recent years has started league play in late September or early October, after teams have finished their nonconference slates. Wisconsin and Purdue will begin league play a week earlier than all the other teams in 2013, meeting Sept. 21 in Madison. The initial 2014 Big Ten schedule had two games -- Michigan-Indiana and Minnesota-Penn State -- taking place a week before all other league contests, but the schedule will be revised to accommodate new members Rutgers and Maryland.

The ADs weighed the pros and cons of earlier league games at their meeting and discussed them with Big Ten Network president Mark Silverman. Conference games in the first few weeks will be more attractive to the Big Ten's television partners. The Big Ten paired its teams for season openers and other September contests in the 1970s and early 1980s.

"Nobody says you have to start a conference season on any particular date," Phillips said. College football allows you to have your own jurisdiction on when you play conference games."

Don't be surprised if more of those games start taking place earlier in the season.