NCF Nation: Morgan Burke

This September's 42nd Notre Dame-Michigan matchup is likely the last between the schools for the foreseeable future. That doesn't, however, mean that the appearances of Big Ten teams on the Irish's schedule are coming to an end.

Michigan State and Purdue have been stalwarts on Notre Dame's slate -- more than Michigan. And athletic directors from both schools are happy to see their respective rivalries with the Irish continue, even if they're on an abbreviated basis.

Among imminent matchups, Notre Dame will "host" the Boilermakers Sept. 14 at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis for its annual off-site Shamrock Series game. The Irish have a home-and-home scheduled with the Spartans for 2016 (at ND) and 2017 (at MSU).

"[Notre Dame athletic director] Jack [Swarbrick] and I are in constant communication, and it's not adversarial whatsoever. But it's a situation where, both with us going to nine [conference] games and with them having to move into the ACC scheduling model, it's created some significant challenges for both of us," Michigan State athletic director Mark Hollis told ESPN.com. "And right now we're kind of in a position of, we know the next two, we know we have two more in the future and we're just kind of taking it one step at a time. We've been in constant communication."

The future, Hollis told local reporters last week, includes an agreement to play a home-and-home in 2026 and 2027, as well as a neutral site game, possibly in Chicago, in 2023.

Notre Dame and Purdue, meanwhile, have five more scheduled games -- Sept. 19, 2020 at Purdue; Sept. 18, 2021 at Notre Dame; Sept. 14, 2024 at Purdue; Sept. 13, 2025 at Notre Dame; and in 2026 on a date and in a neutral site that has yet to be determined.

"I think the relationship between the schools is -- you're not going to take it to San Juan," Purdue athletic director Morgan Burke told ESPN.com. "But we have alums all over the country, too. Strong populations in Texas, in California, in Florida. The likely sites are Chicago and Indianapolis."

Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said last week that most of his scheduling conversations with Swarbrick start with Michigan, Michigan State and an SEC team. But Wolverines athletic director David Brandon told ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg in an email that there had been no discussions with the Irish.

The mood might have soured between the two schools -- Sept. 7 at Notre Dame will be their last matchup following the Irish's 2012 exercising of a three-year opt-out clause in the series -- but that has not been the case between the Irish and the rest of the Big Ten.

"Jack and I have known each other for a long, long time," Burke said. "He had a hard deal because when the Big East went the way it went, he had to find a home for lots of sports. What he had to do then was to negotiate, he had to use some of the football inventory to do that, and that's what created the issue. There's no issues with wanting to play Purdue or Michigan State. The Michigan thing there's a little bit of a tiff, I guess. But I don't think so.

"Our history goes back a long time. So what we tried to do was to make sure that there was at least a path forward. In other words, don't just announce Lucas Oil and it stops, but try to show people that we're going to play more than just once every 10 years. That's the best we could do now. Who knows what the landscape will be down the road? My hope is that someday, I hope we don't look back and say we lost something that started in 1946, because there are Purdue and Notre Dame folks who have been going to those games for years and tailgated. And you've had some great athletic contests with some great family relationships. And as we break some of this stuff apart and get bigger leagues, do you lose some of those relationships, and 10 or 15 years from now, does that hurt you?"

With Purdue having played Notre Dame 85 times, and with Michigan State having played the Irish 77 times, both schools are hoping that the answer to that question is a resounding no.

"There's going to be fewer games with Notre Dame because of the national landscape, and that's one of the unfortunate parts of conference expansion, is those nonconference games take secondary step," Hollis said. "But it's important to Michigan State that we continue to play on a national stage, so we'll have Notre Dame as much as we can have Notre Dame. They want as many games, we want as many games, it just all has to fit."


ROSEMONT, Ill. -- The Big Ten spring administrators' meetings wrapped up Wednesday with more discussion about the proposed NCAA governance changes, nonconference scheduling, athlete welfare and other topics.

Here are some notes from Day 2:

COST OF ATTENDANCE

Big Ten schools are in agreement that increasing the value of athletic scholarships to federal cost-of-attendance figures needs to happen. They've felt this way for years.

