Now that the ACC nixed divisions, when will the B1G make up its mind?
There’s something to be said for deliberation.
Too often, people confuse decisiveness for leadership. We aren’t so different from cats impressed by laser pointers in that regard.
Decisions celebrated as BOLD aren’t necessarily good. Maybe the reason nobody thought of that idea in the first place is because it’s kind of dumb.
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So I’m all for taking your time to make the right choice.
That being said … yo, Kevin Warren, when’s the future of Big Ten football getting decided?
On Tuesday, the ACC announced that it is abandoning divisions starting in 2023. Every team will play 3 fixed opponents each season and rotate through the other 10 every other year.
In 2023, the ACC will adopt a 3-5-5 football scheduling model and all 14 schools will compete in one division.
Teams will play 3 primary opponents annually + face the other 10 teams twice during the 4-year cycle, once at home and once on the road.
— ACC Football (@ACCFootball) June 28, 2022
Change is already afoot elsewhere.
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The Pac-12 is keeping divisions for now, but only as a manner of scheduling games. Effective this fall, the conference’s top 2 teams will play in the championship game regardless of division. The league will be able to move away from divisions next year.
The Mountain West, like the ACC, is nixing divisions in 2023. And the Big 12, of course, hasn’t had divisions since Nebraska and Texas A&M departed a decade ago.
Now the world waits on the SEC and Big Ten to announce some change in format.
Presumably, we should be waiting longer on the SEC. The league is adding Texas and Oklahoma no later than 2025. Regardless of when it happens, there’s little reason for the SEC to make changes beforehand.
The Big Ten doesn’t have that excuse. It should be able to make a decision and do it soon. And we keep getting hints that this will happen.
“There will be changes,” Michigan State AD Alan Haller said in May. “We’re working through them.”
The matter of what’s being worked through may literally be a $1 billion question.
Media rights deal likely a key sticking point
At the start of May, Warren told CBS Sports’ Dennis Dodd that the Big Ten would have its new media rights deal worked out around Memorial Day. The deal, set to begin in 2023, will supposedly be in the neighborhood of $1 billion with a variety of broadcast and/or streaming partners.
As July 4th approaches, that media rights deal still hasn’t been announced. And until it is, it’s highly unlikely we’re going to learn anything about any changes in conference alignment. The price of the Big Ten’s television inventory may well hinge on whether broadcast partners are showing 8 or 9 conference football games.
The new ACC model is fairly easy because it fits nicely with an 8-game conference schedule. Teams play every league opponent within a 2-year window.
A 9th league game, which the B1G has had since 2016, muddles the math a bit.
First, you’d be left with a choice — 2 protected opponents with 7 rotating games, or 3 protected opponents with 6 rotating games? In theory, each team might only get a single protected opponent while rotating 8.
Any way it’s sliced, in some cases, it’s going to take 3 years to see every opponent. But that’s also operating under the assumption that the Big Ten would eliminate divisions.
Winning over the West also crucial
There is, at the moment, no program in the Big Ten West that should feel any compulsion to change the conference structure. All of them benefit from the status quo.
By the end of the current decade, it’s perfectly plausible that Purdue, Minnesota, Nebraska and Illinois will all reach the Big Ten championship game for the 1st time. Or at least 2 of those 4 teams might. That’s simply not going to happen for East Division afterthoughts Indiana, Maryland and Rutgers.
The inequity plays out on the field, as the East champion has won the past 8 Big Ten championship games.
“We would be perfectly OK with continuing the divisional structure,” Purdue AD Mike Bobinski said in May. “But also willing to keep an open mind if someone could make a coherent argument as to why getting rid of divisions would benefit the league overall.”
The only thing likely to make that coherent argument is straight cash, homey.
It’s possible divisions will only be eliminated if broadcast partners tell the B1G, “We’ll pay you X amount extra to broadcast a conference championship game that features the top 2 teams in the league.”
Potential media rights partners can’t be all that geeked about paying 10 figures to televise a game where the outcome is a foregone conclusion. Only twice in that 8-year stretch has the West champ managed to stay within a TD in the title game. Thus, those paying partners have the power to drive any changes.
There’s also a chance, though perhaps not as likely, that broadcast partners prefer the current Big Ten structure since it guarantees a larger number of highly-rated traditional matchups. After all, the money is made over the course of a full season. The Big Ten championship game will never be a ratings behemoth like the Super Bowl.
Regardless of what’s decided, money is going to be the driving factor. It is, after all, the reason Maryland and Rutgers are here in the first place.
Whether the B1G makes big changes or sticks to the status quo, competitive balance won’t be the determining factor. It will be a matter of what format pays best.