The B1G TEN announced today that as of 2017, the conference will expand to a 9 game conference season. Bottom line, more Big Ten football every year. WIN.
Obviously, I'm a big fan of this. But there are a lot of obvious and not-so-obvious reasons. On the obvious side, given Michigan's recent affinity for body-bag, non-conference home games, having an extra conference game on the schedule gives me one more real game to go to. On the less obvious side, it also means that the extra game I'm going to will continue to allow the Athletic Department to fund the rest of Michigan's non-revenue sports, without my having to suffer through another Delaware State game.
I don't think anyone will argue that some of the recent non-Notre Dame, non-conference games have provided little value from a fan-in-attendance perspective. But there's a reason the scheduling hasn't been great, getting quality opponents to sign on isn't easy. Scheduling a quality opponent these days requires a home and home. Hell, even the MAC schools are starting to push hard for this and surprisingly, they're not budging. So, to some extent, the quality of the non-conf schedule has fallen because of the new requirements pushed for by these suddenly self-respecting MACtactular ADs.
The response has been, "So what? Michigan should be playing all over the place to prove it's the best." I wish it were that simple. If Michigan were to agree to the home and home, they lose a considerable amount of money that goes to fund other sports.
I think what gets lost in the non-conference discussion is what those non-conference games represent in a over-arching "Michigan" sense. By way of example, the revenues for Michigan's home games go to fund the renovations at Yost, Crisler, the new practice facility, the new scoreboards, and every other sport that Michigan participates in and strives to be the best at. Soccer, Lacrosse, Rowing, even Hockey wouldn't be possible without the revenue brought in by the football team's home games. Think about the number of sports that Michigan now competes in, the costs of scholarships, equipment, coaches, and facilities (and I'm only scratching the surface here).
Think of the expansion of sports over the recent years. The money to do that didn't come out of thin air. I sincerely doubt Michigan would have ever committed to launch Lacrosse without the added revenue from the extra home game Michigan currently enjoys. Think of 117,000 people, ticket costs, local TV/Radio revenue, vendors, concessions, the lot. Think of what that generates in a single home game. Now yank that amount off your athletic department balance sheet. It'll leave a financial crater your other sports teams will not easily walk out of. I'm not saying this is solely the reason, but I am saying it's part of it.
Because of this, the new set up is preferable to the status quo. While Michigan will alternate years with four or five home games, the BTN revenue and overall conference revenue generated by expanding to 9 games will help to offset the loss of a home game, which is something that a home-and-home simply won't do. It ain't perfect, but it's better than what we've got.
[To expand on this a little more, Big Ten revenues expanded considerably with the addition of the BTN but that's not the only thing driving the money cart. ABC and ESPN are forking it over as well, along with other corporate and institutional sponsors. 8 conference games means 8 weeks of pulling in conference only cash. When separate BCS conference teams play one another that TV loot is divided up between the schools pursuant to their agreement and their TV contracts. And if memory serves, the host team doesn't give the visitor a dime. Only the body-bag teams get the payout because there's no return game at their place. Home and home, the host keeps all the money.
However, with the addition of the 9th conference game, all that TV money stays in the Big Ten for an extra week. That's six more conference clashes in a TV weekend to fund the Big Ten coffers, which in turn, fund the athletic departments. Don't kid yourself, that's a lot of money. Also consider the fact that Michigan gets a slice of that money as an away team, and doesn't incur the expense of hosting the game. The money isn't the same, but it's still pretty nice.
Right now, Michigan schedules a crappy home game against BackofSomeGuy'sHouse U, keeps all the money but pisses off its fans. They could schedule an away game, but that in turn hampers its ability to fund its other sports. By expanding the Big Ten conference schedule, Michigan will give it's fans a better product and draw in more conference loot offset the lost revenue from the missing home game. Again, it ain't perfect, but it's better than what we got.]
This isn't to say the complaining about Michigan's non-conference scheduling in the last few years isn't justified from a fan perspective. It is. FCS level opponents and lousy MAC teams aren't worth $70 a ticket if that's your one game a year or if you're a season ticket holder just interested in the football team. That said, I think there's some bargaining benefit for the schools as they contract the non-conference schedule.
For instance, if Michigan has three non-conf spots to fill (Notre Dame being the fourth), Michigan must find three willing schools who won't require a return visit. Part of the issue is so does the rest of the Big Ten. Everyone's looking to find an extra home game. As a result, the usual suspects have more bargaining power with the teams to request higher pay-outs and trips to their stadiums. That's 36 games a year in the Big Ten that have to be filled (assuming one set in stone rivalry each). Reducing the number of non-conference games strengthens the Big Ten (and Michigan's) bargaining position. 24 games to fill is a very different proposition, just as filling two slots is easier than three. This limits the exposure for the Big Ten's athletic departments, and Michigan's specifically.
The move to the ninth conference game is a win for everyone. The Athletic Department can continue to fund the sports that can't support themselves and we get better football to watch.
Full Big Ten press release after the jump....
BIG TEN SCHOOLS TO PLAY NINE CONFERENCE GAMES BEGINNING WITH 2017 SEASON
Teams to feature four or five Big Ten home games on rotating basis
Park Ridge, Ill. – The Big Ten announced today that conference football programs will move to a nine-game Big Ten schedule beginning with the 2017 season.
Three teams each from the Legends Division and Leaders Division will feature five conference home games during odd-numbered years, while the other three schools from each division will host five conference contests during even-numbered years. The 2017 schedule will include five conference home outings for Iowa, Michigan State and Nebraska from the Legends Division and Illinois, Indiana and Ohio State from the Leaders Division. The 2018 schedule will feature five Big Ten home games for Michigan, Minnesota and Northwestern of the Legends Division and Penn State, Purdue and Wisconsin of the Leaders Division.
The Big Ten will return to a full nine-game conference schedule for the first time since the 1983 and 1984 seasons. Eight of 10 conference schools played nine-game schedules during the 1981 and 1982 seasons, while two of 10 teams featured nine-game schedules from 1971-72 and 1977-80.
The 116th season of Big Ten football kicks off with prime time home games for the defending Big Ten co-Champions, with Wisconsin hosting UNLV on Thursday, Sept. 1, and Michigan State facing Youngstown State on Friday, Sept. 2. The conference’s remaining 10 teams open action on Saturday, Sept. 3, including Nebraska’s first official game as a member of the Big Ten. Conference play will begin on Saturday, Oct. 1, and will feature divisional play for the first time. The champions of each division will meet on Saturday, Dec. 3, in the inaugural Big Ten Football Championship Game to be played at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis and televised by FOX Sports. The winner of the title game will earn the Big Ten Championship and a chance to play in either the Rose Bowl Game or Bowl Championship Series National Championship Game.