The league currently plays eight conference football games, and those games end the week before Thanksgiving. The reason these steps are being considered is due to Michigan and Ohio State's lackluster performances in their bowl games this year, blowout losses to USC and Florida. Ohio State had a 51-day layoff between its final regular season game and the national title game.
When Iowa went 8-0 in the Big Ten in 2002, its last regular season game was played on November 16th. It didn't face USC until January 2nd, a layoff of 47 days. USC played its last regular season game on November 30th that year. That was two weeks later than Iowa's final game.
To add any Big Ten games to the schedule more would not just to be to add one game, but two. You cannot mathematically add just one game, making for a nine game conference slate, in an 11 team league. You have to have an even number of games, such as eight, or ten. So with nine being out of the picture, we are talking about playing a true round-robin Big Ten schedule.
It will be very interesting to see what happens with this.
For the sake of argument, lets say the Big Ten chooses to go with a 10 game regular season schedule. Teams can now play 12 regular season games, so that leaves two out of conference games.
The majority of BCS conference schools play an eight-game regular season, save the PAC-10, who plays a nine game regular season. The Big 10, Big 12, SEC and ACC play an eight game regular season, the Big East plays a seven game regular season.
For most Big Ten teams, that means four conference home games, plus at least three non-conference home games, and sometimes four. Home games mean big money, road games don't.
So if the Big Ten went to 10 regular season games, that would mean five home and five road games in league. That would leave just two non-conference games. Most Big Ten teams would then schedule mid-level opponents from the Division I ranks, or games against DI-AA schools of Northern Iowa's ilk, so that they could cash the big home gate check.
As you know, Iowa has the ongoing series with Iowa State. That's a home and home series, meaning that one year it's a home game, the next year it's a road game. So every other year, the year the games would be played in Ames, Iowa would only be able to schedule six home games during a 12 game schedule. That is, if it kept the Iowa State series.
And if the Big Ten adopts a 10-game league schedule, the Iowa-Iowa State game would be in serious jeopardy, in my opinion; Iowa could not afford to give up that home game every other year. In a 12 game schedule, and in a BCS conference like the Big Ten, seven home games is almost a must. The 12th game was added to the college football schedule because BCS conference schools could pocket more money from home gate revenue. That money flows down to conferences like the MAC, etc, who will get paid for coming to Big Ten stadiums.
So if you think a 10-game Big Ten schedule is a good idea, then you had probably get used to not playing Iowa State every year, because that series probably goes bye-bye.
And no, the game is not mandated by state law, a misconception that many have held through the years. I have a copy of the game contract between the two schools, and there is no law provision in there. There is buyout language in the contract, further evidence.
On another front, if the Big Ten went to a 10-game regular season schedule, seeing teams from the league in the national championship game will become more of a rarity, and getting two teams into the annual BCS pool, something that has happened nearly every year of the BCS's existence, might become a rarity, too.
In 2006, Ohio State probably would have run the table, no matter how many league games it played. Michigan probably would have finished with just that one loss to Ohio State. But this past year was not like most years.
Playing a 10-game schedule in the most physical football conference in America isn't exactly conducive to winning a beauty pageant. Someone will emerge victorious, but you will be able to see the body blows and the wounds.
If anything, such discussions might expedite the addition of a 12th team to the Big Ten. That way, you can keep the eight-game regular season schedule and have a conference title game. Even in that scenario, there are only two teams that would play a ninth game against league competition, not this 10-game gauntlet possibility. Notre Dame is always a team that gets mention here, and I have been saying to keep an eye on Rutgers for about the last four years when this topic has come up. The Scarlet Knights success in 2006 will make this an even more realistic selection, especially given Rutgers Research capabilities as an institution, something the Big Ten will insist upon.
In the end, I don't think that the league will expand to a 10-game regular season. I do think that the league will begin playing games on or after the Thanksgiving Day weekend starting with the 2009 season; that seems inevitable.
And I know that Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz won't like that.