The news of the week (Texas A&M leaving the Big 12 for the SEC) seems to have everyone convinced that we’re just a short time away from having 4 super conferences of 16 teams each. And I fear that the conventional wisdom is right on this one. I fear it because it is madness.
Consider a hypothetical 16 team Big Ten that adds Missouri, Pittsburgh, Texas, and Rutgers. The league would be split into two 8 team divisions with the conference winner determined by a championship game. So far, so good. But think about the schedule for a bit – especially if Ohio State and Michigan are kept in separate divisions (itself a form a madness, but that’s another post). Every year, Ohio State would almost certainly play the other 7 teams in it’s division plus maintain the guaranteed matchup with Michigan. That’s 8 games from your 12 game schedule.
What do you do with the other 4 games? Today, everyone plays 4 non-conference games per year. But if that holds, or even if it’s reduced to a mere 3 non-conference games, then there will be teams in Ohio State’s conference that it never plays or only plays home-and-home against once every decade and a half or so (conference schedules are usually set 2 years at a time where year 2 flips the home/away designation of year 1). What’s the point of having Michigan State and Ohio State in the same conference if they almost never play each other? **UPDATE – it occurs to me that if you have 3 non-conference games per year, and given OSU’s habit of scheduling in-state schools, you might see Ohio State playing Akron more frequently than it does a conference opponent**
We could solve this particular problem by having even more conference games, but that too is a problem on two fronts. First, it would be an economic hit to the powerful schools like Ohio State that have gotten used to having at least 7 home games per year. Second, it would all but eliminate the marquee non-conference match ups that are such a perfect balance to the regional conference action. Say goodbye to Ohio State taking on Texas, Miami, USC, and the like. And that would be a shame.
The only option left is to increase the number of games in the schedule. If you had 13 or 14 games per year, you’d still be able to have a good blend of conference and non-conference action. But would the university presidents ever agree to this? The cynic in me says they might, but that would go against most of what they’ve said about protecting the integrity of the student athlete.
I’m not sure I see a way out of this. I’m hoping the Big Ten is smart enough to stay at its current 12 teams. Even that feels a bit large to me, but I vastly prefer it to the madness that would be a 16 team league.