But the increase means different things for different institutions and different leagues, as some, like the Big Ten, sponsor more sports than others. The Big Ten ADs spent much of their meetings discussing the details.

"It varies from $1,200-$4,900 [per scholarship] just in our league," Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez said. "I think ours is in the $3,000-$4,000 range, so we're probably talking about another $1 million to $1.5 million just on cost of attendance. I'm very supportive of that. I've always been supportive of whatever we can do for the student-athletes."

Such a large gap, however, could allow some programs to use their more valuable scholarships as advantages in recruiting. Michigan State AD Mark Hollis, who said the cost-of-attendance plan would be about $1 million for the school, thinks there needs to be a "firewall" between athletic departments and financial aid offices in how numbers are calculated.

"Every school tends to take whatever information they have available and try to make it to their advantage," Hollis said. "It'd be a bad situation to use cost-of-attendance as a recruiting advantage, but the likelihood is that will come into play."

FUTURE FOOTBALL CHAMPIONSHIP GAME SITES

[+] EnlargeJim Delany
AP Photo/Nam Y. HuhJim Delany expects the Big Ten football title game to remain in the Midwest.
The Big Ten expects to finalize future sites for football championship games and basketball tournaments after the league's presidents and chancellors meet in early June. Indianapolis has hosted the first three football title games and is contracted to host the 2014 and 2015 games.

Although the men's basketball tournament heads to Washington, D.C., in 2017 and likely will make other future appearances on the East Coast, the football championship isn't expected to leave the Midwest.

"A central location would be the presumption," commissioner Jim Delany said of future sites.

DEFENDING THE COLLEGIATE MODEL

Delany said the Big Ten would "aggressively" defend itself against several antitrust lawsuits challenging the collegiate model, even if the cases go all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. He said polls show most people don't want unions with college sports, pay-for-play systems or some type of minor-league system.

"There's a tremendous public interest in what we do," Delany said, "and some of what we do could be improved upon. I think people are just saying to us, 'Get it right, get it balanced.'"

Delany sees that as a three-step process: restructure and reform; defend themselves against litigation and advocate for all college athletes. How they address cost-of-attendance, athlete time demands, health coverage and other topics will be under the microscope.

The commissioner reiterated the need to set up a voting model to push through change.

"We're going to have a scorecard," Delany said, "and the question is going to be, what did you accomplish?"

TIME SPENT ON SPORTS

Athlete welfare was a big topic here this week, including increased amount of time they devote to their sports. Delany, who brought up the issue last summer, wants to consult athletes and coaches about how to strike a better balance with time.

The major conferences could implement "dead periods" after seasons or in the summer. Delany mentioned study abroad programs and internships, two opportunities many students enjoy but most athletes cannot, as areas that should be explored.

"We need to really inspect the experience," Delany said, "talk to the athlete, talk to the coach, and come up with a template is that is more flexible and more balanced."

ODDS AND ENDS

  • Iowa was not offered a night game this season and will not appear in prime time for the second straight year, but athletic director Gary Barta doesn't think it suggests the school has second-class status in the league. "At the end of the day, we'd love to have one or two night games a year," Barta said. "We don't have one this year. That's not going to affect the way we go into the season. We're going to be excited and play the games."
  • Purdue athletic director Morgan Burke reiterated that athletes need more power in shaping the decisions that affect their experiences. He also thinks recently graduated athletes could be involved in the discussion because they can devote more time. "You want to make sure the voice is not a token thing," Burke said. "I've found that if you engage people at the earliest possible time on all the facts you have, the chances of having wide disagreements dissipates. You drive yourself closer together."
  • Alvarez, a member of the playoff selection committee, is concerned about the rising cost of travel with an expanded football postseason. He saw it firsthand this spring as Wisconsin's men's basketball team made the Final Four. "We have to be sensitive about [ticket] pricing," Alvarez said. "It's been brought up."
  • It wouldn't be a Big Ten meeting if the expansion question didn't come up. But Hollis doesn't think the league is looking to increase beyond 14 members. "We're going to 22," he joked. "We're settled at the number that we have. Expansion is always done for strategic reasons. Sometimes it's reactionary to what's being done on the national landscape, but it was extremely important to the Big Ten to ensure that Eastern corridor was protected as other conferences had rubbed into some of our traditional markets. The new Big Ten logo is not a B-1-6. It's actually a B-one-G.

