Chicago Colleges: Gene Smith

B1G numbers: Changes in recruiting

May, 22, 2014
May 22
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After taking a look at the most recent database of revenues and expenses in college sports, we’re putting the Big Ten under the microscope. Our four-part series -- the rest of which can be found here -- concludes with a look at recruiting expenses and why they've grown.

Penn State defensive coordinator Bob Shoop can still remember sifting through thick stacks of manila recruiting folders in the mid-90s and reaching for a shelf of VHS tapes hanging above his desk.

There were no real recruiting support staffs to speak of. He'd pop a recruit's game tape into a VCR and then ready himself with a notepad. Fast forward, fast forward. There's the recruit. Fast forward, fast forward.

[+] EnlargeClayton Thorson
Tom Hauck for Student SportsDigital and online technologies are helping schools discover prospects like Clayton Thorson earlier and make more educated scholarship offers.
"Recruiting's changed a lot," Shoop told ESPN.com. "Our recruiting staff, they'll cut up tapes for me now. I don't have to sift through hours of recruiting tape anymore. Our interns will hand me 10 clips for a 2016 safety or something like that. You're investing to recruit good people."

As technology has evolved, so has recruiting -- and recruiting budgets. In just the past six seasons, according to a recent analysis from "Outside the Lines," recruiting budgets encompassing all sports have increased at 13 of 14 Big Ten schools and risen by at least 30 percent at eight of those. Higher gas prices, increased postage and other variables have undoubtedly played a role but several coaches and athletic directors also stressed how bigger staffs -- a result of newer technology -- have inflated those numbers.

At Penn State, Shoop can now rely on two full-time staff members, two graduate assistants and a team of 30 students/interns to help with recruiting. At Northwestern, the recruiting staff has tripled in just the last six to eight years. And, at Ohio State, one full-time position was recently added, in part, to help with recruiting presentations.

"Our technology has increased quite a bit," OSU athletic director Gene Smith said. "That's a big number for us."

That technology, such as online game film, has placed a bigger focus on immediacy. In an age where a top prospect's highlights can be filmed today and broken down by college coaches tomorrow, staffs can no longer wait until the offseason to evaluate players. And they can't drop everything on a Friday night in October, either, to give up game plan tweaks in favor of digesting film from a high school junior.

"Your coaches are doing this thing in the football season called coaching," said Chris Bowers, Northwestern's director of player personnel. "The time allocation a position coach would spend in March, he's not going to allocate that same amount of time in December or October. He can't. So, yes, there's been an increase in staff for sure.

"I would say at most universities -- I can't speak for everyone -- the recruiting staff is probably two to three times bigger than it was in '06."

In September of 2012, the Wildcats were able to jump early on the Clayton Thorson bandwagon because of that extra staff and technology. The ESPN 300 quarterback, who signed with Northwestern in February, hadn't started under center prior to 2012.

So, when he was due in Evanston, Ill., for a Saturday night game, Bowers noticed his high school coach uploaded his film to the Hudl website that Friday evening. Bowers contacted a GA, requested he cut-up some highlights -- and then forwarded the finished product to the coaching staff. Thorson received an offer that Saturday, partially based on something that was filmed less than 24 hours before.

And if this had all happened just a few years before, then how long would it have taken to make that same judgment call? Months?

"

You're investing to recruit good people.

" -- Penn State defensive coordinator Bob Shoop
"Yes!" Bowers said. "… Even if you were an aggressive recruiting staff, the high school coaches would still need to bring you a DVD or mail it to you -- and they might not do it until the end of the season."

Nationally, recruiting budgets have risen across the board, so it's hardly limited to the Big Ten. Still, the conference seems to be outpacing the competition. Between 2008 and 2012, Big Ten teams placed within the top-10 nationally in recruiting spending on just five occasions. In 2013, four conference teams (Michigan, Ohio State, Nebraska, Penn State) placed within the top 10 -- and Illinois wasn't far behind at No. 12.

But coaches and athletic directors were slow to label last season a turning point. After all, it's not as if the staffs had all doubled overnight. Instead, they cautioned, there were other variables that needed to be taken into account. At Wisconsin, for example, the budget is artificially low because the Badgers are provided a private plane and don't need to charter flights as much. At Iowa, a booster donation wasn't included in the recruiting numbers until a few years ago -- which could account for part of the jump. And at Minnesota, due to the campus location, increased flight and hotel expenses impacted the budget more than schools elsewhere.

"We can't drive as much as others," Gophers athletic director Norwood Teague added. "So we've got to keep building the budget and being aggressive."

Regardless, the trend of spending more on recruiting each season appears to be a difficult one to stop. Whether it's an increased staff or costs elsewhere, few universities take a step back in spending.

But, on the bright side, it could be worse -- at least the era of "Be kind; please rewind" is long gone.

"That required a significant amount of manpower hours," Shoop said with a laugh. "And in some ways, now, it's a pro model. It's not like you have an entire scouting department, but I'm sure we're getting closer to that model now than ever before now, as far as people whose sole responsibility is player evaluation. ... It's incredible how the process has accelerated."

Big Ten Wednesday mailbag

April, 30, 2014
Apr 30
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What's on your mind?

rtXC from Denison, Texas, writes: Hey, Brian, love the blog! After the SEC's "groundbreaking" announcement to stay at eight conference games and have each of its teams play one team from the Power 5, would you like to see the other conferences band together and make a stand? Other than certain SEC-ACC rivalries and current contracts for future games, how about the four conferences band together and abstain from scheduling SEC teams in the future? That'd surely solve things, eh?

[+] EnlargeGene Smith
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsOhio State AD Gene Smith says the SEC's decision puts the onus on a strong nonconference schedule.
Brian Bennett: It would make scheduling all but impossible for the SEC, but I don't think other leagues are as outraged over the decision by the SEC to stay at eight games as many fans are. I talked to Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith earlier this week and asked him if he had an opinion on the SEC's decision. Here's what he said:

"No, not really. I don't know about my colleagues in the league, but I think when you look at different conferences, they have to do what they have to do based on their makeup, based on their geography and their fan base. Whether they go nine or eight games, that's really based on who they are. I really don't have a preference and would not want to even try and direct how those conferences should go. They're living in it, they're working in it, they know their travel issues and all that stuff, so for someone outside to project, I just don't think that's right."

Smith did add that the SEC's decision "will ultimately depend on what they're doing in the nonconference. Because their in-conference strength of schedule, the majority of the time, is going to be pretty good. But when you leave four games to the nonconference part of your schedule, you've got to make sure you're able to get who you need to get in order to make that overall schedule strength good."

Translation: SEC teams had better not shy away from playing strong teams in the nonconference, and they'd better hope the teams they schedule years in advance are actually good when the games arrive (see Ohio State's conundrum with the Cal series). Ultimately, the best way to get some uniformity in conference games is not some sort of boycott. It's having the playoff selection committee send a strong message about strength of schedule in its choices for the four-team event.



