Addition of Nebraska gives Big 10 scheduling problems
COLUMBUS — The Big Ten had neatly drawn up its football schedules for the next three seasons before Nebraska joined the conference.
Now those dates and travel plans have all been tossed to the wind.
When conference officials and member athletic directors meet in late July or early August, they’ll face a thicket of questions in a brave, new world for the Big Ten.
With Nebraska on board as the Big Ten’s 12th member, most likely starting in 2011, what will be the divisions in football? How should the conference schedule be set up? Where will the football championship game be played? Will there be different divisional alignments to balance other sports?
“We’ll meet, talk about divisions, try to figure that piece out and talk about a process for a championship game and a location process,” Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith said Wednesday. “There’ll probably be other opinions in the room.”
No doubt. Some will want the divisions based on geography. Others favor a balance of power.
“I honestly think it will be amenable,” Minnesota AD Joel Maturi said. “We have a great group of AD’s who see the big picture and get along. It may not be easy but that is only because it is difficult and challenging. I really have no strong preference except the hope to continue some of our strong relationships/rivalries.”
Even once a consensus is reached on a divisional setup, there are a multitude of other considerations.
Commissioner Jim Delany acknowledged that just bringing Nebraska into the fold was only the first step.
“Making the integration successful, smooth and quick is the second,” he said in announcing the expansion.
Conference officials and ADs are trying to set up a workable date to meet and discuss the concerns.
For instance, how many games will teams play within and outside of their divisions?
“Really, it’s probably our major focus,” Smith said.
The general assumption is that the Big Ten will follow other conference models, splitting into two six-team divisions, with teams playing each of the other five teams in their division and then three teams in the other division on a rotating basis.
There is also some talk that football teams might eventually play a nine-game Big Ten schedule, five in the division and four out.
Even arriving at names for the divisions could be contentious — North and South? East and West? Bo and Woody? Paterno and Osborne?
No matter how the schedules are drawn up, some schools will likely grumble quietly. The conference will try to preserve old rivalries, but there are no guarantees that all will be played annually. There’s no question that new ones will be created.
“Rivalries grow up over time,” said Nebraska’s AD and the former coach of the football Cornhuskers, Tom Osborne.
Because they are in different conferences now, the enmity between Nebraska and Oklahoma may dim. Perhaps neighboring Iowa will offer a bit of bad blood for the Huskers.
“As time goes forward, because of proximity, because they’re a very fine program, I would imagine it could grow into a rivalry of some kind,” he said. “We’ve only played each other four times in the last 25 years or so, so there isn’t quite the history, but we’re looking forward to playing them, and there will be a lot of interest in those games.”
Detroit, Chicago and Indianapolis have already expressed interest in hosting the Big Ten football championship.
After all of the problems in football have been resolved, the ADs will address what to do with the other 24 Big Ten sports. The divisions set up for football might not work for women’s volleyball or baseball.
“Just because it works for football doesn’t mean it’s going to work that way for everybody else,” Smith said.
And there’s always the possibility the conference could expand to 14, 16 or even more schools, creating a whole new stadium full of questions.