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Some Proposals for the Big Ten/Pac-12 Challenge


Earlier this year, the Pac-12 and Big Ten announced they were going to engage in a scheduling alliance that would provide every team in each conference games against a teams in the other conference in a variety of sports. It created almost a perfect synergy of having all the benefits of conference realignment and expansion without all the legal and geographic headaches (see San Diego State in the Big East). It strengthens the ties of the two greatest academic major conferences in the country and creates amazing television broadcasting opportunities in most of the largest markets in the country.

While the focus is on football, due to contractual obligations, it seems likely that it will begin much sooner in basketball, with some of the first games occurring perhaps as early as this upcoming season or certainly by 2013-14. So, once this gets going, then the question becomes, who should play who and when?

In football, the goal is to create as many big time matchups as possible for the TV viewing audiences nationwide. While it may not always be possible due to the contractual issues of scheduling games many years in advance, one thing I think would be fun to see would be to have teams line up based on the previous year’s records. #1 plays #1, #2 plays 2, all the way down to #12 plays #12. With such a line up, you’d get marquee matchups between the top teams of each conference and it would give weaker teams the opportunity to play games they have a chance to win in their transition period of rebuilding their programs.

Not knowing who you will play until January wouldn’t be the biggest issue as long as a certain weekend were designated as the Big Ten/Pac-12 weekend. But, while one big weekend might be fun, I think the two conferences would rather have it spread out over a month instead so that they could broadcast those games on their respective networks over a longer time period. So, I think more than likely you’ll see games between the conferences starting in the first weekend of September and running through the month and perhaps even into the first weekend of October.

Another issue with this system is that it would be difficult to assure all teams get an equal opportunity to host home games over an a several year period. Instead, the more likely scenario is that teams will schedule home-and-home series. Unfortunately, under this set up, it would take 24 years before you could make sure every team in the Big Ten visited Husky Stadium. Thus, somehow I do not suspect it will be a full round robin system. Instead, I suspect you’ll see some matchups more commonly than others and these will be based on TV ratings. I suspect many of these football matchups will be decided well in advance and will be based on projected team strengths and TV audiences a few years in advance. For instance, I’d expect to see USC versus Michigan and Ohio State more often than the Buckeyes traveling to Pullman or Corvallis. Somehow I suspect the Cougs can probably expect to see Northwestern or Indiana more frequently than Wisconsin or Penn State.

On the basketball side, there are a lot more options and scheduling flexibility. Here, I see two very strong possibilities for scheduling:

1) Set up a pod system where teams play each other based on their finish the previous year. The #1 and #2 teams from each conference would meet each other. As would the #3 and #4 teams and so on until you reached #11 and #12. If this scenario were to occur in 2012 (which it won’t), we’d see #1 Washington travel to #2 Michigan State and host #1 Ohio State, while #2 California would travel to #2 Ohio State and host #1 Michigan State. If teams consistently remain at the top of their conference, they’d get to keep playing these marquee matchups year-after-year. This scenario would give each team two non-conference games within the alliance and leave 10 other non-conference games to be scheduled elsewhere.

2) Perhaps the more likely scenario would have teams go through a rotating schedule based on natural travel partners, with two home and two away games. Under this scenario, the natural travel partners would fly out to play two on the road and then would host two games at home. They would rotate who they played each year, such that within 3 years every team will have played every other team once and within 6 years, each team will have hosted every team from the other conference. While this would use up four non-conference games, it would still give teams eight non-conference games to play, including if the wanted to participate in a pre-season tournament. It would also allow teams to play strong opponents and weaker ones, which would simply result in a replacement of a Big Ten team for a mid-level team from another Power Conference.

The travel partners in the Big Ten would be:

Michigan-Michigan State

Ohio State-Penn State





Knowing which four teams you will play in advance will help you schedule out the other eight games accordingly. If you happened to be scheduled to play Michigan and Michigan State on the road and Wisconsin and Minnesota at home, that’s a pretty tough slate. So, perhaps you want to use the other eight games against weaker low-to-mid-majors. But, if you happen to be playing Iowa and Nebraska on the road and Illinois and Northwestern at home, maybe you feel that isn’t too bad and can still sneak in a trip to Maui or NYC.

One last note; after graduating the University of Washington with my Bachelor’s degree in 1996, I attended Michigan State University for my Master’s degree. I got to see first hand how big games are in the Big Ten, with Tom Izzo’s crew at the Breslin Center (including a national championship in 2000) and tailgating outside of Spartan Stadium before the big game against Michigan. I am very excited to see the Big Ten and Pac-12 come together as THE greatest quasi-superconference in the country.