 



Eric from Iowa writes: Give the so called "Big 5" conferences more power, eh? More power to create their own rules on things like stipends, medical coverage, family travel benefits, recruiting, etc? ... I'm not going to pretend those conferences aren't already the big money makers of college football, but giving them the autonomy to make these rules for themselves vs. a poor old little MAC school who already struggles to keep up ... proof that the Central Michigans are in place to provide home games for Michigan and MSU, and that's pretty much it.

Bennett: Well, how is that really any different? The Central Michigans of the world are in no way, shape or form on the same playing field right now as the Michigans and Michigan States anyway. The money gap is huge and will continue growing. I think there's an honest desire from the power conferences to give back more to the players (in part, sure, because they're afraid a court or legislature will force them to do so if they don't act first), and if all that's holding them back are mid- and low-major schools that can't afford it, then there need to be different rules in place.



 



Tony from Auburn Hills, Mich., writes: When Darrell Hazell was announced as head coach for Purdue, everyone assumed he would be bringing that TresselBall that he carried to Kent State, even though Purdue has been a spread team since Joe Tiller brought it to the league. Then the season happened and, well, none of us is really sure what identity the offense was supposed to have. But in the Q&A from last week's lunch links, Hazell said he thinks they'll be a spread team this season. So was this really his plan from the beginning, or is this a change out of pure necessity due to poor recruiting and awful play from the O-line?

Bennett: Hazell has always preached physicality and a strong running game as his base philosophy, so hearing him talk about the spread was surprising -- though as Ohio State showed the past two seasons, the two aren't always mutually exclusive. You're right, Tony, in that Purdue had zero identity last season (or maybe I should say it's identity was a zero) on offense or defense, and the coaching staff might have misread the talents of the players. With an offensive line that's not close to being dominant and speedsters such as Akeem Hunt and Raheem Mostert, the spread might be a better use of the Boilers' current talent, much of which was recruited for a spread system, after all. The smartest coaches adapt their system to the players they have, not the other way around.



 



John C. from Princeton Jct., N.J., writes: Been a lifelong RU football fan. Have the Knights winning three games this year. May steal one or two more. The athletic department is a mess. And it seems every week it gets worse. Coach Kyle Flood (nice man) plays not to lose. Watch the games, and you will see it. This lack of "killer instinct" has to overflow to the players. I can give multiple examples. What do you think?

Bennett: I don't know about a lack of a killer instinct, but Flood and predecessor Greg Schiano certainly seemed to play a conservative style -- especially on offense. Perhaps that will change with Ralph Friedgen calling the plays, but we shall see. It's not like that type of style would be out of step in the Big Ten, after all. There's no doubt that the Scarlet Knights' inaugural Big Ten schedule is very difficult, and out-of-league games at Washington State and at Navy are no gimmes by any stretch. I think Rutgers will win more than three games, but 5-7 might be a reasonable accomplishment against that slate.



 



Bran Stark from Winterfell writes: Penny-for-your-thought type of question, Brian ... Iowa clearly has the "easiest" conference schedule of the three preseason favorites of the B1G's West. Next, Wiscy gets Big Red at home and finally my Huskers have to travel to Iowa City, Madison, and East Lansing, coming in at the hardest of the three favorites. If memory serves me correctly, Bo Pelini hasn't lost to any B1G teams twice in a row, and only the terrible Longhorns have notched that feat against him. How much, if at all, do you think the fact that the last time Nebraska played all three of those home teams it ended with losses will have on the team? Mind you, some of those losses came in grand fashion.

Bennett: Thanks for taking time out of your busy warging schedule to write in, Bran. ("Game of Thrones" nerd alert). That's an interesting stat on Pelini, but I'm not sure that history has any bearing on the future. Teams just change too much from year to year for the past season to be a huge factor. And remember the Huskers needed some major comebacks in games against Northwestern, Ohio State and Michigan State to avoid back-to-back losses. The schedule, though, is definitely worth noting. Nebraska clearly got the toughest draw of the three teams you mentioned. Based on returning talent alone, I would make the Huskers the West Division favorite by a nostril. The schedule could end up keeping them out of Indianapolis. Truly worthy championship teams can overcome it, though.


Big Ten makes progress in diversity

February, 24, 2014
Feb 24
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The Big Ten likes to consider itself a leader on many fronts in college sports. Several Big Ten schools were among the first to integrate their football programs, and the first two African-American head football coaches in a major conference called the league home.

But for much of this century, when it came to football coaching diversity, the Big Ten lagged behind the rest of the nation.

[+] EnlargeJames Franklin
AP Photo/Eric Christian SmithPenn State's decision to hire James Franklin as its first African-American head football coach can't be underestimated.
After the third African-American head coach in league history -- Michigan State's Bobby Williams -- was fired late in the 2002 season, the conference went a decade without another black head football coach. The Big Ten was the only one of the six BCS AQ conferences that did not have at least one African-American head coach during that span; the SEC, by contrast, had four in the same time frame.

Thankfully, things have begun to improve. Two of the last three head coaches hired in the Big Ten -- Purdue's Darrell Hazell and Penn State's James Franklin -- are African-American.

"That's great news, to have that diversity," Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith said. "Now we just need to give them time and let them be successful where they are and develop their programs. I'm glad there is progress, and we need to continue to do more across the country."

There weren't a lot of opportunities, period, for head coaching jobs in the Big Ten during the recent diversity drought, as schools like Iowa, Northwestern, Penn State and Ohio State remained mostly stable at the top. But coaching turnover has increased in the league in the past few years; Penn State, for instance, just hired its second coach in three years after going nearly a half-century without a transition.

Was improving diversity a league-wide priority? Conference officials say no.

"What our schools try to do is hire the best coaches in their pool," Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany said. "We've had plenty of African-American basketball coaches.

"It's more about a commitment to opportunity and a fair process, and as long as our people are hiring the best people in processes that are open, you would hope and think that it would be sort of a broad representation of people. Whether you hire James Franklin or a new coach at any place, I'm not sure race should be the factor. Certainly people wouldn't want it to be a factor. It's really an outcome."

Still, it's hard not to note the importance of Penn State hiring its first African-American head football coach. More so than Dennis Green or Francis Peay at Northwestern or even Williams at Michigan State, Franklin is leading a flagship, blue-blood program. The timing was fortuitous, as the Pennsylvania native was ready for a new challenge after proving himself at Vanderbilt and the Nittany Lions needed a dynamic new leader.

“It’s a lot of significance," Penn State athletic director Dave Joyner said. "We hired James because of the kind of person and coach he is. The fact he’s African American is great. It’s a great testimony to opportunity. A hundred years ago, that wouldn’t have happened in this country."

[+] EnlargeJim Delany
AP Photo/Ting Shen/Triple Play New MediaBig Ten commissioner Jim Delany said the hiring process should be fair and a commitment to opportunity for all coaches.
The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports hasn't yet released its annual hiring report card for college football. But Richard Lapchick, the center's director, said the Big Ten's recent moves are "definitely a sign of progress." While there are only 11 FBS black head coaches heading into the 2014 season, it's noteworthy that minorities have gotten opportunities to lead storied programs like Penn State and Texas (Charlie Strong), Lapchick said.

