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The 2020 and 2021 football conference schedules have been released, and the B1G’s scheduling system seems to like pairing up Wisconsin and Michigan

NCAA Football: Cincinnati at Michigan Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Happy Thursday, folks, and welcome to Morning Brews. It has been a long week, but I have the strength to carry on to the weekend - and I hope you do too. The Air Force game is sneaking up on us faster than people running from an abandoned luncheonette curated by Stephen King, but we have a little bit of Michigan Football news to cover before we get to the Falcons. That news is the release of the 2020 and 2021 schedules, and it looks like the team will continue to play Wisconsin on an annual basis for the foreseeable future. I go over why I think Wisconsin keeps getting scheduled and what that means for Michigan below.

As usual, I have scattered clues throughout Morning Brews that combine to reference a song. These clues may be pictures, words, or phrases and may reference lyrics, the artist, and/or the album. This morning there are at least three clues. Fire away down in the comments with your guesses.

Let’s get to it:

Cincinnati v Michigan Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images

Should the conference schedule inter-divisional games with TV in mind?

On Tuesday, the 2020 and 2021 B1G Conference football schedules were released. Pretty cool, right? For season ticket holders, you get to see what games you’ll be traveling to Ann Arbor for (more on that in a minute). For the rest of us, we get to scope out what future seasons will look like, identify matchups that could alter the course of future seasons, and get an early feel on strength of schedule. With that in mind, I have two takeaways from the 2020 and 2021 schedules.

First, let’s return to season ticket holders. The bad news is that Michigan State and Ohio State will continue to be paired games - with both either being home or away in any given season. As Ace Anbender pointed out after the schedules were released, this isn’t as big a deal as it used to be on a strength of schedule basis. MSU’s fall back to Earth makes two road rivalry games less of an obstacle than it was even a couple years ago when the conference started doing this. For season ticket holders, though, this is a problem.

Rather than getting at least one bona fide rivalry game per year, you’re either getting two or zero. Sure, matchups against Penn State and Wisconsin (we’ll return to them in a minute) help to even out the schedule, but it’s not the same. By the way, the 2018 and 2019 Notre Dame games are on the same schedule. As in, ND/MSU/OSU are all away games in 2018 and the three are all home games in 2019. Gameday revenue in 2018 is going to be no bueno. Though, on the other hand, it will go through the roof in 2019 when each of those three games is in Ann Arbor.

Second, concerning Wisconsin, they’re some rules-of-probability-defying Badgers. The way that the B1G’s divisions work is that teams play every other team in their division, plus three of the seven teams from the other division. The three teams from the other conference are supposed to rotate, so that the teams of each division still play each other on a semi-regular basis (the interval is every two to three years). Wisconsin is in the West division and Michigan is in the East. With the release of the 2020 and 2021 schedules, we learned that Michigan will play Wisconsin six years in a row (2016-2021).

Let’s do the math on this. The odds for any one team to be included in the three divisional crossover games is about 42% (3 of 7). That means that the Wolverines and Badgers should face off about four times every ten years (the two to three year interval I mentioned in the last paragraph). What is the probability of the same inter-divisional game being played six years in a row? If the draw is random, and it apparently isn’t, it’s zero point six percent. How often are Michigan State and Ohio State playing Wisconsin over this same period? Twice each (2016 & 2019 for both). The distribution is holding true for them, but not for the Wolverines.

Now, I know that the distribution of these games isn’t mechanical. Scheduling realities sometimes get in the way and prevent teams from playing each other like clockwork. There may be protected rivalry games that get in the way or scheduled non-conference games may prevent the schedules from matching up. Such circumstances might add in an additional game or two between teams in different divisions during a ten-year span, or it might cause the inter-divisional interval to be longer than two to three years. However it should take an extraordinary set of circumstances to cause inter-divisional foes to be scheduled annually for six years. The only reason I can think of for this scheduling decision by the conference is television.

Michigan and Wisconsin are two blue blood programs. I don’t know about you guys, but I was weaned on Lloyd Carr/Barry Alvarez showdowns in the 1990s. Those were some hard-hitting, classic Big Ten games - and I think this is the conference wanting to recreate that. It’s no secret that a Michigan vs Wisconsin game will draw more eyeballs and be carried on a non-BTN national network more often than a Michigan/Purdue or Michigan/Illinois tilt (or Wisconsin/Maryland or Wisconsin/Rutgers). But should the conference bend the distribution of inter-divisional games for that reason?

There’s also the strength of schedule aspect, which I don’t think is driving the conference but should be mentioned nonetheless. Unless PJ Fleck gets Minnesota up to speed in record time, Wisconsin looks to be the winner of the West Division for the next several years. Over this six year period, Michigan will play (and has played) the likely winner of the West Division three-times more often than Michigan State and Ohio State (and Penn. State, too, by the way). This undeniably creates an easier path to the B1G Championship game for those three schools.

So, what do you think? There is history between Michigan and Wisconsin. They’ve played 65 times since 1892 and played nearly every year between 1965 and 2002. Should they play most every year like a protected inter-divisional rivalry? Or should the conference schedule Michigan and Wisconsin at the same rate they schedule Wisconsin and the other contenders in the B1G East? Weigh in with the poll below and down in the comments.


How often should Michigan play Wisconsin?

This poll is closed

  • 8%
    Every year
    (43 votes)
  • 22%
    Most years
    (109 votes)
  • 68%
    At the same rate as OSU/PSU/MSU
    (335 votes)
487 votes total Vote Now

Those of you attending the game this Saturday will be in for a treat. Seeing as how Michigan is playing Air Force, it stands to reason that the United States Air Force will lend some hardware to the festivities. Before the game, there will be a flyover of T-38 Talons; two of which will by piloted by Michigan grads. The USAF ‘Wings of Blue’ parachute team will also jump into the stadium. Presumably both of these will happen in close proximity to the National Anthem, so keep your eyes peeled.

I don’t know about you, but some of my coolest memories from Michigan games as a kid were flyovers. There’s one game in particular that I remember where a B-2 stealth bomber flew over during the National Anthem. I can’t recall which particular game it was (likely early 2000s), but it was just like this flyover from the 2012 Air Force game. This triangle-looking plane nearly silently glided toward the stadium and as it passed you could finally hear the roar of its engines. Go ahead and share any memories you may have of flyovers before games down in the comments.