Recently Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany made it abundantly clear that the Big Ten will not be sticking with an eight game conference schedule in football when Maryland and Rutgers join the league in 2014. Instead the debate amongst conference athletic directors and administrators is whether to move to a nine or ten game league slate and when to make that move. However, the more important question to us here at MTB is - where should the Badgers come down on this debate when it's all said and done?
Well, that's what were here to examine - aren't you lucky, huh? We'll do all the thinking for you.... Or not. One thing we will put aside for now though is the debate on when the league should begin this move in football.
Moving forward however, there is no doubting that this move must be studied carefully as there are a lot of things to sort through when looking at moving to either a nine game or a ten game schedule. Things like revenue sharing, increasing interest in Big Ten football, the effect on conference cohesion, making athletic department budgets work, and television contracts all play a huge role in where this debate comes down at the conference level.
Those are all factors that Barry Alvarez and Co. are no doubt currently studying in regards to it's effects on a nine and ten game conference alignment. So, let's dive right in to the deep end and explore what each proposal has to offer and where we think Wisconsin should side in this debate, shall we?
The Nine Game Conference Schedule:
Why it's Good for UW: The Badgers can continue to see the likes of Ohio State and Penn State on a more frequent basis as the likely move to an East/West geographic split for the conference is likely to take the Badgers in a more Westerly direction. That means no guaranteed game against OSU and PSU on an annual basis, but the move to a nine game conference schedule would mean the ability to rotate an extra game outside the division, thus an increased chance of seeing those schools more frequently. That would help in recruiting places like Ohio, New Jersey, and the D.C. area.
It also allows for the ability to play some different matchups in the non-conference season than they would if hamstrung to playing two home games every year, like the ten game model would force them to do. The economic reality of the situation at Wisconsin is such that playing just six games without some sort of increased revenue sharing in the league would dictate the Badgers having to play two home games out of conference no matter what.
Sure in the years when the Badgers get only four home conference games they'll have to play three home non-conference games, but they already do that anyway now and for me it's a trade-off worth making if it means better and more frequent competition within the league and the ability to play better non-conference opponents more frequently as well.
Economically, this option allows the most flexibility to the individual school to do what they feel best for their program as well. If schools like OSU, Michigan, Wisconsin, Nebraska, and Penn State feel they can afford to schedule a road or neutral site non-conference game and make it work, shouldn't they be allowed to do so? Having those three games to play with allows a lot more in that area, at least in my book.
Why it's Bad for UW: There are a few realities of the Badgers budget situation and one of them is that they don't make a ton of money on an annual basis. Yes, they are in the black and have been for awhile now, but that doesn't mean that they are making a ton of money that they can just throw around, especially with the improvement projects going on. What that means is the Badgers are going to be one of the teams that needs to schedule the extra home game every other season in the non-conference portion of the year.
On it's surface that may seem like a win for the fans (who deosn't love Saturday's in the fall at Camp Randall), however the Badgers already have a tough enough time scheduling better opponents on a regular basis as is. Instead we could be forced into paying for a game that doesn't feature good opponents (thankfully not FCS opponents anymore) just to fill out all three home games in the years where the Badgers only play four home games in the Big Ten.
Now, that alone may not be a good enough reason, but a nine game schedule also creates a lot more of a hassle in scheduling good opponents because usually good teams are looking for home and home series' in back-to-back years. That's something that just isn't possible with a nine game conference schedule, now is it?
The Ten Game Conference Schedule:
Why it's Good for UW: Again, more Big Ten play and fewer crappy, cream puff, non-conference games is a good thing for the Badgers in my book. Wisconsin doesn't get any more respect or any more attention by beating up on or sometimes looking bad (looking at you 2012 season) against teams that are supposed to be "inferior" in the non-conference schedule. Less of that and more games against teams with the branding of the Big Ten can solve that issue.
There's also the fact that there will be five home games every year no matter what and that helps to create certainty for athletic budgets and for TV revenue. More Big Ten games are easier to sell to the networks and come 2016 when the Big Ten has a new contract to work out selling more conference games to the likes of ESPN or whatever partner they chose at that point will only serve to enhance their leverage and that means more money in the coffers for the Badgers.
It also means an easier burden on it's budget in terms of the revenue sharing system already in place at the Big Ten level (where teams must kick in 35% of all gate receipts with a cap of $1 million per game and a floor of $330,000 a game). Wisconsin is one of the teams that pays in to the system and loses money. Yes, it means they will lose money, but it means that they will be able to budget out for that on a yearly basis and make things a lot easier on themselves in terms of the revenue sharing agreement.
Why it's Bad for UW: This one is bad for the Badgers because it doesn't solve the issue of playing bad non-conference games. It actually ensures they will play some very bad FBS opponents on a yearly basis. Gone is UW's and the rest of the league's incentive to play a tough non-conference schedule.
Why? Well, first off what's the reward in playing a team from the Pac-12, SEC, or Big 12 and risk losing when you have to then go and at least win five in conference play just to be eligible for a bowl game. Granted that's not the goal at UW anymore, in fact a 7-5 season could and should be seen as a failure at this point in time at Wisconsin (this past season is still up for debate), but there isn't much leway to play with in terms of branching out and playing that tough non-conference opponent, now is there?
Then you also have to take into consideration the fact that schools from those conferences also need to guarantee home games and will look for a return matchup or to play the one off game at a neutral site (a trend most fans aren't enjoying in these economic times). Good luck finding a top level opponent that's willing to play a one and done with you.
Of course, there's also the issue of making the Badgers more accepted on a national scale. Let's face one reality right now, Wisconsin is behind the eight ball when it comes to getting the benefit of the doubt on the national level - that's been the case for years and hasn't changed yet (three Rose Bowl losses in a row aren't helping either). So, when the Badgers can't go on the road and play a decent opponent it means that Wisconsin will always have this "well they need to prove they can do it on the road" situation hanging over their head when it comes to rankings and such.
Finally, as a program that is near the top of the conference in terms of making revenue to put into the conference the Badgers could be in a position to be really screwed should a new revenue sharing model come about to allow teams to play a road non-conference game once ever three or four years.
Conclusion: While I'd love to avoid the messy situation of an uneven conference schedule and some of the issues that creates financially for Wisconsin, the overwhelming evidence shows that the Badgers would be better off with a nine game schedule.
The move to that many league games helps to accomplish the goal of keeping a league that will be more spread out than ever feel more like home to everyone and foster some new rivalries as well. It also helps the Badgers be able to control their non-conference revenue to keep their budget in line. Football makes a profit for the athletic department, but most of that is eaten up by the funding needed for other sports out there.
Allowing Barry Alvarez and Co. to decide what's best for them in scheduling and funding, rather than forcing a model on everyone that's cookie cutter makes far more sense to me.
We are also dealing with a vastly changing landscape in college football, with the new playoff and once you go down the rabbit hole of ten games it becomes very difficult to take that away. Unlike dressing for the cold, where you can always take layers off, you can't take away games in college football as easily as you can add to them. If the nine game schedule doesn't prove to work the way you wanted it to, you can explore the ten game model easier than going backwards.
For Wisconsin, the flexibility to be more creative with their non-conference scheduling is a winner for them and that's why as fans of the Badgers we should get behind the nine game schedule. Well, that and who doesn't love a road trip like we're getting this September to Arizona State, right?
But hey, those are just my thoughts.... What say you? Leave a comment below and let the debate continue!!