ROSEMONT, Ill. -- Arguably no major-conference school has generated more negative headlines in the past 14 months than Rutgers, leading to a common question among fans and media members: Does the Big Ten regret inviting the State University of New Jersey into the league?

[+] EnlargeJim Delany
AP Photo/Ting ShenBig Ten commissioner Jim Delany is firmly behind Rutgers, which joins the league on July 1.
Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany makes it clear he's firmly behind Rutgers.

"No buyer's remorse at all," Delany said Wednesday after the Big Ten administrators' meetings. "When I go to Jersey, I go to New York, I go to support, not to judge. Boards of trustees, they're fully capable of handling personnel matters. The Big Ten really does not get involved in personnel matters at the athletic director, coach, presidential level."

All three of those positions at Rutgers -- from new AD Julie Hermann to former basketball coach Mike Rice to president Robert Barchi -- have faced heavy criticism in the past year. Hermann declined several requests to speak with reporters this week.

Delany is spending much of his time on the East Coast promoting both Rutgers and Maryland before the two schools officially join the Big Ten on July 1. He mentions the Big Ten living in two regions at every media opportunity.

Athletic directors discussed the integration of both Rutgers and Maryland this week. Purdue's Morgan Burke, the Big Ten's longest-tenured AD, said the league has improved in assisting new programs with the transition since some missteps with Penn State in the early 1990s.

Michigan State athletic director Mark Hollis hasn't heard much negative reaction from Spartans fans about Rutgers, but he has heard some questions.

"When the Big Ten Network was discussed, there were many more negative comments about the Big Ten Network than there were about expansion to the East," Hollis said. "There's a good understanding of why we're there. [Rutgers and Maryland] can prove themselves to be great members of this conference that will take us to a new frontier.

"I look forward to making them, like all of us, a stronger member of the conference."
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ROSEMONT, Ill. -- When Big Ten athletic directors and administrators gather each spring, they normally look in the mirror and explore internal issues.

In 2010, expansion buzz consumed the league's meetings in Chicago; weeks later, Nebraska became the conference's 12th member. In 2011, the athletic directors and coaches discussed the new football divisions and heard pitches from both Chicago and Indianapolis to host future football championship games. The 2012 meetings brought more national discussion, particularly about a potential college football playoff. Last year's gathering featured presentations about the Big Ten's new bowl lineup and its format for assigning teams to certain locations.

Athletic directors -- along with senior woman administrators and faculty representatives who form the Big Ten's joint group -- gather Tuesday and Wednesday at the Big Ten's swanky office just east of O'Hare Airport. Although this year's meeting site is more private -- previous meetings had been held at Chicago hotels -- the participants will spend most of their time looking beyond the Big Ten's walls and exploring national issues, particularly the proposed NCAA governance changes that would give more autonomy to five major conferences (Big Ten, ACC, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC).

[+] EnlargeMorgan Burke
Patrick S Blood/Icon SMIPurdue athletic director Morgan Burke, left, will brief the league on discussions about the likely big changes coming to the NCAA.
"The biggest discussion will center around the NCAA governance," Purdue athletic director Morgan Burke told ESPN.com.

Burke and his Missouri counterpart, Mike Alden, have represented the 351 Division I ADs in discussions with the NCAA about the likely seismic changes in how business is done. The movement to improve conditions for college athletes has gained unprecedented momentum in recent months, spurred not only by the unionization push at Northwestern but by several antitrust lawsuits filed against the NCAA, the Big Ten and other major conferences.

Big Ten attorneys will brief the ADs this week.

"There are some things where autonomy makes a lot of sense if you’re being attacked," Burke said. "Right now, you've got to have some freedom to try to address the issues."

