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Nine-Game Conference Schedules: A Roundtable Discussion

The Big Ten announced last Thursday that they would be moving to a nine-game conference schedule beginning in 2017. What does this mean for the conference, and Penn State in particular? We convened some of the Black Shoe Diaries brain trust to find out.

1) Does a move to a nine game conference schedule signify the end of marquee out of conference scheduling?

Jeff: Three months ago I covered this very question more in-depth, but the answer is yes, regular series against marquee out of conference opponents will become a thing of the past. Without getting too involved with the definition of "marquee" (Which of Alabama, UVA, Rutgers, and Pitt would you consider marquee?), home-and-home series just won't be able to sustain the athletic department's budget. They won't be completely dead, as the numbers will likely allow for one, maybe two, series every decade. But the yearly OOC slate will likely include MACrifices, I-AA bodybags, and other one-off opponents that allow the university to keep up the requisite 7.5 home games per season quota.

Chris: Most obvious way around this? Play more games. Otherwise, it'll be near-impossible for Penn State to schedule a decent non-conference opponent unless they're willing to play seven home games per year instead of the 7.5 noted above. But who is to say that the NCAA wouldn't clear the way for a 13th regular season game? You think they wouldn't? Have you met the NCAA?

More after the jump...

2) How will the move to nine games affect the Big Ten title race? Does it help or hinder Penn State's chances?

Mike: Obviously, the difference between a 5-4 conference record and 4-4 is enormous. While teams will still be able to finish tied with another team in the conference standings, there will not at least be only teams with winning and losing records, no more .500 conference teams. But more importantly, the additional conference game could theoretically make the race for the Big Ten title even more dramatic. That one extra opportunity to improve a team's conference record--or damage another--should come into play immediately. How much would Penn State have loved one more conference game, with a chance to separate itself from Ohio State in the 2005 and 2008 standings?

Jeff: This will likely depend on the conference's yearly talent level, but another game means another chance to be bumped down the conference ladder. Theoretically, PSU could go 8-4 this year and still make the CCG (and possibly the Rose Bowl). While it might not seem like much, that extra game, the difference between 8-4 and 9-3, could really mean a lot. Look at last year's three-way tie for first. In the new Big Ten, someone would have been passed over for the CCG.

3) How does this affect Notre Dame's relationship with the Big Ten? They already have scheduled rivalries with at least four conference squads; are those games coming to an end?

Adam: No, but not in the way most would understand the question to mean. Notre Dame's "long-standing relationship" with the Big Ten amounts to using us as a de facto league while retaining the benefits of independence - namely scheduling flexibility and all of the money from their television deal with NBC.

With one less out-of-conference game to play with, all of Notre Dame's regular rivals (Michigan, Michigan State, Purdue, and sometimes Penn State) will have less room to schedule inter-sectional home-and-home agreements that will rob them of guaranteed revenue. This version of the Notre Dame-Big Ten relationship could be a casualty. There's no doubt in my mind that one of the reasons for the increase in the 9-game schedule was for the Big Ten to put pressure on the Irish prior to the inevitable next round of conference expansion and realignment. Continuing on as an independent is untenable in the long term for Notre Dame. The "long-standing relationship" isn't in peril because sooner or later the Irish will be part of the Big Ten.

Mike: The rivalries are not going anywhere, but how they're played is likely already lying in the coffin. Notre Dame gets ratings. Michigan, Michigan State and Purdue are not willing--just as the Irish aren't--to give up the cash from those annual games. It's not like the Big Ten is trying to get Notre Dame to say, "Fine, we'll just join the Big Ten tomorrow," because that won't happen. But you can bet on it that this is one of those long-term moves--strategery--by Jim Delany to set up Notre Dame for an offer the Irish can't refuse. When the Big Ten goes to 14 or 16 teams in the next decade, Notre Dame can either climb on board, or get left out in the open, this time without any benefits that come with a relationship with those Big Ten teams.

4) There are rumors that a ninth conference game also means a second cross-division protected rivalry. If this is true, who should Penn State's second protected matchup be against?

Adam: With all due respect to Iowa and Michigan State, it’s Michigan and it’s not even close. While the Wolverines have been down the last few years, they still boast a strong tradition, a recognizable brand, and a large fan base.

The Big Ten’s power programs (Penn State, Ohio State, Michigan and Nebraska) are four of the six winningest programs in major college football history. If the Big Ten is looking to maximize its television revenue, guaranteeing that those 4 teams play a round robin every year is the best way to accomplish that. Plus, with Brady Hoke replacing Rich Rodriguez, both teams play similar types of football and are battling for the same recruits. An expanded conference schedule means that our local rivalries are likely to be lost. Let’s continue to build our rivalry with the Wolverines and make it a yearly tradition. Just don’t let Jim Delany name it.

Chris: Yeah, it's Michigan. In a second-crossover scenario, the most obvious matchups are Wisconsin vs. Iowa (who got screwed in the first crossover matchups), Nebraska vs. Ohio State (obvious, must-watch game), and Penn State vs. Michigan (obvious, must-watch game). Which means we'll get the Land Grant Trophy game instead.

5) Briefly, what are your thoughts on the move overall? Thumbs up or down?

Jeff: One thumb up, one thumb down. I like more Big Ten games, but I don't like the end of big OOC series.

Chris: Strongly in favor. The extra game we get out of this will be infinitely more interesting and competitive than the average Penn State non-conference opponent.

Kyle: I'm not a fan of the switc to a 9 game conference schedule. Unless a 13th game is added to the season, I think we're going to see the end of home and homes with teams like Alabama and Notre Dame. Thumbs down.

Kevin: While I've always been against the 9-game move, there is the small chance that we're able to have our cake and eat it too. TV will demand strong inter-conference games, and at the very least we're likely to see an increase in deals like this new Michigan vs. Alabama @ the Jerry Dome thing. There is a want (and therefore money) for these games, the question is how far down the tail it stretches.