"That's critically important," he said. "Historically, the opportunities in general that have gone to African-American coaches have been at programs that have been really down, and the opportunities to turn them around have been very problematic. Let's hope [Hazell and Franklin] are successful, because they will help create more opportunities for other African-American and Latino coaches in FBS conferences."

The next step for the Big Ten is to continue to develop and identify the next wave of minority head coaching candidates. Both Franklin and Hazell, who led Kent State for two seasons before Purdue hired him, had already established themselves as winning head coaches elsewhere, though Hazell was also a well-regarded assistant at Ohio State. The Big Ten sent several African-American assistant coaches to the annual minority coaches' forum between 2006 and 2010, and some athletic directors see it as their job to mentor young black coaches.

Smith saw Everett Withers leave the Buckeyes staff this winter to land the James Madison head coaching job and said he is spending time this offseason with running backs coach Stan Drayton to get Drayton accustomed to non-football issues like university budgets and policies.

"We want to have guys who are trained to hopefully win in the interview process," Smith said. "Sometimes, those are beauty contests. You've got to be able to answer the questions the right way and demonstrate an ability to lead."

That's the ultimate goal, to have more minority candidates who are ready when those opportunities do arise. Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon said that wasn't the case a few years ago, but the pool of potential coaches is increasing.

"We’re starting to see more and more diversity among the coaching staffs and up-and-coming diverse candidates in all various positions in the sport," Brandon said. "Now, we're seeing more representation at the head coaching level. That was bound to happen and important to have happen, and I'm glad to see that trend evolve."

B1G night games could come to early Nov.

February, 18, 2014
Feb 18
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Four years ago, the Big Ten clarified its November night games policy, saying that while a contractual provision exists between the league and its TV partners about prime-time games after Nov. 1, the games can take place if all parties are on board and planning begins early.

The message back then: We can do this, but we probably won't any time soon.

Last year, Big Ten coaches and administrators expressed greater support for night games, including those in November. League commissioner Jim Delany told ESPN.com he wouldn't stand in the way of such games.

[+] EnlargeGene Smith
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsIf the matchups are right, Ohio State AD Gene Smith is open to November night games in the Big Ten.
But when the Big Ten prime-time schedule came out for the 2013 season, it included no night games after Nov. 1.

Will 2014 be the year we see Big Ten football kick off under the lights after Nov. 1?

We won't know for sure until ESPN/ABC and BTN announce their prime-time schedules this spring, but there's momentum for more night games and later night games, and talks are underway.

"We're more amendable to that first November Saturday," Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith recently told ESPN.com, "and I think some of us will be willing to look at that second Saturday in November if the contest is right."

Weather is still a potential deterrent for Big Ten schools to schedule night games later in the season, as it creates possible logistical problems for all involved (fans, game operations staff, police/security). But the temperature difference between late October and the first portion of November often is negligible.

The 2014 season includes Saturdays on Nov. 1 and Nov. 8.

Here are the schedules:

Nov. 1

Indiana at Michigan
Maryland at Penn State
Illinois at Ohio State
Wisconsin at Rutgers
Northwestern at Iowa
Purdue at Nebraska

Byes: Minnesota, Michigan State

Nov. 8

Penn State at Indiana
Michigan at Northwestern
Ohio State at Michigan State
Iowa at Minnesota
Wisconsin at Purdue

Byes: Maryland, Rutgers, Illinois, Nebraska

The bad news: The Nov. 1 schedule doesn't feature too many big-time games, which could decrease the likelihood of a prime-time contest, especially on ESPN/ABC.

[+] EnlargeMichigan Stadium
AP Photo/The Ann Arbor NewsMichigan likes for its night games to be major events, which could rule the Wolverines out for an early-November game under the lights in 2014.
The good news: Several of the schools hosting games that day are among the most open in the league to hosting night games. Penn State and Nebraska welcome such contests -- in part because of their pre-Big Ten history -- and Ohio State, which is installing permanent lights at Ohio Stadium for the 2014 season, has become increasingly interested. Rutgers comes from a league where you played whenever TV asked you to, and a night game against a good opponent like Wisconsin would bring some nice exposure for one of the new Big Ten additions.

Michigan wants its night games to be major events, and facing Indiana doesn't exactly qualify. Iowa hosting Northwestern is a possibility, especially since the Hawkeyes play only one other home game (Oct. 11 against Indiana) between Sept. 15 and Nov. 1.

The Nov. 8 schedule includes arguably the Big Ten's marquee game of the year in Ohio State visiting Michigan State, a rematch of the 2013 league championship. I'd absolutely love to see this at night, and what a way to kick off November prime time in the league. It's definitely a possibility, but the game also could fill the 3:30 p.m. ET window, which many Big Ten athletic directors prefer (Purdue's Morgan Burke recently called it "the sweet spot").

The Penn State-Indiana game is another potential prime-time kickoff, mainly because Indiana has been so open to night games (six in the past two seasons, nine since the 2010 season).

"We've probably had more night games than most of our colleagues in the conference," Indiana athletic director Fred Glass said. "We think it's a good thing for us, it helps our attendance. We're certainly open to that, and my guess is that will be more of a trend."

Illinois athletic director Mike Thomas echoes the support for night games, noting that several Big Ten ADs and coaches previously spent time in the Mid-American Conference, where playing at night and on weekdays, especially late in the season, is common.

"We experienced all of that in our past lives," said Thomas, who served as Akron's athletic director from 2000-05. "We talk about the opportunities for the prime-time windows and where we are as individual schools and as a conference in having that kind of exposure.

"I would certainly support it."

Many of Thomas' colleagues seem to be on board. Smith said the athletic directors last week spoke about moving up the timetable for prime-time selections so they can begin promoting games. Prime-time schedules typically have been announced between April 20 and May 15.

"We're putting in lights because we've realized that we can handle night games," Smith said. "In 2006, we were a little bit skittish about it. We know our fans love it, so we've shared with the conference that we're amenable to having more. There's a novelty to it. That helps us with our atmosphere.

"It makes things really exciting."

Attendance challenges big deal for B1G

February, 17, 2014
Feb 17
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The Big Ten's combination of big stadiums, big fan bases and big tradition has historically made football attendance a rather small issue.

America's two largest football venues -- Michigan Stadium and Beaver Stadium -- sit on Big Ten campuses, and three of the seven football stadiums with six-figure capacities are in the league (Ohio Stadium is the other). Michigan has led the nation in college football attendance for the past 15 years, and the Big Ten occupied three of the top five spots and seven of the top 23 spots in attendance average for the 2013 season.

[+] EnlargeOhio Stadium
Kirk Irwin/Getty ImagesOhio State averaged 104,933 fans at its seven home games in 2013, which ranked No. 2 in that nation behind Michigan.
The Big Ten in 2013 set records for total attendance (6,127,526) and attendance for league games (3,414,448), and ranked second behind the SEC in average attendance per game (70,431), a slight increase from 2012.

So what's the B1G deal? Eight of the 12 league programs saw a decline in average attendance last season. Some have seen numbers drop for several years. Student-section attendance is a growing concern, and the Big Ten is tracking the troubling national attendance trends.

