February 24, 2009
The Pac-10 probably doesn't get enough credit for eschewing the I-AA patsy route in favor of a ninth conference game when the NCAA expanded the regular season to 12 games in 2006 -- it not only ironed out the unevenness of each team "missing" one other league rival every year, but theoretically helped the conference in its BCS positioning. Last year, for example, eight Pac-10 teams finished in the top 25 in strength of schedule, according to Jeff Sagarin, and that was with the calamities at Washington and Washington State. (To Washington's credit, it had the toughest schedule in the nation according to Sagarin, enhanced dramatically by the fact that, unlike every other team in the conference, the Huskies didn't have to play themselves.) In years that 20 percent of the conference doesn't crater on an historic level, the ninth game is commendable.
It was is in this competitive spirit that the Big Ten -- home last year to precisely zero of the toughest schedules in Sagarin's top 40 -- is taking another look at adding a ninth conference game, after rejecting the idea in 2007. The Wisconsin State Journal's Tim Mulhern is pretty sure the conference honchos are going to reject the idea again, for reasons any fourth grade math student could point out. With eleven teams, the current eight-game schedule works out to a nice, manageable 44 games for the entire conference:
11 x 8 = 88 ÷ 2 = 44
A ninth game, with eleven teams, is, eh, not so nice, unless coaches have no trouble adjusting to seven-and-a-half-minute quarters a couple times a year:
11 x 9 = 99 ÷ 2 = 49.5
It's not like the conference isn't aware of the arithmetic. (After all, we're not talking about the SEC here! Am I right, Jim Delany?) But perhaps "balance" is overrated:
"One team would play eight (conference games)," [Wisconsin athletic director Barry] Alvarez said. "We talked about how you would decide the one team that would play eight. It would still have to be two-year (schedule) cycles. There's a lot you'd have to work out."
The first issue they'd have to work out is how to manage the revolt when the eight-game team misses Ohio State and Michigan and goes on to win the conference championship -- or when Ohio State is the eight-game team, as if it didn't have enough advantages. The second is the loss of bowl revenue for the Indianas and Minnesotas, who would lose the fourth non-conference patsy they need for postseason eligibility with a losing conference record.
And the third thing, if the current setup is that awkward: Why can't the league expand to bring in a twelfth team, again? Only two teams would play nine conference games, but it would be worth more than the other nine combined.