One of those issues is increasing the value of scholarships up to federal cost-of-attendance figures. The Big Ten discussed a cost-of-attendance proposal three springs ago at its meetings, but the plan never was approved nationally as schools with smaller budgets, but equal voting power, voted it down.

"That's a very significant issue that needs to be resolved," Burke said.

Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany has proposed a voting model that would make it easier for the major conferences to approve major changes. If three of the five conferences approve a proposal, 60 percent of all schools (39 of 65) would need to vote yes for an item to go through. If four of five conferences approve, only a simple majority would be needed.

Delany believes a stricter voting bar -- two-thirds or three-fourths required for approval -- would be "damaging to all of us."

He likely won't get opposition from Big Ten ADs this week.

"We've been pretty good about that as a conference, trying to make sure we have solidarity," Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith said. "Sometimes we may have some differences on different pieces of legislation, but on this one, we've been pretty aligned all along. So I think we'll come out of there with some recommendations, probably on the voting, probably on the autonomy legislation."

The ADs also will discuss the final steps with integrating new members Maryland and Rutgers, who officially join the league July 1. Last week, the Big Ten announced basketball initiatives in both New York and Washington, D.C. Delany will spend much of the next six weeks on the East Coast promoting the new arrivals.

While leagues like the SEC and ACC recently announced football schedule models -- both are staying at eight conference games -- the Big Ten last year approved a nine-game league schedule beginning in 2016.

"I don't see us backing up on that," Burke said.

The ADs will discuss the upcoming four-team playoff and hear from Delany, who attended an FBS commissioners meeting last week in Texas. Both Delany and Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez, a member of the playoff selection committee, can provide more details to the group.

"We've been more interested in how is it going to work," Smith said. "If you're playing in the first game, who's coordinating a lot of the logistics? Are they scheduling the flights for you? How are the tickets going to work for families? All that type of stuff, nobody's really talking about."

The ADs also will discuss football non-league scheduling, which remains a challenge despite the selection committee stating it will value schedule strength in picking the top four. They also will be briefed on the league's new bowl selection process, which uses a tiered system rather than a traditional order and gives the league more power to determine who goes where.

Although past spring meetings have produced some newsy items, this week's get-together could be quiet.

"I don't see any real major issues," Smith said. "This might be a pretty boring meeting."
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."
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."
CHICAGO -- The Big Ten office has pledged to take a more active role in scheduling as it wants member schools challenging themselves more in nonconference play.

Schools are also helping each other at the spring meetings. Athletic directors swapped scheduling notes Tuesday as they all try to shape their nonconference structure for the future, particularly after the Big Ten goes to nine league games per season in 2016.

"We collaborate a lot," Penn State athletic director Dave Joyner said. "If we're looking for a game, does somebody know about one? Let's say somebody had a team on their schedule, but for whatever reason, they needed to move the game. Maybe you call Purdue and say, 'Hey, I've got X. You looking for a game?' And maybe you trade-off.

"It's kind of a co-op. We work together and try to help each other schedule."

Each school has a unique scheduling philosophy, although there are similarities, like the need of most Big Ten members to have at least seven home games per season. Purdue athletic director Morgan Burke on Tuesday reiterated that the seventh home football game provides the margin for the budget to stay in the black without significantly hiking ticket prices.

The fortunate thing for Big Ten fans is that schools are recognizing the value of more appealing nonconference games, whether it's for the gate, TV or to impress the College Football Selection committee.

"Football can be pretty boring in September if you've got all your teams playing down to competition," Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon said. "It's boring for the fans at the stadium and it's boring on television. We don't want to be boring, so we want to strengthen the schedule."

It can be a very tricky process with dates, contracts and rivalries. That's why it helps for the ADs to collaborate as much as they can.

"We're using [the spring meetings] as a sounding board to throw some things out there," Wisconsin AD Barry Alvarez said. "So if it doesn't fit you, it might fit someone else."

