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CFB Expansion Analysis, Part Five

Mr Pac Ten
Posted May 18, 2010


Collegefootballnews’ Matthew Smith Looks at College Football Expansion Possibilities, Part Five: 16-Team League Structure for the Big Ten

In this latest piece on conference expansion, I’ll dig into how it could work on a practical level, using the template of the Big Ten plus Nebraska, Missouri, Notre Dame, and Rutgers as reported by 810WHB (since refuted by most of the involved parties) and let’s say Pitt to hit 16. No, I don’t have ANY special knowledge of who’s going where, but at least here’s a template to work with. Subbing in and out various teams would change the structure a bit, but again, you have to have something to work with, and at this point we’re all guessing. Additionally, most of the points raised here would apply to any league considering a 16-team structure, though certain specific ones (like fitting in Ohio St-Illinois) are Big Ten-specific.

Given a 16-team format with those additional schools, there are a few design decisions that need to be made. The biggest of these is the number of divisions and the number of conference games (8 or 9 are the main possibilities, though 10 is at least a long-shot possibility). I’ll go over each type and talk about the pros and cons, and give some more detail about how each might work. I’ll start with the simplest structure, 2 divisions. For the sake of the argument, I’ll fix the West Division as:
Nebraska; Missouri; Minnesota; Iowa; Wisconsin; Illinois; Northwestern; and Indiana (it would probably be either Indy, Purdue or ND, and each seems like a better fit in the East)
This then leaves the East as:
Notre Dame; Purdue; Michigan; Michigan St; Ohio St; Penn St; Pitt; Rutgers

Before going further, I should note that this setup is awkward; Indiana really belongs in the East, but you have to have 8 in each. Because of this, there’s a reasonable chance that the Big Ten might take a third team from the Big 12, which in that case would most likely be Kansas. Again, I have NO idea what their plan is, but I wanted to clarify that as an organizational point.

Now, moving on to further design decisions, let’s start with the first fleshed out structure:

1A: 2 divisions, 8 games, 7/1
In practical terms, this would virtually split up the Big Ten, with each division only playing one game against the other. While I suppose it’s possible they’d go in this direction, that seems impractical enough to dismiss more or less out of hand.

1B: 2 divisions, 8 games, 6/2, full rotation
Using Iowa as an example, every year they would skip one of the teams in their division and play two from the other. This seems interesting, until you realize that this means Michigan-Ohio St, Indiana-Purdue, etc. wouldn’t happen every year. Unless the teams are okay with scheduling non-conference meetings in those years, this seems like another non-starter.

1C: 2 divisions, 8 games, 6/2, 2 fixed intra-division
This is just like 1B, except that each team gets two intra-division matchups fixed every year and the intra-division bye rotates among the rest. For instance, in the West we might see the following pairings set in stone:
NW-ILL; ILL-MO; MO-NEB; NEB-IA; IA-MN; MN-WI; WI-IN; IN-NW.
And in the East it might be:
ND-PU; PU-OSU; OSU-MI; MI-MSU; MSU-PSU; PSU-PIT; PIT-RU; RU-ND.
Pros:
It keeps the eight-game conference schedule, which I’m guessing is preferred. Almost all rivalries get every-year status, with Michigan-Notre Dame, Wisconsin-Northwestern, and Wisconsin-Iowa on more often than off. You get Iowa-Nebraska every year, which could blossom into a legitimate rivalry. But the main positive is keeping the schedule to eight games.
Cons:
Ohio St-Illinois and Indiana-Purdue only happen once every 3 years. The Wisconsin-Indiana, Purdue-Ohio St, and Rutgers-Notre Dame pairings would be fairly awkward, although everyone in each division plays each other at least four of five years so it might not be a big deal. Not having every team play every other team in the division could cause tie-breaking problems some years. But the big issue is whether breaking up Ohio St-Illinois and Indiana-Purdue is a deal-breaker.

2A: 2 divisions, 9 games, 7/2,
It’s the same setup as 1B and 1C, except that every intra-division game gets played every year.
Pros:
You don’t have to worry about tie-breaker issues, since every team plays everyone else in its division.
Cons:
You’re still breaking up Ohio St-Illinois and Indiana-Purdue. And nine games creates an inherent advantage for half the teams in odd years and for the other half in even years, in addition to cutting down the opportunities for favorable non-conference matchups.

2B: 2 divisions, 9 games, 6/3, 2 fixed intra-division
It’s the same setup as 1C, except that you get three inter-division games (given the major cons from 1B I figured we could chuck that one).
Pros:
You can fix certain inter-division matchups, such as Ohio St-Illinois and Indiana-Purdue, though that would make it more difficult to arrange a rotation between the two divisions. It’s probably doable, though.
Cons:
You’ve got nine games, and not everyone plays each other inside each division.

