My Thoughts on Big Ten Expansion

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This was a hot topic about a week ago and I totally missed the boat. I'm sure you won't mind seeing one more opinion on it though, right? Plus, I have a different view point than most of the posts I've read on the topic (all anybody is talking about is what teams they think would be a good fit for the Big Ten)...I am anti-expansion, so-much-so that I'm actually for contraction (that's the opposite of expansion, right?).

First off, my thought process is strictly from a football fan prospective. I'm not thinking about how much money the Big Ten would make with a championship game, or how the other sports would work out, and especially not about academics. I just want to see some good Big Ten football.

My Plan:
The conference is named the Big Ten, so why not go back to ten teams? My vote is to drop Northwestern, and I think you could make a good case that they don't really fit the mold of a Big Ten team, but it's mostly because I don't like them. Anyway, so we drop Northwestern and then have 10 teams. Now the league could take on the Pac-10 model and play a round-robin every year.

A clear champion-
One of the main arguments against the Big Ten set up now, is that a clear conference champion does not always emerge (a la Iowa and Ohio State both 8-0 in 2002). A round-robin does not completely eliminate the chance of a co-championship. But, it does mean a few things that help alleviate the issue:
  1. If a team goes undefeated in conference, then it wins the conference (and that's a good rule)!
  2. There will never be a dispute between 2 teams, because the head-to-head result would be take care of that.
Of course a 3 team tie is possible and could get messy if you have A beat B, B beat C, and C beat A type of deal. However, a 3-way tie is possible and has happened in the 12-team championship game model (last year's Big 12 South is a good example) and in the current Big Ten system, so this is a problem in any system. Also, though it's only been 4 years, a 3-way tie has not happened in the Pac-10 since they went to a round-robin schedule. A good tie-breaker rule just needs to be in place for 3 way ties.

A fair and balanced schedule-
The Big 12 is a perfect example of unbalanced schedules (except for maybe this year when the whole conference kind of sucked). Is it really fair that the Big 12 North champ gets to cruise through a bunch of creampuffs while the Big 12 South champ has a very difficult schedule, yet they both get to play in the championship game? The Big Ten also has this problem with the current set up. Iowa had Ohio State and Michigan both off of the schedule for a couple years making the schedule easier than a team that had to play both (maybe this isn't a great example because Michigan was really bad one of those years and Iowa failed to capitalize on the easier schedule, but you get my point). A round-robin would make the conference schedule as fair as it can.

Less pointless non-conference matchups-
Yeah, yeah...Appalachian State beat Michigan....UNI almost beat Iowa. I know. But aren't we all tired of seeing these games the whole month of September? If the conference schedule was 9 games that would just leave 3 non-conference games. That should eliminate one creampuff from the equation. Ideally teams would adopt the approach of having 1 mid-major matchup, 1 non-conference rival/in-state matchup, then one BCS matchup (for example, Iowa's non-conference could be: Ball State, Iowa State, and Arizona).

Conference championship game can mean less teams in BCS games-
Of course the winner goes to a BCS game, but when a conference has a championship game it diminishes it's odds of getting in 2 teams (and I liked seeing 2 Big Ten teams in the BCS). In fact, the loser of a championship game has only played in a BCS game 3 times ever and all 3 teams were undefeated going into the championship game. Two of those times were the loser of the Florida/Alabama game these past two year. The other was when Oklahoma somehow made in into the title game back in 2004 despite losing to Kansas State. If you look at the Big Ten compared to conferences that have a championship game, the Big Ten has more teams to make BCS game than any other conference.
  • Big Ten - 21 teams
  • Big 12 - 17 teams
  • SEC - 19 teams
Thinking back, how many times would have only one team got in if a championship game had been played? Let's just look back 5 years. For this exercise I'm splitting the top teams (the rest don't really matter) into 2 divisions. Div 1: Ohio State, Michigan, Illinois; Div 2: Iowa, Penn State, Wisconsin
  • 2009 - Ohio State vs. Iowa: The winner and Penn State would both be headed to BCS games, so no drop off here.
  • 2008 - Ohio State vs. Penn State: A Penn State win and OSU would likely drop out of the BCS. PSU would still probably make a BCS game with a loss, though.
  • 2007 - Ohio State vs. Wisconsin: This is the year 9-3 Illinois went to the Rose Bowl, so the Big Ten probably would have had 2 either way.
  • 2006 - Ohio State vs. Wisconsin: OSU goes to a BCS game either way, but a loss knocks them out of the Title game and also puts Wisconsin in a BCS game instead of Michigan.
  • 2005 - Ohio State vs. Penn State: The loser probably doesn't make it to a BCS game.
Late season exposure-
The Big Ten's problem of having no games (besides pointless Illinois losses) played the last to weeks of the season could easily be resolved with out a championship game. Just put a couple of bye weeks into the schedule (like the Pac-10 and Big East) and voila, there the Big Ten is still in spotlight. This works especially well when you save marquee matchups until the end of the season. Ohio State vs. Michigan in December would still draw a big crowd.

Conclusion:
The Big Ten will probably expand one of these days because financially (which is probably the biggest factor driving the Big Ten bigwigs' decision) it makes sense. And when that happens and Iowa makes its first conference championship game, I'll probably be ecstatic and saying its the best thing ever. But for now, I'm sticking with my hopes for a 10 team conference.
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