Debating future of Purdue-ND, MSU-ND

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Getty ImagesThe Big Ten's nine-game conference slate and Notre Dame's ACC arrangement will make it tough for Brian Kelly's Irish to keep up rivalries with Mark Dantonio's Spartans and Darrell Hazell's Boilers.
After Notre Dame finalized its arrangement with the ACC last fall, it decided to suspend its annual series against Michigan. It begs the question: What will become of Notre Dame's other two Big Ten rivalries against Purdue and Michigan State?

All three schools have decisions to make. The Big Ten's move to a nine-game conference schedule beginning in 2016 makes it harder for Purdue and Michigan State to play Notre Dame annually in a home-road alternation. For example, Michigan State's 2017 slate includes a home game against Alabama, a road game against Notre Dame and five Big Ten road games, limiting the school to just six home dates, one below its stated minimum to meet the budget. Purdue also says it needs to play seven home games per season, and its Notre Dame home-road schedule doesn't match up with when it will play five Big Ten home games and five Big Ten road games. "We're off cycle," Purdue athletic director Morgan Burke told The (Lafayette) Journal and Courier.

Notre Dame has its own scheduling concerns with guaranteed ACC opponents every year and a desire to play a true national schedule.

Although Michigan-Notre Dame gained the most national attention in recent years, both Purdue and Michigan State have more historic rivalries with the Irish. Purdue and Notre Dame first met in 1896 have played every season since 1946. Michigan State and Notre Dame first met in 1897 and have played in all but two seasons since 1959.

What will happen to these two series? We gave our takes on the three teams.

Adam Rittenberg on Purdue

The buzz around much of the Big Ten is to cut ties with Notre Dame altogether. The Irish didn't want to be in the Big Ten. They got a deal from the ACC they'd NEVER get from the Big Ten. So why should Big Ten teams keep playing Notre Dame? While it seems easy to tell Notre Dame what it can do with that Shillelagh, it's not so simple for a program like Purdue. In fact, I think the Boilers should do whatever they can to keep the Irish on the annual schedule as often as possible.

Purdue fans might skewer me for this, but Purdue needs Notre Dame more than Notre Dame needs Purdue. Why? National attention. When Purdue plays Notre Dame, the Boilers get the national spotlight. When Notre Dame visits Ross-Ade Stadium, ABC/ESPN immediately chooses the game for prime time. When else does that happen for Purdue?

The Notre Dame game resonates for Purdue fans. It fills the stands at Ross-Ade Stadium, which has looked like a ghost town on fall Saturdays in recent years. When Purdue beats Notre Dame, people pay attention. Sure, Purdue can add some other strong non-league opponents. I liked the Oregon series from a few years back. But playing Notre Dame and beating Notre Dame has tremendous value for Purdue, its program and its recruiting efforts.

Burke says Purdue can't have six home games for budgetary reasons. Well, Michigan had six home games last year, so it can happen from time to time. I'm OK with Purdue taking a short break from Notre Dame here and there, but the Boilers would be foolish to completely cut ties with their in-state rival. This series is good for Purdue fans and good for the program. Purdue should fight to keep it going.

Brian Bennett on Michigan State

Much like with Purdue, there is a lot of history in the Megaphone series between Michigan State and Notre Dame. That includes 75 all-time meetings, the so-called Game of the Century in 1966 and, more recently, the Little Giants miracle of 2010. Only four years since 1949 have the two schools not played during the fall. It's a great series and one that should be kept if possible. Now here comes the but ...

... But the two schools are already scheduled to take two-year breaks after every four games between now and 2032, with the first two-year hiatus starting next season. So playing Notre Dame every single year is already a moot point. With the coming nine-game Big Ten conference schedule and the Spartans' agreements to play high-profile nonconference opponents like Oregon (2014 and '15) and Alabama (2016 and 2017), athletic director Mark Hollis has some tough decisions to make. Michigan State will face a very difficult road in the stacked East Division during Big Ten play as it stands. Does it make sense to play the Irish along with another strong program in the nonconference schedule? No, probably not.

The Spartans should try to work things out to where they can play Notre Dame in years when they don't have other marquee nonconference opponents while taking on those other high-profile teams during breaks with the Irish. Michigan State fans wouldn't really miss the Golden Domers that much when they're playing a team like Oregon or Alabama instead. The Spartans should strive to keep Notre Dame on the schedule frequently, but not so much that they handicap their own seasons in the process.

