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Stadium and Main: Make it an even dozen?

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Make it an even dozen?

During the dog days of summer, college football fans often debate various football-related topics on message boards. For Big Ten fans, the most prevalent topic of the past few years has been whether the Big Ten should add a 12th team in order to create 2 even Divisions with a Conference Championship Game. Let’s not talk about which school should be added. Let’s just focus on the pros and cons of adding another team and creating a 2-Division football conference with a Championship Game. These are my main thoughts, in no particular order, but there are probably hundreds of (better) ideas out there. Feel free to comment, if the spirit moves you…

Pros to adding a 12th team and having a Conference Championship Game:

-Greater exposure- Does the Big Ten really need more exposure? They just announced they’re starting their own TV network, and they have a long-term coverage deal with ABC/ESPN – probably the most influential/pervasive TV group in terms of sports coverage. Increasing your audience is always nice, but how much can/will that audience increase? It’s not like people in New York City don’t watch the Big Ten, or that they will all start watching our games if we add Syracuse. Adding a powerhouse like Notre Dame would have a big impact, but would adding a team like Pitt or Missouri really do anything for the league? I just hope that if/when the Big Ten does expand, they have done some serious market research on this, because I don’t think it will make much of a difference.

-Eliminates the potential for another “2002 scenario”- Probably the biggest black eye for the Big Ten occurred in 2002, when both Iowa and Ohio State went undefeated in conference play, and (obviously) didn’t play each other. While Iowa did have a non-conference loss at Iowa State, all of the talking heads on ESPN were freaking out about this, and ripping the Big Ten for its awkward scheduling setup. Adding another team would eliminate the possibility of 2 undefeated teams in the same conference, but other problems will arise (see discussion at the bottom of this post).

-Less confusion and no stupid tiebreakers- With its current scheduling setup, there are so many ridiculous tiebreakers and odd rules that could be eliminated with the implementation of a Championship Game. How ridiculous is it when a co-champion can get to the Rose Bowl just because the other co-champ went more recently? Let me answer for you – it’s ridiculously ridiculous!! A Championship Game would make things much easier to understand, but would not necessarily lead to a perfect scheduling system (see discussion at the bottom of this post).

Cons to adding a 12th team and having a Conference Championship Game:

-How to divide the Divisions?- Creating 2 equal Divisions might not be a nightmare, but it wouldn’t necessarily be easy. Over the past 5 years or so, I’ve seen numerous Division possibilities bandied about on message boards – some sounded great, others seemed a bit off. But since this is a Michigan blog, I must mention the one key dilemma (in my opinion) – What do you do with Michigan and Ohio State? How will this affect the greatest rivalry in the sport (or all sports)? Let’s take a more in-depth look at this sub-issue:

Option #1: Placing Michigan and Ohio State in the same Division:
You would have to assume that under this scenario, The Game would, more often than not, be for the Division crown. But would this be good for the rivalry? If we knew the winner of The Game was gonna have to play Iowa the next weekend in the Championship Game, would it still be as exciting? Would the winner of The Game be motivated in the Championship Game, or would they be emotionally drained? Would it be fair to put the 2 best teams in Big Ten history in the same 6-team Division? Lots of factors to consider here.

Option #2: Placing Michigan and Ohio State in different Divisions, but having them play every year in the regular season finale:
Back-to-back games against OSU? This could very well happen many times if this was the setup. Playing OSU twice in the span of a few weeks just doesn’t seem right to me. I also think it would potentially deprive the fans of a good game in the first matchup. Think about this: If both Michigan and OSU head into The (first) Game having already wrapped up their respective Divisions, would they really be going all out? Maybe if one or both were undefeated… but otherwise you would think that both teams might “save something” (including players) for the Championship Game.

Option #3: Placing Michigan and Ohio State in different Divisions, and having them play every year earlier on in the season:
Some younger fans seem to be intrigued by the idea of a Miami-FSU type of thing, whereby Michigan and Ohio State would play to open the season, and possibly meet again in the Big Ten Championship Game. Traditionalists are disgusted by this idea. I think I’m more of a traditionalist on this one. Even having The Game on “the 3rd Saturday in October” or something like that would diminish its importance (to me, at least).

Option #4: Placing Michigan and Ohio State in different Divisions, but not “protecting” the rivalry, meaning they won’t play in some years:
Earth stops rotating. Not gonna happen.

I just don't think there is a scenario here that will please everybody. In fact, many of these scenarios won't please anybody. Options 1 and 2 seem to be the most "likely," but I'm not too sure how I feel about those yet. More thinking to do...

-Less chance of sending 2 teams to BCS Bowls- The Big Ten is sitting pretty right now. By not having a championship game, it can send more high profile teams (Michigan, OSU, PSU, Iowa, Wisconsin, etc.) to Bowl games with a win in their last regular season game. This dramatically increases their appeal to the Bowls, and gives the Big Ten a great chance at having 2 BCS teams many years.

-More scheduling flaws- A Championship Game does not solve all of your problems. The media has mocked the Big Ten for failing to have a Championship Game. But they are missing a key issue, and giving the 12-team-and-larger leagues a free pass on a very important point: Teams from larger leagues with Championship Games still don’t play every other team in their conference. In fact, “good” teams often miss out on playing other “good” teams due to scheduling differences between the Divisions in the Conference. So it’s not only the Conference that is flawed, but also the way in which Division champions are determined! Since these 12-team leagues do not have “equal” schedules for each team in each respective Division, there have been plenty of times in the past when, say, a Kansas State has missed a “good” team like an Oklahoma (since they weren’t on their schedule), and didn’t even have to play said team in the Championship Game because, while “good,” said team was not good enough to win its Division. And it impacts everybody – even teams that don’t make it to the Championship Game. Did you know that Florida hasn’t played Auburn the past 2 seasons? I bet a lot of casual fans think they have, simply because they’re both in the SEC. The bottom line is this: Any conference that does not play a round-robin schedule is inherently flawed. Playing a Conference Championship Game might give the media and some fans a sense of “fairness” or “closure” or whatever you want to call it. But if the way each team gets to that Championship Game is flawed, and if each team doesn’t play (at least) 3 other conference teams, then have we really made any progress over the current Big Ten system?


Anonymous Anonymous said...

You make a couple excellent points in this post. Just because the conference is split in half and the best teams from each division play eachother, does not make the conference championship game automatically between the two best teams in the conference. One needs to look only back to last year in the Big 12 where the North was having an embarassingly weak year compared to the South. Granted no team was going to beat Texas last year, but anything had to be better than the 70-3 stomping of Colorado in the "championship game."

I also had never considered the possibility of playing OSU twice (especially in close proximity) and it worries me a bit. After reading the post my gut reaction is that we should just stick to our 11 teams. It's worked long enough and we've all see what happens when you try to fix the two undefeated teams problem . -cough- BCS -cough-

1:46 PM  

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