Big Ten Leadership’s Foolish Decisions Mar The Football Season

The Big Ten hierarchy is guilty of two acts of stupidity. One has seriously damaged the regular season. The other threatens to cheapen its championship game. I know it’s hard to believe that a conference leadership which thought inviting Rutgers was a good idea would ever show bad judgment, but it’s happened.

Let’s start with the long, drawn-out dullness of the conference schedule. My Saturday routine has long consisted of sitting down to watch Wisconsin football. I’ve been increasingly bored by the poor slate of league games—the Big Ten West is the weaker of the league’s two divisions and the crossover games were Rutgers and Maryland. After the conference opener of Iowa and a later game at Nebraska, the games just aren’t anything to get excited over.

My boredom hit its apex this afternoon when I finally decided I was going to pass on watching Wisconsin-Maryland and opted for Clemson-Florida State instead (which turned out to be a good move, as the Tigers and Seminoles played a terrific game). I texted a group of friends who follow different Big Ten teams and said I’d never been more bored with a Wisconsin season than I was with this one. To my surprise, I found universal agreement on a text thread noted for being more divided than Congress.

This stupid scheduling gets worse when you consider that next year, Wisconsin draws Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State and all in succession to begin the league schedule (the Big Ten will expand from eight to nine conference games next year). Who decided it was a good idea to play all of the nobodies in one season and then completely overload the schedule to play all the good crossover opponents the next season?

Essentially, as Wisconsin fans, we’re told to either be bored or get beat. There’s no in-between.

A sensible policy would be to segment each division into tiers based on how likely each program is to be good. Then balance the crossover games and make sure at least one opponent is drawn from each segment.

For example, the East would have Michigan-Ohio State-Michigan State-Penn State as the programs likely to be good. Indiana-Rutgers-Maryland would be the ones expected to be easier games. Teams from the West should be guaranteed one game against the higher tier, one against the lower tier and then rotate which tier the third game comes from.

It wouldn’t be perfect. Teams have surprise years, both good and bad. But fans at least understand that a conference schedule can’t be expected to predict that. It’s entirely different when a schedule goes from boring to insanely tough and it’s completely predictable in advance.

The scheduling is bad, but it pales in stupidity to what potentially lies ahead in the Big Ten East race this season. And it’s the league’s tiebreaking system.

If Ohio State beats Michigan State on November 21, then Michigan beats Ohio State on November 28 and all three of these teams win their other games, there will be a three-way tie for the division title at 7-1. Head-to-head would not settle anything because of the circular wins against each other. Nor would tiebreakers pertaining to record against common opponents, because all three teams beat everyone else.

This is the most common situation for a three-way tie, so how did the Big Ten prepare for its eventuality. They decided to have the highest-ranked team in the Playoff Committee rankings go to Indianapolis. There’s nothing wrong on that on the surface, but get this—we won’t know who wins the tie until the rankings come out on Tuesday with the ESPN show.

Thus, three teams from the Big Ten East are going to spend two days preparing furiously for a game only one of them will actually play. Even worse, the West champion—probably Iowa—will be at a huge disadvantage, not knowing which of the three to prepare for. And the Hawkeyes could be unbeaten and playing for a spot in the College Football Playoff.

My question here is twofold—first off, given the importance of this decision, why can’t the Committee get on a conference call on Sunday morning and vote on the merits of the three teams involved? And if they’re too lazy to do this, let the Big Ten come up with an alternate plan—for example, strength of conference schedule isn’t in the tiebreakers. Let the team who played the tougher crossover games get the nod.

Whether it’s the entertainment value of the season or the integrity of the championship game, the Big Ten leadership has failed its member schools and fan bases.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Literally minutes after this post went online, Nebraska upset Michigan State 39-38. The Big Ten is temporarily off the hook for the tiebreaker fiasco, since the circular three-way tie is no longer in play. Here’s hoping the conference takes advantage of the reprieve to make changes along the lines of what’s suggested. Not holding my breath.