"We've been blessed because we haven't been hit with the significant drop-off that many other conferences and schools have experienced," Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith told ESPN.com. "However, we've seen it in certain games, or in not necessarily ticket sales but people actually coming to games.

"So we're concerned."

The league is taking a proactive approach, starting last season with the formation of a football game-day experience subcommittee, which Smith chairs. The committee in August announced that Big Ten schools would be allowed to show an unlimited number of replays on video boards at any speed. Schools previously could show one replay at no less than 75 percent of real-time speed.

The move drew positive reviews from fans and no major complaints from game officials.

"If people can see the replay at home on TV, you can't give them a lesser experience in the stands," Purdue athletic director Morgan Burke said.

A "more robust" replay approach is on the way for 2014, and Big Ten leaders are looking at other ways to bolster the stadium experience, which, as Burke noted, seems to have reached a tipping point with the couch experience.

Here are some areas of focus:

Cellular and Wi-Fi Connections

In August, the subcommittee encouraged each Big Ten school to explore full Wi-Fi in stadiums as well as Distributed Antenna System (DAS) coverage to enhance cell-phone functionality. A fan base immersed in smartphones, social media and staying connected demands it.

"Everybody realizes improvements have to be made," said Kerry Kenny, the Big Ten's liaison to the game-day experience subcommittee. "People want to be updated on other games. They want to go in there and take photos or Instagram videos or tweet. They want to be able to stay in touch with family and friends that aren’t there but are watching."

Penn State installed Wi-Fi throughout Beaver Stadium in 2012 but is the only Big Ten school to have complete access. Illinois athletic director Mike Thomas said he hopes to have total Wi-Fi in the school's football stadium by the fall, if not the 2015 season. Nebraska's regents last month approved a $12.3 million Wi-Fi project for its stadium, and Wisconsin hopes to have full stadium Wi-Fi this season.

Most schools are focused on boosting cell service, which is more feasible and widespread. Ohio State installed more than 200 antennas in Ohio Stadium to improve cell service. For complete Wi-Fi, it would need about 1,200 antennas.

"We don't know what the cost is, but we know it's somewhere north of seven figures," Smith said. "We're studying it, as are my colleagues in the Big Ten."

Student attendance

Student sections aren't nearly as full as they used to be on Saturdays, both in the Big Ten and in the nation. ADs are well aware of the downturn and have tried different approaches to boost attendance.

Michigan in 2013 implemented a general admission policy, hoping to get more students to show up early, but reviews weren't favorable. Minnesota provided a new student tailgating area and better ticket packages. Illinois held a clinic for international students, who have told Thomas they'd come to games if they knew more about football.

The technology component resonates for students. Michigan State athletic director Mark Hollis told CBSsports.com that many students didn't show up for a 2012 game against Iowa because they couldn't send text messages in the rain.

Even if Ohio State doesn't install complete Wi-Fi at The Shoe, it could do so for the student section.

"Our surveys show that less than 25 percent of the crowd actually uses their cellular device [during games]," Smith said, "but of that 25 percent, a supermajority are students. You want to be able to provide that access."

In-Game Entertainment

Everybody realizes improvements have to be made. People want to be updated on other games. They want to go in there and take photos or Instagram videos or tweet. They want to be able to stay in touch with family and friends that aren't there but are watching.

Kerry Kenny, the Big Ten's liaison to the game-day experience subcommittee, on Wi-Fi in stadiums.
The days of public-address announcers listing scores from other games during timeouts are over. Schools want to give fans a broader view on Saturdays, whether it's putting live feeds of other games on video boards or replaying highlights shortly after they happen.

"I was at a game at Purdue this year," Kenny said, "and they showed a highlight of a touchdown in the Wisconsin-Iowa game within a couple minutes of that touchdown being scored."

Added Thomas: "If you're watching ESPN or watching a game at home, those are the kinds of experiences you should give people in your venue."

Big Ten athletic directors and football coaches last week discussed having more locker-room video or behind-the-scenes content that can be shown only within the stadium.

"You're in an era where people want to know what's it like before the game, after the game," Burke said. "It humanizes us if people see that side, the highs and the lows."

Burke likens Purdue's sideline to a "Hollywood production," as the band director, a disc jockey and a show producer coordinate in-game music on headsets. Several schools post tweets from fans at games on video boards to create a more interactive experience.

Ticketing and timing

Last month, Penn State became the latest Big Ten school to adopt variable ticket pricing for single games, acknowledging, "We have been listening to our fans." Attendance has dropped 11.2 percent from 2007 to 2012, while frustration has grown with the Seat Transfer and Equity Plan (STEP) program.

Big Ten schools are getting more creative with ticket plans in response to attendance concerns. Northwestern last season implemented a modified "Dutch auction" system where a portion of tickets were sold based on adjusted price demand rather than set prices.

Purdue last fall introduced mobile ticket delivery, which allows fans to download tickets directly to their devices.

Kickoff times are another attendance indicator, as Big Ten schools located in the central time zone often struggle to fill the stands for 11 a.m. games. The Big Ten gradually has increased its number of prime-time games, and while Burke considers mid-afternoon games ideal, more night kickoffs likely are on the way, including those in early November.

Ohio State is in the process of installing permanent lights at Ohio Stadium.

"I'm a big fan of evening games," Thomas said.

As attendance becomes a bigger issue, the Big Ten and its members have surveyed fans about what they want at games. Wisconsin last fall established a 25-member fan advisory council, with two students. The school has received feedback about concessions, parking and whether fans would prefer digital programs rather than the traditional magazine-style ones.

"So much of it is when somebody comes to your venue," said Justin Doherty, Wisconsin's associate athletic director for external relations, "they have an experience that makes them want to come back."

Big Ten's lunch links

February, 3, 2014
Feb 3
11:00
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The lunch links: Snapping the ball over your head since 2008.
CHICAGO -- Indiana athletic director Fred Glass oversees a football program that has made one bowl appearance in the past 19 seasons.

The Hoosiers soon will take up residence in the Big Ten's East Division, which includes traditional powers Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State, as well as Michigan State. Like every other Big Ten team, Indiana also will begin playing nine conference games instead of eight beginning in 2016.

Although Indiana took a step last fall in Year 2 under coach Kevin Wilson, it has won six or more games just 11 times since 1967, when it shared the Big Ten championship and went to the Rose Bowl.

If given the choice between keeping the minimum wins requirement for bowls at six versus increasing it to seven, Glass seemingly has an easy decision.

"Perhaps the surprising answer is I'd probably favor going to seven [wins]," Glass told ESPN.com on Wednesday. "We're a program that's trying to build, and you might say it's in our best interest to stay at six, but there's something about enthusing your fan base with a winning season, being 7-5. Maybe that might help limit the number of bowls out there, too, so it's a real positive experience."

At last year's spring meetings, Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany came out in strong support of increasing the bowl requirement from six wins to seven.

