The Big Ten has already taken one step toward relaxing its stringent scheduling.
It might be ready to drastically change the standards in a few years.
Nebraska athletics director Bill Moos suggested the conference may change its future scheduling guidelines down the road during a radio appearance Monday night, according to the Cornhusker press corps. While Moos did not offer any specifics, he hinted at the possibility the Big Ten could eliminate the ninth conference game and return to an eight-game league slate.
Moos hinted on his radio show tonight that there could be some other schedule news coming out for 2022.He said it had to do with the Big Ten not beating each other up so bad, because strength of schedule has had really no baring on the Big Ten for the CFP. Back to 8 league games?
— Sean Callahan (@Sean_Callahan) May 22, 2018
The Big Ten has only released conference opponent schedules for Rutgers and the other 13 member schools through 2021, and its television rights deal with Fox and ESPN is expected to expire after the 2022-23 year. So the conference will have some ability to be flexible if it wants to cut back on league games.
The Big Ten went to nine conference games in 2016 and also prohibited its schools from playing FCS opponents, all in a bid to improve the league’s prestige and standing in the new College Football Playoff era. It has since walked back the FCS ban, allowing schools to schedule FCS opponents in years when they have only four conference homes games.
Going to eight conference games makes sense from an on-field standpoint. The more conference games, the more a conference beats itself up.
With fewer conference games, the Big Ten’s chances of having an undefeated champion, a second College Football Playoff candidate and more bowl qualifiers increase. That means more glory and money for the league. There’s a reason the SEC has stuck with eight conference games despite also having 14 members, and the Big Ten is now running a clear 1-2 with the SEC. There’s also a reason the Pac-12, which has a nine-game league slate, is struggling to be a nationally-relevant conference.
Eliminating the ninth league game also has its downsides. Big Ten schools would have to find an extra non-conference game each fall. Those contests would almost assuredly come against FCS or low-level FBS schools, and the buy rates for those games will only skyrocket. It’s also possible TV negotiations could suffer. Network executives will always want more conference games, rather than less, and they could use their checkbook to get their point across.