Matt Fortuna on Notre Dame

Much like a team in a conference, Notre Dame has eight annual games from 2014 on that will be set for the foreseeable future: USC, Stanford, Navy and five against ACC opponents. The Irish have already canceled their series with Michigan from 2015 on, leaving the status of the Michigan State and Purdue series up in the air.

Both of you make fair points: The Boilermakers, frankly, need Notre Dame more than Notre Dame needs them, and the Spartans already have quite the nonconference slate on-deck in the coming years.

Where does this leave the Irish?

Some will argue that the program gets whatever it wants, whenever it wants and, like Adam alluded to, should be left alone. But there is no denying that this program moves the needle, especially when playing Big Ten teams.

Every Notre Dame game at a Big Ten stadium since its Sept. 20, 2008, tilt at MSU has been in prime time, save for a 2009 game at Michigan ... which just began playing home night games in 2011, the only two of which were scheduled against Notre Dame.

But there is history to be saved in these series, and efforts from all sides should be made to keep these two, along with the Michigan one, going on a rotating basis. Notre Dame has played Purdue 84 times, which is the same number of times it has played rival USC (which it is keeping on the schedule for West Coast exposure) and only two fewer times than it has played Navy (which it is keeping for history).

Notre Dame's cancellation of its series with the Wolverines was a matter of necessity for the Irish, who needed to create as much scheduling flexibility as possible. The program's series with MSU already has scheduled two-year breaks for 2014-15, 2020-21 and 2026-27. And if the Purdue series does not match up with when the Boilers will play five Big Ten home games and five Big Ten road games, I'm sure smart men like Burke and Jack Swarbrick can get creative, though the onus should fall primarily on Burke.

The irony should not be lost: In keeping with a true national schedule and bringing its brand to different parts of the country, Notre Dame cannot abandon its Midwestern home.
The Big Ten's move to a nine-game conference schedule has all kinds of ramifications. One that must be figured out quickly, at both Michigan State and Purdue, is how it will affect those schools' annual rivalry with Notre Dame.

Both the Spartans and the Boilermakers really want to keep playing the Irish every year (remember, Notre Dame and Michigan will officially change their relationship status to "on a break" after this season). But there are some issues to resolve.

Michigan State athletic director Mark Hollis told the Detroit Free Press that he's been in talks with Notre Dame counterpart Jack Swarbrick the past couple of weeks. Meanwhile, Purdue AD Morgan Burke told the Lafayette Journal and Courier that he plans to meet with Swarbrick soon to discuss the future of that series.

Both the Spartans and Boilermakers need seven home games each year to make their budget. When the nine-league game schedule begins in 2016, teams in the East -- that includes Michigan State -- will play five conference home games. Teams in the West -- which includes Purdue -- will play four that year and five in 2017.

Purdue is scheduled to go to Notre Dame in 2016 and other even years when it has five Big Ten road games. That means Purdue could only play six home games in those years.

"I cannot balance the budget on six home games. Can’t do it. It doesn’t work," Burke told the Journal and Courier. "That’s the cold-hearted realities of the business we run. Our business model is built on seven home games. Everybody’s. Notre Dame’s too."

Michigan State is scheduled to host Notre Dame in 2016 and go to South Bend in 2017. So can't the Spartans and Boilermakers just flip? That would seem to make sense, if all parties are on board and can work it out. But Michigan State already has a road trip at Alabama on the schedule in 2016, and playing both the Irish and Crimson Tide on the road in the same season can't sound too appealing to Mark Dantonio. Notre Dame has its own obligations, including its new five-games-per-year deal with the ACC.

Michigan State and Notre Dame are scheduled to meet through 2032 in installments of four straight games followed by two-year breaks. The 2016 game is the first of a new four consecutive game streak. The two could switch up years if 2016 can't be worked out, but Hollis is confident the teams will keep playing.

"You’ll see a high degree of cooperation," Hollis said. "We’re both interested in keeping this series intact."

