Between sharply rising revenues and expenses, conference expansion, and the adoption of a playoff system, there are a lot of balls in the air being juggled by the sport's major decision makers.
In this topsy-turvy climate, the Big Ten must set its future course. In a series of meetings over the next few months, the league will decide a number of issues – scheduling policy, bowl tie-ins, TV deals and more – that will determine its future for a long time to come.
So yes, big things are coming, but if there's one thing the Big Ten is familiar with in recent years, it's change.
"It's true," Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith told BSB this morning. "We've done it with Nebraska, we did it with the Big Ten Network. But the process we go through is collaborative. A lot of people think we go into one meeting and we make a decision. We don't do it that way. We do our due diligence."
The league's coaches and athletic directions met Sunday and Monday to begin that task, and Smith said there haven't been a lot of disagreements yet. The league, as commissioner Jim Delany told reporters yesterday, has pretty much agreed to expand its conference slate from eight games to either nine or 10 in future seasons, but the final answer on that question remains in the air. There is also momentum to rearrange Big Ten divisions by geography, but Smith said that some issues with protecting rivalries must be addressed.
Perhaps the biggest thing that most be sorted out is also the most multifaceted issue, and that is scheduling. The Big Ten has all but decided to expand its conference slate past eight games once Maryland and Rutgers join starting in 2014, but the final number remains up in the air.
Smith pointed to the numerous reasons for that choice – the attractiveness of conference matchups from both a TV and fan interest standpoint, the resulting boosting of schedule strength and the fact it would result in one less expensive nonconference game per season against lesser competition.
Both nine- and 10-game conference schedules offer issues that must be ironed out, though. Nine means there will be an unbalanced number of home games between teams each year, while 10 takes away flexibility in nonconference scheduling and also makes it more difficult for teams that need lucrative home games to balance their budgets.
"I believe nine is something we'll probably go to, but 10 is intriguing," he said. "I don't really have a preference. I'm interested to see what the models look like. Ten provides some challenges because we want to keep playing the major, major nonconference games. You can end up periodically with six home games as opposed to seven, so that's problematic. It's just a lot of issues."
Smith was also receptive to the discussed idea to move conference games up into September.
"That would be interesting," he said. "That's more for TV, and actually it helps a little bit with scheduling, too, because one of the challenges we have with scheduling, if you're trying to play the top five conferences and get a nonconference strength of schedule, there's only 60 of those schools and you have 125 schools trying to schedule them in a three-week window in September."
As for reworking Big Ten divisions from the current Legends and Leaders setup, Smith said he'd have no problem with rivals Ohio State and Michigan being in the same division if the league adopts the proposal to align by geography. That would remove the possibility the two schools could play in the Big Ten Championship Game but could also stack one division over the other, something the league tried to avoid in its first setup.
"I went into the meeting with that as an open thought," Smith said. "(Michigan AD) Dave Brandon and I had an informal conversation about it, and we said neither one of us would be opposed to that. If it's good for the conference, it's OK for us. If it's not in the best interest of the conference, we'll back off. It makes sense for geography."
Smith also addressed the stir over comments made by head coach Urban Meyer last week. The internet was ablaze after some quotes by Meyer about the league's recruiting strength were taken out of context and turned into a challenge to fellow Big Ten coaches to recruit better.
"I don't know enough about what goes on in a lot of the programs … We do need to as a conference to keep pushing that envelope to be better," Meyer told Columbus radio station 97.1 The Fan. "All our conversations (at coaches meetings) need to be about ‘How do we recruit?' When you see 11 of the SEC teams are in the top 25 in recruit, that's something that we need to continue to work on and improve."
Smith said Meyer was simply parroting a philosophy of working toward improvement the league has always followed.
"That's not a new conversation," Smith said. "Every year we talk about the fact our conference needs to get stronger in its performance in the nonconference season and the bowl games. People are acting like that's a new conversation. I'm surprised."
When it came to what the Big Ten can do to improve in nonleague games – where it went 6-6 against fellow BCS conferences last year, according to Phil Steele – and bowl games, where the league has just one winning season in the past eight years, Smith said there was no magic formula.
Instead, the answer is simple – investing in coaches and facilities and creating stability among programs will help the conference recruit better athletes.
"You have to recruit athletes, you have to hire good coaches and you have to have stability," he said. "Indiana has done a marvelous job over the past four years of upgrading their facilities. Kevin Wilson, who I think is a pretty good football mind, they need to hold on to him for a while, don't let somebody recruit him away, and then they need to be patient with him.
"It's those types of situations where historically we've had challenges holding on to those guys. It's not like this is some formula out there that's like new and weird. It's the same old, same old."
Smith spoke to BSB at the Greater Columbus Sports Commission's Women's Sports Report, an annual breakfast spotlighting women's athletics in central Ohio. Longtime OSU administrator Miechelle Willis, women's gymnastics coach Carey Fagan (the 2012 national coach of the year), and 2012 Ohio State national champions Katarzyna Dabrowa (fencing), Taylore Urban (rowing) and Yuliya Maryanko (synchronized swimming) were featured.
"That's the real nice thing about it is a lot of our women's Olympic sports don't get the attention they deserve, but these platforms provide that opportunity," Smith said. "It just means a lot for some of our great people be recognized and part of this event so the community has a chance to see we have some gems at Ohio State."