(photo by LARRY E. WRIGHT, The Ann Arbor News)
Each Thursday night I sit down to write my column for the following day, often not knowing what topic I will cover beforehand. Sometimes panic sets in and I scan the college football news, and inevitably the Big 10 does something that rescues me from the throes of writer’s block.
This week it has come to light that the conference powers have agreed to stop scheduling opponents from the Football Championship Subdivision at some point in the future, and will move toward a nine- or ten-game conference schedule. On the surface this seems like an admirable move, as nobody actually enjoys these cupcake game. But could it be that that the Big 10 has an ulterior motive?
By moving to a nine-game conference schedule the Big 10 would join the PAC-12 and the Big 12, leaving the ACC and SEC as the only major conferences with an eight-game schedule. (Sorry Big East, you don’t count as a major conference since nobody is sure that you actually even exist anymore.)
The ACC had previously explored the idea of a nine-game conference schedule before, only to scrap the idea when Pitt and Syracuse agreed to join the league. The endgame from the Big 10’s perspective is clear; they want the SEC to be the last conference left with an eight-game conference schedule, reasoning that the SEC will eventually be shamed into following suit. The SEC schedule is such a buzzsaw that adding an additional conference game greatly increases the chances of no team making it out of league play undefeated.
It is true that FBS/FCS games are unpalatable, but from the SEC’s perspective they make a lot of sense, since they typically happen in the penultimate week of the season, before the season-ending rivalry games. More often than not, SEC teams have not only the rivalry game and conference championship game to prepare for, but the national championship game as well. The Big 10 on the other hand, uses games against FCS teams for its members to become bowl eligible.
By Big 10 logic, the way to break the SEC’s stranglehold on the national championship is to have SEC teams play more games against other SEC teams. If the SEC is forced to beat up on itself then undefeated and/or one loss teams from weaker conferences can crowd out the Southern powers when the four team playoff begins. Since the Big 10 has proven itself utterly incapable of competing with the SEC on the field of play, a procedural end-around seems to be their best shot at closing the gap.
Nobody likes cupcake games, but for SEC teams with bigger fish to fry, they make sound business sense. Perhaps I am off base here, and I suppose it is possible that the Big 10 simply does not want to see its members lose games to the likes of Appalachian State any longer. But in the long run, improving their product would make more sense for the Big 10 than feel-good schedule moves.