Purdue, meanwhile, has played Notre Dame every year since 1946 and has a contract to do so through 2021. The Boilers put a ton of value on their annual game against the Irish.

"I don’t think either one of us is eager to lose the rivalry," Burke said. "If it turns out we have to have a short break, we’ll have a short break in order to get on the right rotation. I don’t think we’re in a situation where Notre Dame and Purdue will never play. The issue is whether we can come up with a rotation that works for both sides."

And it's just one major ramification from the new Big Ten nine-game conference schedule.
Shawn Eichorst isn't the highest-profile athletic director in the Big Ten. While Nebraska fans are a pretty sharp bunch, I bet some would have a hard time picking out Eichorst in a crowd. The fact Eichorst succeeded Nebraska legend Tom Osborne as AD also makes him fly under the radar.

But there's little doubt Nebraska considers Eichorst a rising star in the AD ranks. Either that, or Eichorst is a brilliant contract negotiator. Perhaps it's both.

When USA Today came out with its new survey of athletic director salaries, which not surprisingly are on the rise nationally, Eichorst's compensation at Nebraska certainly stands out. His base salary of $973,000 ranks highest in the Big Ten, and his total compensation of $1,123,000 ranks second in the league behind only Wisconsin's Barry Alvarez ($1,230,000). Eichorst served as Alvarez's deputy AD from 2009-11 before taking the top job at Miami.

Here are 11 of the 12 Big Ten athletic director salaries (as a private school, Northwestern doesn't disclose AD Jim Phillips' salary), sorted from highest to lowest:
  • Barry Alvarez, Wisconsin: $1,230,000 ($1,143,500 from university, $86,500 in outside pay)
  • Shawn Eichorst, Nebraska: $1,123,000
  • Gene Smith, Ohio State: $1,099,030
  • Dave Brandon, Michigan:$900,000
  • Mark Hollis, Michigan State: $700,000
  • Mike Thomas, Illinois: $589,250
  • Norwood Teague, Minnesota: $500,000
  • Gary Barta, Iowa: $490,842 ($487,842 from university, $3,000 in outside pay)
  • Morgan Burke, Purdue:$464,437
  • Fred Glass, Indiana: $430,746
  • Dave Joyner, Penn State: $396,000

Eichorst received a one-time payment of $150,000 for moving expenses from Miami. Alvarez received a one-time payment of $118,500 for coaching the football team in the Rose Bowl against Stanford. He would have received a $50,000 bonus if Wisconsin had won the game.

Ohio State's Smith has the highest maximum bonus in the league ($250,000), followed by Michigan's Brandon and Illinois' Thomas, both at $200,000.

Alvarez and Eichorst rank fourth and fifth nationally, respectively, in total compensation. They trail Vanderbilt vice chancellor/general counsel David Williams (who oversees athletics and seemingly everything else at the school), Louisville AD Tom Jurich and Florida AD Jeremy Foley. Smith ranks seventh nationally, and Brandon is tied for 12th with Iowa State's Jamie Pollard.

Michigan State's Hollis, named 2012 athletic director of the year at the Sports Business Awards, last summer received a significant raise -- the highest bump among any incumbent AD from a public school since October 2011. Purdue's Burke is the Big Ten's longest-serving AD (started Jan. 1, 1993) but ranks near the bottom in salary. Joyner began his term as Penn State's acting AD in November 2011 after Tim Curley took leave. He had the tag removed in January and will remain in the role through the term of university president Rodney Erickson.

Looking ahead to the future Big Ten, Maryland AD Kevin Anderson earns $499,490 (max bonus of $50,000), while Rutgers' AD Tim Pernetti earns $410,000 (max bonus of $50,000).
Danny Hope went just 22-27 at Purdue, and most Boilermakers fans had seemingly lost faith in his ability to lead the program by the time he was fired at the end of the 2012 regular season.

But Hope, speaking for the first time publicly since his dismissal to West Lafayette TV station WLFI on Tuesday night, said there was more to the firing than that.

"It came down to ticket sales," he told the station. "But ticket sales have been dropping here since 2000. It's not all about what happens just behind the whistle. You have to have some accountability behind the necktie as well."

