Big Ten Contemplates Move To Nine Conference Games - Is Marquee Scheduling A Thing Of The Past?

With conference meetings just weeks away, one hot topic for the Big Ten is a move to nine conference games. Will that affect how teams schedule opponents, and what could future schedules look like?

Twitter is a fickle beast. As Rashard Mendenhall found out, it can generate controversy. But it can also provide a real-time environment for friends, fans, and everyone in between to engage in debate about somewhat less hot-button topics.

As Adam Rittenberg of ESPN's Big Ten blog points out, the Big Ten athletic directors will be meeting in Chicago later this month, and one of the topics of discussion is the move to a nine-game conference schedule. This, in conjunction with a discussion about the ever-present offseason topic of scheduling "cupcakes" or low-level BCS (or even FCS) teams, led to a Twitter debate among several Penn State writers, including me. So I wanted to take a more in-depth look at the ramifications of a move to a nine-game schedule, and what that might mean for Penn State. After all, it's difficult to really debate with only 140 characters.

For the purposes of the discussion, we'll assume that a nine-game schedule is approved. We'll take a look at the 2012 and 2013 schedules, slightly altered to reflect possible nine-game schedule rules. The point of looking at a two year schedule lineup is that most "marquee" matchups take the form of what is known as a "home-and-home" series, a two-game agreement with each team getting one home game. What results will likely not please many fans, as it potentially signals the end of Big Ten spotlight matchups against out-of-conference opponents.

First, the actual 2012 and 2013 schedules, with out-of-conference games removed except for the lone home and home series:

2012   2013  
Sept. 1   Aug. 31  
Sept. 8 at Virginia Sept. 7  
Sept. 15   Sept. 14 VIRGINIA
Sept. 22   Sept. 21  
Sept. 29 at Illinois Oct. 5 at Indiana
Oct. 6 NORTHWESTERN Oct. 12 MICHIGAN
Oct. 20 at Iowa Oct. 26 at Ohio State
Oct. 27 OHIO STATE Nov. 2 ILLINOIS
Nov. 3 at Purdue Nov. 9 at Minnesota
Nov. 10 at Nebraska Nov. 16 PURDUE
Nov. 17 INDIANA Nov. 23 NEBRASKA
Nov. 24 WISCONSIN Nov. 30 at Wisconsin
Dec. 1 Big Ten Championship Game Dec. 7 Big Ten Championship Game

The initial belief is that a ninth conference game likely means a second protected cross-division rivalry. Right now, Penn State will play Nebraska every year, despite them being in opposite divisions. Since a slight change in division games occurs between 2012 and 2013, the only team we can use for this experiment is Michigan State. Thus, to the chagrin of many who were glad to see the Land Grant Trophy go, we'll assume that the ninth conference game is a reinstatement of the Penn State/Michigan State rivalry. Inserted into the matrix shows the following:

2012   2013  
Sept. 1   Aug. 31  
Sept. 8 at Virginia Sept. 7  
Sept. 15   Sept. 14 VIRGINIA
Sept. 22 MICHIGAN STATE Sept. 21 at Michigan State
Sept. 29 at Illinois Oct. 5 at Indiana
Oct. 6 NORTHWESTERN Oct. 12 MICHIGAN
Oct. 20 at Iowa Oct. 26 at Ohio State
Oct. 27 OHIO STATE Nov. 2 ILLINOIS
Nov. 3 at Purdue Nov. 9 at Minnesota
Nov. 10 at Nebraska Nov. 16 PURDUE
Nov. 17 INDIANA Nov. 23 NEBRASKA
Nov. 24 WISCONSIN Nov. 30 at Wisconsin
Dec. 1 Big Ten Championship Game Dec. 7 Big Ten Championship Game

This leaves two openings per year. Each year also has five road games already scheduled. Since the Penn State athletic department is self-sustaining, and since the football revenue stream makes up a massive percentage of the money that pays for the 28 varsity sports, it is widely believed that Penn State needs to average 7.5 home games per year to maintain its current earnings pace. As you can see above, it is impossible to reach that 7.5 game average with a home-and-home series every year.

If we insert two home games in each of the openings, each year will have seven home games. While you might think that missing the average by 0.5 games per year is trivial, consider the fact that a Penn State home football game brings in millions of dollars, money that is allocated yearly to fund the 27 other sports (men's basketball is also slightly profitable, but the athletic department's cash cow is definitely the football program).

What does that mean for scheduling? Well, if a nine-game schedule is approved, it likely signals the end of glamorous home-and-home series like the one many fans are looking forward to on September 10. Alabama returns to Happy Valley, with the Lions looking to avenge last year's Week Two loss in Tuscaloosa. You may see one-off games at neutral sites rise, where teams split revenue, like the Michigan-Alabama matchup announced for 2012. But the home-and-home series against Alabama (or Virginia, as seen above) are in danger of extinction.

It should be noted that the change to a nine-game conference schedule would not take place overnight. Wisconsin AD Barry Alvarez has said this is something that might not take place until 2015 or even 2017. But if and when that day comes, the future Penn State schedule may look something like this, upsetting many fans, myself included.

2017?   2018?  
Sept. 2 TEMPLE Sept. 1 FLORIDA ATLANTIC
Sept. 9 APPALACHIAN STATE Sept. 8 MIAMI (OHIO)
Sept. 16 KENT STATE Sept. 15 MARSHALL
Sept. 23 MICHIGAN STATE Sept. 22 at Michigan State
Sept. 30 at Illinois Oct. 6 at Indiana
Oct. 7 NORTHWESTERN Oct. 13 MICHIGAN
Oct. 21 at Iowa Oct. 27 at Ohio State
Oct. 28 OHIO STATE Nov. 3 ILLINOIS
Nov. 4 at Purdue Nov. 10 at Minnesota
Nov. 11 at Nebraska Nov. 17 PURDUE
Nov. 18 INDIANA Nov. 24 NEBRASKA
Nov. 25 WISCONSIN Dec. 1 at Wisconsin
Dec. 2 Big Ten Championship Game Dec. 8 Big Ten Championship Game

Unfortunately, the old adage "cash is king" has never rang more true in the current state of college athletics. Penn State President Graham Spanier and Athletic Director Tim Curley have to keep their well-oiled money machine rolling, and since the elimination of less popular sports is unlikely, the fans will ultimately suffer. At least we have Twitter to keep us entertained, though.

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