"For us, it means redefining a successful year at 7-5 from the standpoint of a bowl season," Delany said last May. "We argued for 6-6. We've experienced 6-6. Now we're suggesting that it's in our best interest, the bowls' best interest as well as the other conferences that might benefit by these open slots to look at a 7-5 standard."

Ultimately, other major conferences weren't on board with the push to increase the requirement. The Big Ten had three 6-6 teams -- Michigan State, Purdue and Minnesota -- make bowl games in 2012 and four 6-6 teams (Ohio State, Illinois, Purdue and Northwestern) go in 2011.

"We think the bowl system would be better off with a 7-5 situation," Delany said Wednesday. "We thought for a while we were heading in that direction, but it's obvious that we're not."

The Big Ten's move to nine league games means a team would have to win at least three conference contests to reach the six-win minimum, giving it a little more credibility. Minnesota athletic director Norwood Teague said many coaches, especially "those building programs," are in favor of keeping the requirement at six victories.

But ADs still hope that seven can be the magic number some day.

"Seven wins is what you should have; always felt that," Ohio State AD Gene Smith said. "I still think we have too many bowls. I just think 6-6 is not the level, but I know that's not something that appears to be reversing at this time. I just don't want to be there again."
The Big Ten's prime-time schedule for 2013 is now complete as the Big Ten Network on Monday announced it will broadcast 12 games under the lights this coming season.

Here's the full prime-time slate from BTN:

Aug. 29


UNLV at Minnesota, 7 p.m. ET
Indiana State at Indiana, 7 p.m. ET

Aug. 30

Western Michigan at Michigan State, 8 p.m. ET

Aug. 31

Wyoming at Nebraska, 8 p.m. ET

Sept. 7

Syracuse at Northwestern, 6 p.m. ET
Southern Miss at Nebraska, 6 p.m. ET
Navy at Indiana, 6 p.m. ET

Sept. 14

UCF at Penn State, 6 p.m. ET
Washington vs. Illinois (at Soldier Field, Chicago), 6 p.m. ET
Western Michigan at Northwestern, 9 p.m. ET

Sept. 21

Missouri at Indiana, 8 p.m. ET

Oct. 19

Wisconsin at Illinois, 8 p.m. ET

Last week, ESPN/ABC announced its six picks for prime-time games featuring Big Ten teams. In case you missed 'em, here they are ...

Sept. 7

Notre Dame at Michigan, 8 p.m. ET, ABC or ESPN or ESPN2

Sept. 14

Notre Dame at Purdue, 8 p.m. ET, ABC or ESPN or ESPN2

Sept. 28

Wisconsin at Ohio State, 8 p.m. ET, ABC or ESPN or ESPN2

Oct. 5

Ohio State at Northwestern, 8 p.m. ET, ABC or ESPN or ESPN2

Oct. 12

Michigan at Penn State, 5 p.m. ET, ESPN or ESPN2

Oct. 26

Penn State at Ohio State, 8 p.m. ET, ABC or ESPN or ESPN2

The complete schedule features a record 18 Big Ten games in prime time, three more than the league's previous high set in 2011. The slate features 13 non-conference games and five league contests. You'll notice immediately that there are once again no November night games, even though the Big Ten is now open to them. Check the blog at 3:30 p.m. ET for more on this, but the extra week in the 2013 schedule was a major factor in the Big Ten's television partners selecting prime-time games only in August, September and October. The two biggest Saturdays for night games are Sept. 7 (four games) and Sept. 14 (four games).

Remember that there could be additional prime-time games for Big Ten teams in road venues, as the other leagues and their television partners control kickoff times.

Eleven of the 12 teams made the Big Ten's prime-time schedule, as Iowa is the lone squad absent from the rundown. Here's the breakdown of prime-time games:

Illinois: 2 (one home, one neutral)
Indiana: 3 (all home)
Iowa: 0
Michigan: 2 (one home, one road)
Michigan State: 1 (home)
Minnesota: 1 (home)
Nebraska: 2 (both home)
Northwestern: 3 (all home)
Ohio State: 3 (two home, one road)
Penn State: 3 (two home, one road)
Purdue: 1 (home)
Wisconsin: 2 (both road)

Some thoughts on the Big Ten's prime-time schedule:
  • Northwestern and Ohio State look like the big winners here. The Wildcats-Buckeyes game on Oct. 5 will be one of Northwestern's most anticipated home games in years. Plus, Northwestern gets its first two home contests at night, which should boost attendance at a time where school isn’t in session and when the weather is still typically very nice. Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith got his wish of two home night games and only one on the road after having the reverse (two road, one home) a lot in recent years. Penn State fans also have to be happy with two home night games, and while the 5 p.m. kickoff time might not be as appealing as 8 p.m., Nittany Nation still will have plenty of time to, well, prepare.
  • Indiana's openness to night football continues to pay off with BTN games. Although the matchups aren't always appealing (i.e. Indiana State), Indiana has made night games a much bigger part of its fans' experience in recent seasons, which has helped attendance. The Missouri game at night makes a lot of sense as Indiana takes on a Big 12 foe in a window with no other Big Ten games (to this point, at least).
  • Purdue's rival Indiana gets a night game against Notre Dame, but the Boilers haven't been as aggressive about night football, which irks a portion of their fans.
  • It would be nice to see more conference games at night, as the prime-time schedule is incredibly front-loaded this season. But as I'll explain more in the no-November-night-games post, the 14-week schedule with two open weeks per team really thins out the conference slate in some weeks. ABC/ESPN and BTN both need games to fill the mid-afternoon window (3:30 p.m. ET), which the Big Ten continues to value as much or more than other leagues.
  • Nebraska fans were bummed out not to see their Huskers on the ABC/ESPN prime-time schedule, but at least they get two home games under the lights on BTN. The Huskers' schedule before November simply isn't very appealing, and while Nebraska had some good November prime-time game possibilities, it just didn't work out this year. The Week 3 game against UCLA almost certainly will go into the 3:30 window.
  • It's always a bummer to have no prime-time games at Camp Randall Stadium, one of the nation's best settings for night football. But Wisconsin's home schedule, especially before mid November, isn't overly appealing. The Badgers are the only team playing two road night games in Big Ten play (Ohio State, Illinois).
  • Michigan State opens with a Friday night home game for the third consecutive season (Youngstown State in 2011, Boise State in 2012). But the Spartans once again aren't on the prime-time slate during Big Ten play.
  • There's no hard cap on the number of night games Big Ten teams can play in a season, but three seems to be the acknowledged maximum. I've been told teams don't want to play more than one-quarter of their games in prime time, which translates to three contests.

ESPN/ABC announce B1G prime-time slate

April, 29, 2013
4/29/13
2:31
PM CT
You've waited for it, and the Big Ten prime-time schedule for the 2013 season is finally here. Well, at least the first part of it.

ESPN/ABC has made its six prime-time picks for the upcoming season. One game already had been announced: Notre Dame at Michigan on Sept. 7.