3A: 2 divisions, 10 games, 7/3
Pretty much self-evident.
Pros:
There’s no home-away imbalance, and everyone plays everyone inside each division. You can probably fix Ohio St-Illinois and Indiana-Purdue to happen every year.
Cons:
Ten conference games is probably a non-starter unless the entire college season gets expanded.

I’m sure there are other possible arrangements you could make under the 2-division banner, but I think that’s pretty exhaustive. There are pros and cons to the various approaches, with 1C a reasonable setup given only 8 conference games and both 2A and 2B reasonable given 9 conference games, depending on which pros and cons are more important to the decision-makers.

Now let’s move onto the other potential setup, four divisions. Of course, the basic logistics involved in a four-division setup are a bit more difficult, most importantly how to set up the championship game tiebreakers (since only two of the division winners would presumably get to go). But we’ll ignore those issues for now and just deal with scheduling structures. Let’s assume the following divisions:

Div A: Nebraska; Missouri; Illinois; Northwestern
Div B: Iowa; Wisconsin; Minnesota; Indiana
Div C: Notre Dame; Purdue; Michigan; Michigan St
Div D: Ohio St; Penn St; Pitt; Rutgers

Obviously this isn’t a perfect setup, but there are pros and cons to any setup, and at least this one seems somewhat balanced (though certainly C and D are tougher than A and B). On to schedule structures:

4A: 4 divisions, 8 games, 2/2/1 none fixed
Here, you get a full round-robin inside each division and then 2 games against two of the other divisions, and one game against the other, either at random or in some sort of predetermined rotation. Since this breaks up Ohio St-Michigan, Indiana-Purdue, and others, this is pretty much a non-starter.

4B: 4 divisions, 8 games, 2/1/1 one or none fixed
Here, you get a full round-robin inside each division, one fixed non-division game, and then 2 games against one of the other divisions, and one game against the other two, either at random or in some sort of predetermined rotation. For teams without a fixed non-division game, it’d be 2/2/1 instead.
Pros:
You can fix certain inter-division matchups, such as Ohio St-Michigan, Indiana-Purdue, Wisconsin-Northwestern, Michigan St-Penn St (if they wanted to) and maybe others too.
Cons:
This would be really messy to organize, with some teams having five rotating games and others four. There might be a clear, effective way to organize it, but it’d be difficult to figure out how it would work. Unless they were fixed rivals, two teams from different divisions less often than every other year, which could be too seldom.

5A: 4 divisions, 9 games, 2/2/2, none fixed
A full round-robin against your own division, and 2 games against each of the other divisions. Of course, this means breaking up Ohio St-Michigan, Indiana-Purdue, etc. so it’s pretty much a non-starter.

5B: 4 divisions, 9 games, 2/2/1, one or none fixed
For anyone without a fixed matchup, it’s the same as 5A, except that Ohio St-Michigan, Indiana-Purdue, etc. are fixed matchups. They then get a 2/2/1 setup, according to some arrangement, with the 1 floating between the various divisions.
Pros:
You can fix certain inter-division matchups, such as Ohio St-Michigan, Indiana-Purdue, Wisconsin-Northwestern, Michigan St-Penn St (if they wanted to) and maybe others too.
Cons:
This would be really messy to organize, with some teams having six rotating games and others five. There might be a clear, effective way to organize it, but it’d be difficult to figure out how it would work. Also, you’re stuck with nine games and all the issues that come with nine games.

5C: 4 divisions, 9 games, 2/2/2, one or none fixed
Like 5B, except that each team plays 2 games against each other division. Since Ohio St plays Michigan every year, that means that they rotate Notre Dame, Purdue and Michigan St on a 3-year cycle.
Pros:
You can fix certain inter-division matchups, such as Ohio St-Michigan, Indiana-Purdue, Wisconsin-Northwestern, Michigan St-Penn St (if they wanted to) and maybe others too. It’s a REALLY easy and simple way to organize the matchups.
Cons:
You’ve got nine games and all the issues that come with having nine games. It’d be a bit weird for teams with fixed matchups to then have less games against the rest of that division.

Since I don’t really want to bother going the various permutations of 10-game setup given 4 divisions, I’ll leave it there. Obviously, there are pros and cons to any scenario, but I’d consider the most reasonable ones to be 1C, 2A, 2B, 5C and maybe 4B. Among other things, this means that a 16-team league is going to have very few good options if they’re interested in having eight league games, and will have to make some compromises. It’s easier with nine league games, though there would still be issues.

Of course, it’s also possible to go to a 15-team league, with three divisions of five teams each, or a 14-team league (with two divisions), but those are columns for another day (a day which will probably never come)

Mr Pac-10's 2009 Blog

Questions, comments or suggestions? Email me at cfn_ms@hotmail.com

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