According to sources close to the conversation, talks between the Big Ten and Pac-12 officials about a conference scheduling agreement have been placed on indefinite hold. Initially, the agreement would solidify a “Big Ten/Pac-12 Challenge”, similar to the “Big Ten/ACC Challenge” in basketball; each team in the Big Ten would play a non-conference game against a team in the Pac-12. Both conferences now feature 12 BCS teams, so it seemed like a match made in heaven. However, the talks broke down because of a discrepancy in the number of conference games played in each conference. The Pac-12 plays a nine game conference schedule, whereas the Big Ten only play an eight game conference schedule. Where one discussion died, another arose. Should the Big Ten officials consider a nine game, or even a ten game, conference schedule?
Right away, a ten game conference schedule seems highly unlikely. As it stands, each team takes advantage of four non-conference games. The ten game schedule would eliminate two of them. In addition, it seems most school officials are on board with some sort of inter-conference challenge, whether it’s with the Pac-12 or another conference. Each school would stand to prosper economically from some type of “conference challenge” through television, attendance, merchandise, etc. The Big Ten/ACC Challenge in basketball has turned in very impressive television ratings over the duration of the agreement. That being said, a ten game conference schedule plus an inter-conference challenge game would leave just one other non-conference game. This scenario seems highly unlikely, especially in the Big Ten where teams aren’t exactly hurting for Strength of Schedule points.
Now, that brings us to the possibility of a nine game conference schedule. As stated earlier, the Pac-12 has instituted a nine game conference schedule, but the level of competition doesn’t exactly compare in my opinion. The SEC, which is arguably (well, not really arguably) the best conference in the country, has a 14-team conference and only plays eight conference games per year. This gives the schools in that conference the freedom to go out and pursue non-conference rivalry games, big primetime match-ups, a couple cupcake games to dilute their schedule in a rebuilding year, or a mixture of the three. For example, Alabama comes off their 2012 National Championship season and opens up with a huge primetime game against Michigan (the same holds true for Michigan and its ability to schedule this game). A nine game schedule would take away from team’s schedule flexibility and possibly some of their opportunities.
All that being said, Big Ten commissioner, Jim Delany, did express the possibility of adding a ninth conference game when he spoke with representatives from the Chicago Tribune.
Now that the agreement with the Pac-12 has officially disintegrated, it should make for an intriguing couple years in the Big Ten. I think we can all be pretty confident in the fact that some sort of agreement with another conference will be reached sooner rather than later, but who knows.