This Saturday Big Ten Conference football teams, for a third consecutive weekend, will play only non-conference games. Opponents include Division I-AA schools Southern Illinois and Youngstown State, plus Eastern Michigan, Ball State and Temple, arguably the worst Division I-A football school in the nation.
A Big Ten coach’s agent, worried about his client’s job security, finds comfort in opponents like that. For many fans and media, the slate of foes is far less appealing.
Major college football schools have increasingly been adding patsies to the schedules in recent years but the trend accelerated in 2006 with the addition of a 12th game. Driven by a need to increase athletic department revenues, the 12th game has sent schedule makers scurrying for opponents, including I-AA foes.
Not everyone is supportive of scheduling weak opponents and waiting until conference games to stir up excitement and test your team. The Pac Ten Conference has added a ninth conference game. Michigan coach Lloyd Carr said recently high expectations at his school likely would preclude ever playing a I-AA team.
Minnesota athletic director Joel Maturi said Sunday that Big Ten Conference athletic directors have discussed adding a ninth or 10th conference game to the schedule. Playing 10 conference games will create a round robin schedule with each team playing five home and five away games, and will determine a champion who played all conference opponents.
Maturi said Michigan athletic director Bill Martin has been a leader on the issue and Maturi expects discussion of expanding the Big Ten schedule to continue. The process involves talks among the conference athletic directors and possibly one day taking a recommendation to the football coaches. “I think we are all (the athletic directors) willing to talk about it,” Maturi said. “We want to do what’s best for the Big Ten and college football. I think it will be discussed more and more.”
While it’s unlikely, Maturi said a change could be proposed as early as next May. He “leans toward doing something” to increase the number of conference games.
With a 10 game conference schedule, the Big Ten could more dramatically market its product on TV and at the gate while still preserving two games for national flavoring. That would protect historic rivalries like Notre Dame and Purdue, and also minimize the no-name opponents such as Division I-AA New Hampshire (a surprise winner against Northwestern last week before an announced crowd of less than 21,000 in Evanston, Illinois).
The Gophers might fill their two non-conference games by choosing from the following menu: Tulane, Rice, SMU, Houston, Baylor, New Mexico, New Mexico State, Utah State, UNLV, Nevada, Idaho, Wake Forest, Duke, Syracuse, Iowa State, Missouri, Colorado State, Wyoming, Oregon State, California, Stanford, Pittsburgh, Rutgers, Army, Navy, Air Force, Mississippi State, and Vanderbilt. Reviving a traditional non-conference game such as with Pittsburgh would be appealing and could be scheduled every few years.
Student-athletes are inspired by playing quality non-conference foes. Before the Gophers’ game against California last week quarterback Bryan Cupito told the Star Tribune, “I love games like this. …I’ve marked this on the calendar since we first got our schedule.”