Here's the full Big Ten prime-time schedule on ESPN/ABC:

Sept. 7: Notre Dame at Michigan, 8 p.m. ET, ABC or ESPN or ESPN2

Sept. 14: Notre Dame at Purdue, 8 p.m. ET, ABC or ESPN or ESPN2

Sept. 28: Wisconsin at Ohio State, 8 p.m. ET, ABC or ESPN or ESPN2

Oct. 5: Ohio State at Northwestern, 8 p.m. ET, ABC or ESPN or ESPN2

Oct. 12: Michigan at Penn State, 5 p.m. ET, ESPN or ESPN2

Oct. 26: Penn State at Ohio State, 8 p.m. ET, ABC or ESPN or ESPN2

[+] EnlargeBeaver Stadium
AP Photo/Gene J. PuskarPenn State will host Michigan in another prime-time matchup on Oct. 12.
Final TV designations will be made in the fall.

The Big Ten Network soon will announce its prime-time schedule for the fall, most likely next Monday. The Big Ten had 14 prime-time games last season, and you can expect about the same total this year.

Some thoughts on the list:

  • Although the Big Ten is now open to night games in November, none appear on this list. ESPN/ABC was able to fill its six-game allotment before the end of October, featuring two games involving Notre Dame and four Big Ten matchups. An ESPN platform will televise a Big Ten matchup in prime time five of six straight Saturdays from Sept. 7 to Oct. 12. There are certainly some appealing games in November that could be played at night, but the networks chose to pass this time around. So if you're upset, blame TV.
  • Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith has been vocal about the fact the Buckeyes typically play two road games at night and just one at home. Smith wants more night games at The Shoe -- so does coach Urban Meyer -- and he gets his wish as Leaders Division foes Wisconsin and Penn State both visit Ohio Stadium at night. Not surprisingly, the Buckeyes make more ABC/ESPN prime-time appearances (3) than any other Big Ten team, as they also visit Northwestern.
  • Speaking of Northwestern, the Wildcats have to be thrilled with an ABC/ESPN prime-time game at Ryan Field. Pat Fitzgerald's crew could/should be 4-0 and coming off of a open week when Ohio State comes to town for Northwestern's Big Ten opener. It will be the most anticipated Northwestern home game in recent memory.
  • I really liked the late-afternoon/early evening kickoff for Ohio State-Penn State last year at Beaver Stadium. Penn State gets another of these as Michigan comes to town on Oct. 12. Could a whiteout be on tap? Let's hope so.
  • The ABC/ESPN prime-time slate features most of the Big Ten teams projected to contend for a championship -- except one. Nebraska has to be a little disappointed to be left out, although the Huskers' schedule in September and October -- when Big Ten prime-time games are typically played -- is very dull. A Week 3 matchup against UCLA likely will be a late-afternoon kickoff.
  • Love 'em or hate 'em, Notre Dame remains a major national TV draw. The Irish will play a night game at a Big Ten stadium for the fifth consecutive season and two road night games against the Big Ten for the second time in three years.

What do you think of the ABC/ESPN prime-time schedule?

B1G open to alliances for scheduling, bowls

February, 12, 2013
2/12/13
9:30
AM CT
The sting from the collapse of the short-lived Big Ten/Pac-12 scheduling alliance isn't totally gone for Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany, but his desire to form partnerships with other conferences hasn't wavered.

Delany told ESPN.com on Monday that the Big Ten continues to explore possible affiliations with other leagues, both for bowl games and non-league scheduling. The Big Ten will be increasing its conference schedules to nine or 10 games, reducing the number of nonconference games by one or two per season.

"We would like to discuss [partnerships]," Delany said. "We were disappointed that the [Pac-12] collaboration didn’t work. Whether we're at nine or 10, there will be fewer nonconference games, but we hope the fewer are better improved in quality. We would be very energized to sit down with others who were interested in also upgrading their schedules to see how we could do that."

Delany points out that different Big Ten programs have different goals, whether it's competing for national championships or making bowl games on a regular basis. But the message from the league office to its members is to push themselves more in non-league scheduling.

"What we've got to do is upgrade," Delany said. "It doesn't make any sense to be playing people from different divisions with fewer scholarships [FCS]. It doesn't make sense for everyone to be playing Southern Cal and Texas, but there's comparability there that we could seek out. We're trying to find out ways that we can create fair schedules, good schedules, healthy schedules for our teams, our players, our coaches and our fans."

Creating healthier bowl matchups also is an objective for the Big Ten. One idea gaining steam is to increase the flexibility of the selection process by sharing tie-ins with other conferences.

The Big Ten continues to have conversations with other leagues and bowl games as it prepares for its next lineup -- beginning in 2014 -- one built around " keeping things fresh for the fans and for the players and for the bowls," Delany said.

"If you have someone who goes to the same bowl three years in a row, that’s problematic," Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith said. "Even two years in a row is problematic. So how do we change that model?"

The Big Ten has valued its alliances with the Rose Bowl in football and with the ACC in basketball. Other leagues like the Big 12 also are motivated to form similar partnerships.

"The problem with partnerships beyond two or three or four is everybody has different objectives," Delany said. "Simple partnerships are easier than multilateral partnerships, but we'll explore both."

B1G to increase number of league games

February, 11, 2013
2/11/13
8:06
PM CT
Let the nine versus 10 debate really begin.

The eight-game Big Ten schedule soon will be a thing of the past. Big Ten athletic directors and coaches met Monday at league headquarters in Park Ridge, Ill., to discuss, among other things, how many conference games will be played following the additions of Maryland and Rutgers in 2014.

League commissioner Jim Delany told ESPN.com that all of the discussions focused on models with nine or 10 league games. There was "no support" to keep the current eight-game league schedule.

"There's real recognition that we now live in two regions of the country, and we want to make sure those are bound together as best we can, so more games [makes sense]," Delany said. "Eight games is not on the table. It's nine or 10."

The change likely won't be implemented until the 2016 season, two years after Maryland and Rutgers join the Big Ten. The league had told its athletic directors not to schedule nonleague games after forming the Pac-12 scheduling alliance, and then gave the green light once the alliance fell apart last summer.

A resolution on the final number of league games for future schedules is expected this spring. The athletic directors have several meetings scheduled in the coming weeks, including in March at the Big Ten basketball tournament in Chicago.

Several factors drive the Big Ten's move to more league games.

"We want to try and provide an opportunity for our league teams to be exposed to as many league venues and conference experiences as possible," said Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith, who chairs the Big Ten athletic directors' group. "There may be a situation where a student-athlete may go four years and play somewhere and never get a chance to play against another [conference] team. ... There's television considerations there. When you have intriguing conference matchups that are better than some of our nonconference matchups, that's an important piece, so there are a lot of different issues."

The downside of a nine-game schedule is an uneven number of home and road games for half of the league each season. A 10-game schedule maintains balance but makes it harder for schools to keep a minimum of seven home games per year, which has been a budgetary requirement in recent seasons.

Delany said if the Big Ten adopts a 10-game schedule, there would be discussions about an "equalization process" relating to revenue, possibly involving the Big Ten's next television agreement.