[+] EnlargeDanny Hope
Pat Lovell/US PresswireDanny Hope was fired as Purdue's head coach at the end of the 2012 regular season.
If that sounds like a direct shot at Purdue athletic director Morgan Burke, well, read on.

"I know it wasn't an easy thing for Morgan to do," Hope said. "But I felt like if he had been a little more accountable then he would not have had to ... exercised the responsibility of dismissing me. We had finished strong. And the players wanted us to be there. We hoped we had done enough. But I knew it was close. We had a tough stretch there and didn't come through at a critical time of the season and, obviously, had lost the support of our administration."

The Boilers clinched bowl eligibility for the second straight year by beating Indiana in the season finale. One day later, Burke fired Hope.

"How they went about doing it, I really didn't appreciate," Hope told the station. "I thought it was handled unprofessionally. I don't need to elaborate on that, I don't think. I thought we had done enough, made enough commitment to retain our jobs."

Burke did not respond to Hope's remarks when told of them by WLFI.

Hope said he was "very angry" about his dismissal and that's why he hasn't talked until now. But does he have a right to point fingers?

Yes, Purdue did make two straight bowl games, but it finished 6-6 both seasons. He said the team "finished strong" in 2012, but its three-game winning streak to end the season happened against Iowa, Illinois and Indiana, who went a combined 10-26. Hope told everyone in the preseason that the 2012 team would be his best, and the Leaders Division bid to the Big Ten championship game was wide open because of probation at Ohio State and Penn State. Yet Purdue lost by 31 at home to Michigan, by 24 at home to Wisconsin and, perhaps most inexcusably, by 16 on the road to Minnesota after falling behind 34-7 at halftime.

I was at the Wisconsin game and watched fans leave in waves after halftime. By the time the fourth quarter rolled around, there couldn't have been more than a couple thousand people in Ross-Ade Stadium. It was, quite frankly, embarrassing. Beating Big Ten bottom-feeders to get to a minor bowl game -- one in which, by the way, the Boilers got humiliated -- does not build momentum or enthusiasm.

Hope has every right to be upset that he's no longer the coach at Purdue. But after four years in which he did very little to prove his program could compete at a high level, he really has no one to blame but himself.
Nebraska is reconnecting with its Big Eight/Big 12 roots.

A home-and-home series against longtime rival Oklahoma is already on the books for 2021 and 2021, and Nebraska on Thursday announced an upcoming four-game series with Colorado. The Huskers and Buffaloes will meet four times between 2018 and 2024 -- twice in Lincoln (2018 and 2024) and twice in Boulder, Colo. (2019 and 2023). The teams haven't met since both bolted the Big 12 for the Big Ten (Nebraska) and Pac-12 (Colorado), respectively.

The timing of the announcement is interesting as the Big Ten has yet to finalize its future conference schedules, specifically how many league games will be played in the future. Purdue athletic director Morgan Burke recently told Mike Carmin that the league's ADs have been cautioned about scheduling non-league games beyond 2020. Nebraska clearly thinks it can make the Colorado series work in the new scheduling environment.
"There is a lot of great history between Nebraska and Colorado on the football field, so I think this will be an outstanding series for both schools," Nebraska coach Bo Pelini said in a prepared statement. "I think our fans will enjoy the matchups, particularly those in Western Nebraska who can make the short drive out to the games in Colorado."

Nebraska already has three non-league game set for 2019 with Colorado, Northern Illinois (home) and South Alabama (home). There are no other scheduled games for 2018, 2023 and 2024.

The Huskers are 49-18-2 all-time against Colorado and boast a 15-4 record against the Buffaloes since 1992.

This isn't a bad schedule addition, although I've never gotten the sense Nebraska fans were fired up about the Colorado rivalry. There certainly was more buzz about the Oklahoma series, although the Huskers and Buffs have some history as well.

Since both Oklahoma and Colorado are on the schedule, Nebraska's next move clearly will be a long-term series with Texas, right? Kidding, kidding.
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."
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
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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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