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Tuesday, February 12, 2013
Take Two: Nine vs. 10 Big Ten games

By Brian Bennett and Adam Rittenberg

Big Ten bloggers Adam Rittenberg and Brian Bennett will occasionally give their takes on a burning question facing the league. We'll both have strong opinions, but not necessarily the same view. We'll let you decide which blogger is right.

The Big Ten has decided it wants to play more league games in the near future. The question is, how many? So Today's Take Two topic is this: Should the Big Ten go to nine or 10 league games?

Take 1: Brian Bennett

First of all, I commend the Big Ten for increasing its number of league games. We have too many bogus September matchups now, and more games that matter are highly welcome, especially with the conference expanding. It would be a shame if a player went his whole career without playing every Big Ten team at least once.

Urban Meyer
A 10-game Big Ten schedule will certainly mean a much tougher road for league powers like Urban Meyer and Ohio State to play for a national title.
Moving to nine conference games is the easiest and safest choice. The Pac-12 and Big 12 already do that. But the more I think about it, the more I'm intrigued by the idea of 10 conference games per year, with some key caveats. It would be a radical plan, as no other conference plays that many league contests. That could potentially make it tougher for Big Ten contenders to qualify for the four-team playoff, as a 10-team league schedule, plus a conference title game, would likely create more losses for even the top teams. And I'd hate to see teams do away with high-profile nonconference games, which some schools would choose to do because of the added difficulty of playing 10 Big Ten games. Programs like Ohio State, Michigan and Nebraska could still play one elite out-of-conference game per year, but teams like Indiana, Minnesota and Purdue -- who all would have to win at least four Big Ten games every year to get bowl eligible -- might shy away from testing themselves.

But the 10-game schedule also means competitive balance, since each team would play five home and five away games in conference, unlike the inherently unfair nine-game plan. The best thing about the Big Ten remains the historic rivalries, and we'd get all those plus more league matchups on a weekly basis, which would both be great for fans and for TV. Yes, a 10-game schedule could hurt the league's postseason prospects. But a team that wins the Big Ten after such a rugged schedule would be a true champion worthy of inclusion into any playoff system, and even 6-6 teams would be, for once, truly deserving of a bowl bid.

So I'd be for a 10-game schedule if it didn't mean the elimination of good nonconference matchups and if it helped the strength-of-schedule component in the playoff selection process enough to counterbalance the possible negatives. If those two things aren't possible, then the safe route of nine games is the way to go.

Take 2: Adam Rittenberg

You make a lot of good points, BB, and while I initially resisted increasing the number of league games from eight, I see that the pros of doing so outweigh the cons. My concern all along has been nonconference scheduling and a desire for the Big Ten to be as competitive as possible in that arena. Anything that would limit or cancel some of the great non-league series scheduled in recent months -- Ohio State-Oregon, etc. -- would be a real shame. The good news, from talking to some athletic directors this week, is that they have every intention of keeping the marquee series, even if it means compromising their budgetary demand for at least seven home games per year.

Kevin Wilson
Would an extended Big Ten slate change the way coaches like Kevin Wilson of Indiana schedules his non-league games?
More league games is great for the fans and for TV, but will it help the Big Ten's national perception? Winning the Big Ten doesn't mean what it used to. We live in an era when it's all about Conference A vs. Conference B. How often do we debate that in the blog network? People want to see exciting intersectional matchups, and not just in the playoff/bowls. Although a 10-game league schedule provides balance, allows the Big Ten to showcase its brand perhaps more than any other conference and creates a true gauntlet, would anyone respect the Big Ten champion if the league doesn't play anyone in the nonconference? Some would say the SEC plays no one, either, but the SEC wins national championships and gets the benefit of the doubt. The Big Ten has to earn respect, and the best way -- other than winning the national title -- is to have its top programs play top programs from other leagues every single September.

I'm open-minded about the 10-game plan, but I need to see how it can work and still preserve all the great home-and-home nonconference series we've seen added. I have my doubts that it can, and if I had to vote now, I'd advocate a nine-game league schedule. The chance for programs like Ohio State, Michigan, Nebraska and Wisconsin to play one marquee non-league opponent per year seems to be higher when those teams are playing only nine conference games, not 10. And as you mentioned, a 10-game league schedule likely would steer some of the second-tier Big Ten programs to avoid anything resembling a non-league test. I recognize the inherent inequity of the format, which would need to be addressed through creative scheduling, but it wouldn't compromise non-league scheduling as much as 10 games would.

My vote is for nine games, although I reserve the right to change my mind. The other thing we don't know is how much strength of schedule -- both within the league and outside of it -- will sway selection committee members as they determine the teams for the playoff. Not taking anything away from the Big Ten championship, but the playoff and the national title is what it's all about. And even you admit that a 10-game league schedule likely would hurt the Big Ten's postseason prospects. That in itself might be a reason to only go to nine.