"If you go with 10 and you can't guarantee people seven home games, how do we financially make people whole?" Smith said. "Then how often does that occur? That's one of my challenges for Ohio State, not just the athletic department institutional revenue but the economic impact in our community. That's a huge discussion, the value of 10 versus nine is better for the overall good, so I'd be willing to say, 'OK, I can work with the alternative, where I'd have six [home] games once every X number of years, and we're made whole.' "

One concern with increasing the number of league games is its impact on future nonleague scheduling. Ohio State, for example, recently added series with big-name opponents Texas, Oregon and TCU.

Could those games be in jeopardy?

"We're going to hold onto those," Smith said. "That's what's going to cause us in a 10-game conference scenario to have some challenges with having six home games. If we move to 10 conference games, in a normal situation, I'd just buy in two games every year. Then I wouldn't have a problem. But we're going to maintain our philosophy of playing those type of [bigger nonleague] games, whether it's nine or 10.

"Those are great experiences for our kids. We're a national program. It's something I don't see us changing."

Big Ten open to November night games

February, 11, 2013
2/11/13
8:05
PM CT
The Big Ten has traditionally been reluctant to stage night games in November. That could be changing.

League coaches expressed support for more primetime games in the final full month of the regular season during conference meetings the past two days. Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany told ESPN.com that the conference has no objection if schools want to schedule more night games in general, including ones in November.

Delany said Penn State, Nebraska and Ohio State are among the schools that have been pushing for more games under the lights.

"We've been very supportive of night games," Delany said. "We've gone from zero to 15, and our television partners like them if it's the right game. ...

"So there seems to be more of an openness to open that window on the game-day experience, whether it's in November or October. We won't stand in the way. We just have to figure out the best way to do it, but I think there's value there."

Though the Big Ten doesn't have a specific policy against November night games, it hasn't exactly been encouraged, either. The last Big Ten night game in November was in 2008 when Iowa went to Minnesota. And that was played in the Metrodome.

Cold weather, of course, has been one of several reasons why the league has preferred noon and 3:30 p.m. ET kickoffs in November. But the exposure to the elements for fans may be worth the added exposure for the teams involved, as college football is increasingly becoming a primetime sport.

"The viewership is larger and more diverse," Delany said. "November can be cold, but that's going to be a local decision and one we would encourage."

Delany said we could see a November night game as soon as the 2013 season, "if we had the right games and we had the right schools and we had the openness."

Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith said he's a proponent of more night games.

"November is a good option," he said. "Historically, we've been resistant to that for weather reasons and our kids getting home so late at night or early in the morning. We're more open to it now. One of the things we have to look at is the historical temperatures in November, what they look like, and [then] we can make an informed decision on that point. I'm open to it."

Don't hold your breath on a Michigan-Ohio State night game. But if the schools are interested and the matchup is an appealing one to TV, a November primetime game could happen and prove beneficial. Just remember to dress in layers.

More expansion looms over AD decisions

February, 1, 2013
2/01/13
8:00
AM CT
As we've written for the past several days, Big Ten athletic directors have a whole host of decisions to make over the next few months, including how many league games they should play, how to align the divisions, the next bowl lineup and even what to call the divisions.

"We've got some heavy lifting to do here for the next few months," Purdue athletic director Morgan Burke said.

But what if all that huffing and puffing turns out to be a Sisyphean task? There's one thing that could send conference leaders scrambling back to the drawing board: more expansion.

The decisions the athletic directors will make for the 2014 season and beyond will be based on the new 14-team format with Maryland and Rutgers joining. Many people suspect the Big Ten is not done adding members and could soon grow to 16 or even to 20 members. Ohio State president E. Gordon Gee recently informed us that conference expansion talks are "ongoing."

The athletic directors are well aware of the possibility that more teams could be coming at just about any time.

“Based on the last three years I’ve been in this business, you’d be crazy not to think about it," Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon said. "But it’s hard to model anything because you don’t know what to model. The minute you get yourself convinced that you’re going to go from 14 to 16, for all you know you’re going to 18, and a lot of people think the ultimate landing place is 20. Who knows?"

For now, all the decisions they make will be based on a 14-team model only.

"You make your decision based on today," Iowa's Gary Barta said. "And today, we have that many teams. We can’t worry about something that’s not established yet. I don’t know if and when there will be more teams. Right now, we’re going to make decisions based on the additions of Rutgers and Maryland, and we’re going to make them with the information we have, consistent with our principles."

"It’s hard to predict the future," added Northwestern's Jim Phillips. "No one would have predicted we’d be at this place we’re at right now. I don’t think you can get polarized by the what-ifs or the potential of what might be and lose sight of where you’re at."

The league's ADs will do their best to come up with the best framework for a 14-team league. If future expansion arrives in time for the 2014 season or shortly after it, at least the conference has gained lots of recent experience in how to deal with it.

"When you get into the discussion of things like 10 [conference games], you say, 'Wow, if we had a couple more teams, it would be easier,'" Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith said. "That's a natural. But it's not something that motivates you to say, 'We've got to position this in case we have another team, or two more teams.' We don't do that."

"What I've liked about our league is, when we added Nebraska, we felt like we needed to settle and watch the landscape. We thought the East Coast was important, and we got two good pickups relative to that principal. So I think we deal with what we have now, sit, monitor the landscape, and if something emerges down the road, we're positioned to be able to absorb."

B1G ADs: Geography could drive divisions

January, 29, 2013
1/29/13
6:31
PM CT
In September 2010, the Big Ten spelled out clearly that geography wouldn't be the driving force behind its new divisions.

How do we know? Two words. L-E-G-E-N-D-S. L-E-A-D-E-R-S.

The controversial division names spawned in part from a desire not to make geography the chief factor in alignment. Otherwise, the Big Ten likely would have used simple directional names (East-West, North-South) or regional ones (Great Lakes-Great Plains). The league aligned its initial divisions based on competitive balance, with a nod to preserving traditional rivalries. Although the Big Ten said it also considered geography, the end result showed it didn't matter much.

As the league prepares to realign its divisions to accommodate new members Rutgers and Maryland in 2014, its power brokers seem much more comfortable saying the G-word.

"Maybe it was competitive balance last time," Northwestern athletic director Jim Phillips told ESPN.com. "Maybe geography wins the day this time. … It wasn't the most important [factor in 2010], but we should look at it this time because we are spread farther than we ever have been."

The Big Ten athletic directors will meet several times in the coming months to discuss division alignment and plan to make a recommendation to the league's presidents in early June. Several ADs interviewed by ESPN.com in recent weeks mentioned that geography likely will be a bigger factor in the upcoming alignment than the initial one. It's not a surprise, as geography was a much bigger factor in the most recent expansion than it was with the Nebraska addition in 2010.

When the Big Ten expanded with Maryland and Rutgers in November, commissioner Jim Delany talked about becoming a bi-regional conference -- rooted in the Midwest but also having a real presence on the East Coast. He described the move as an "Eastern initiative with a Penn State bridge." It would be a major surprise if Penn State doesn’t find itself in the same division with the two new members.

"Maryland and Rutgers are about three-and-a-half hours away [driving], and Ohio State is about five hours," Penn State athletic director Dave Joyner said. "That's a nice, comfortable distance for us, and we've got huge alumni markets in those areas. From those standpoints, it's a really good thing. … No matter how the conference is aligned, you've got to believe that there are some efficiencies in travel that are going to come out of it."

Michigan and Ohio State are going to play every year no matter how the divisions are aligned, and if there's any push to move The Game away from the final regular-season Saturday, "the meeting will keep going on and on and on," Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon said with a laugh. But there also seems to be momentum to put Michigan and Ohio State in the same division, especially if there's a geographic split.

Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith favors being in the same division as Michigan, and Brandon has no objection.

"We will likely be a little bit more attentive to geographic alignment," Brandon said. "If Michigan and Ohio State being in the same division turns out to be what's in the best interest of the conference, that would be great. Obviously, it isn't the way it is now, and certainly that's worked. Certainly if we go to a geographic split situation and it's in the best interest of what we're trying to accomplish for Michigan and Ohio State to be in the same division, that would be just fine."

Despite being in opposite divisions, Michigan and Ohio State had their series preserved through a protected crossover. Other rivalries weren't so fortunate. Wisconsin and Iowa, for example, didn't play in 2011 or 2012.

Wisconsin was the most obvious example of the non-geographic focus of the initial alignment, as it moved away from longtime rivals Minnesota and Iowa into the Leaders Division.

"I do think we have a chance to have a little bit more of a geographic look to it, which I think is great," Iowa athletic director Gary Barta said. "It's great for fans, it's great for student-athletes, it considers travel, rivalries. With us, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Illinois, Northwestern, Nebraska, those just make great sense.

"It would be terrific if it works out, but we have to make sure we maintain and achieve competitiveness as well."

The ADs understand the need to maintain balance. As Purdue's Morgan Burke put it, “You don't want somebody to come through an 'easy' division."

But as many fans have pointed out, the Big Ten still could maintain competitive balance with a more geographic split. Ohio State and Michigan could form an Eastern bloc of sorts, but Wisconsin has won three straight Big Ten titles, Nebraska played for one last year and other programs like Michigan State and Northwestern have emerged.

Can the Big Ten align based both on geography and balance?

"I believe we can," Brandon said. "And that will always be somewhat subjective because all you can look at is history, and how a program has performed in the previous 10 years isn't necessarily indicative of how it’s going to perform in the next 10. So there's some subjectivity to that, but the objective will be to create a circumstance where both divisions feel like they have equal opportunities to win and compete for the conference championship."

B1G ADs weigh number of league games

January, 28, 2013
1/28/13
8:31
PM CT
Big Ten athletic directors will meet several times over the next few months to hammer out some key decisions for the 2014 season and beyond. The most pressing, and arguably most important, issue will involve figuring out how many times to play each other during the season.

League officials chose to stay with eight conference games per season after Nebraska joined the league in 2011. But when Maryland and Rutgers come aboard next year, that could change. ESPN.com interviewed several conference athletic directors, who confirmed that a nine- and even a 10-game league schedule are on the table in the upcoming discussions.

"That’s something that we have to really resolve quickly, because the ramifications of that discussion are significant," Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon told ESPN.com. "It’s a high-agenda item."

The reason for the priority is obvious: More conference games means fewer nonconference opportunities. Some schools, like Nebraska and Minnesota, already have four out-of-league opponents lined up for the 2014 season and beyond, while others are waiting to see what the league decides before signing contracts with future opponents.

The Big Ten announced in August 2011 that it would go to a nine-game league schedule. That was scrapped a few months later when the Pac-12/Big Ten alliance was brokered, but then that agreement was canceled the following spring before it ever began. Athletic directors we talked to were at the very least interested in revisiting the nine-game schedule idea.

Commissioner Jim Delany has said he'd like to see more conference games. Brandon and Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith both told ESPN.com that they favored that idea when the Big Ten balloons to 14 teams.

"As the conference expands, it would be unfortunate if a student-athlete came to the University of Michigan, played in the Big Ten Conference for four years and never even got to play or compete against one of the schools in the conference," Brandon said. "That doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. As the number of institutions has grown, I believe we should take a look at at least moving to nine."

"I would like to go to nine or 10," Smith said.

Of the major conferences, only the Pac-12 and Big 12 currently play nine league games per season. No FBS conference plays 10 league games per year. The main advantage of adopting the latter, more radical idea would be balancing the conference schedule. Every team would then play five home and five road league contests, instead of having years with five road conference games and only four at home in a nine-game slate.

"Nine is challenging because of the statistical advantage for the home team over time," Purdue athletic director Morgan Burke said. "If you have some teams with five home games and others with only four, do you really have a true champion? To some people, that is a stumbling block."

But a 10-game schedule would bring its own share of obstacles. Such a plan leaves only two nonconference games and could make schools less inclined to play home-and-home intersectional matchups versus big-name opponents.

For example, Ohio State has already scheduled several high-profile series for the future, including home-and-home deals with Oregon, Texas and TCU. But with a 10-game conference schedule, the Buckeyes would have only six home games in years when it traveled to play opponents like the Ducks, Longhorns or Horned Frogs -- assuming it decided to keep those series.

"Most of us need seven home games in order to make our local budgets," Smith said. "Is there a way to overcome that? I don't know. We'll have to look at that. The conference is aware that it's an issue."

Would the extra inventory of conference games add enough value to the Big Ten's next TV contract to make up for the loss of home dates? Smith also points out that, with only two nonconference games, schools could potentially avoid paying huge guarantees to lower-level conference teams to fill out their schedule. Such teams are routinely getting $1 million or more to play sacrificial lamb against power programs in their giant stadiums.

Still, giving up home games is not a popular idea in a tough economic climate.

"Let’s face it, we have a stadium that we’re putting 112,000 people in every week," Brandon said. "It doesn’t make a lot of sense to be shutting that stadium down and not playing as many events, and going to places where you’re playing in front of crowds that are far less. We have to think about that financial consideration, and how do we leverage the assets we have in the most positive way for the conference and all the institutions?"

The forthcoming four-team playoff also complicates matters. Strength of schedule is expected to be a main component for the playoff selection committee. Would playing 10 games in the conference help or hurt Big Ten teams? In years when the league was viewed as down, like in 2012, it would most likely damage a league contender's chances, not to mention that 10 conference games means seven more guaranteed losses for Big Ten teams.

"I think [a 10-game schedule] could work if you're trying to schedule strong opponents in those other two games as well," Penn State athletic director Dave Joyner said. "The decision is, are you going to play two, three or four games outside of conference? I think a lot of it will depend on what the feeling is on how that would affect strength of schedule."

So a nine-game schedule appears to be a more likely option, but the thorny problem of an unbalanced number of home games remains. Could the league try to get creative, and perhaps add more neutral-site conference games to the mix? Anything and everything appears to be up for discussion.

"Maybe you could do it divisionally, where one division plays five home games one year, and then that division plays four home games [the next year]," Northwestern athletic director Jim Phillips said. "I don’t know. But it should be interesting.”

That last part is the only guarantee right now.

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