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May 17, 2013

The Week That Was: B10 schedule draws complaints

Michigan head coach Brady Hoke made headlines this week when he referenced Notre Dame "chickening out" of its series with the Wolverines, however, the biggest news of the week was, arguably, the release of the 2014 Big Ten conference schedule.

The Big Ten releases 2014 matchups

Moving into the East Division, U-M will play at Rutgers, vs. Penn State, at Michigan State, vs. Indiana, vs. Maryland and at Ohio State. The Wolverines will also meet West Division foes Minnesota (at home) and Northwestern (on the road).

Due to the nature of scheduling, Michigan will travel to East Lansing and Evanston in both 2013 and 2014, playing MSU and NU on the road in consecutive years for the first time in program history. The Maize and Blue will also begin playing at Ohio State and at Michigan State the same year, something that hasn't been the case since 1966.

What They're Saying

While the consecutive trips to East Lansing is unprecedented, the Wolverines aren't up in arms about the scheduling quirk, MLive.com's Kyle Meinke reported.

As for hope that somehow the OSU/MSU double-road dip will get broken up, don't count on it.

"[Athletics Director] David Brandon said that's just the price to pay for adding Rutgers and Maryland, which makes it difficult to make everyone happy. And he doesn't expect that imbalance -- playing at MSU and OSU in one season, then at home in the next -- to change anytime soon.

"'We were in a rhythm before where we were playing Nebraska and Ohio State and Notre Dame all at home in the same year, and we didn't like that, either," Brandon said. "Everybody said, 'When are you going to change that?' And I said, 'I can't change it, the Big Ten Conference doesn't allow us to set our schedules.'

"'They established a rhythm, and it's probably going to stay in that rhythm until and unless there's significant change in the composition of the conference. I don't see that in the foreseeable future, but one never knows.'"

ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg offers some nuts and bolts on how the Big Ten put its schedule together and comments on the fate Michigan faces: "There has been some reaction to Michigan facing in-state rival Michigan State in road games in consecutive seasons (2013, 2014) and Purdue visiting Indiana for the Bucket game the same two years. The Wolverines never have played the Spartans in East Lansing in back-to-back years and haven't hosted MSU in consecutive years since 1967-68.

"Although it'll be new for Michigan, such back-to-backs are fairly common when a scheduling model changes. Between 2010-11, there were 13 instances of back-to-back matchups, including rivalry games like Iowa-Minnesota (both games in Minneapolis) and Penn State-Ohio State (both games in Columbus) and other good matchups like Wisconsin-Michigan State (both games in East Lansing).

"'It's unavoidable," scheduling architect Mark Rudner said. "It happened five times in 2008-2009. So it's not foreign, it's not ideal, but it's unavoidable. When you're introducing new institutions and you dole out home and road games, it just happens.'"

While many are lamenting the schedule for next season, and it's lack of marquee home games, there is one positive element - a likely night game against Penn State, The Detroit News Angelique Chengelis writes: "The Wolverines hosted the first night game at Michigan Stadium in 2011 against Notre Dame and will play the Irish at home again under the lights this fall. Penn State, in 2014, will play at Michigan Stadium for the first time since 2009, and that likely will be the Wolverines' night-game opponent on Oct. 11, 2014. Brandon has said he would like to host one night game a season.

"'That's a good hunch," Brandon said when asked the likelihood of a Michigan-Penn State night game at Michigan Stadium. "I would expect that Penn State game would be a terrific game in early October to have as a night game against a Big Ten opponent.'"

My Take: The biggest thing I took away from the release of the 2014 schedule wasn't the back-to-backs at Michigan State and Northwestern, but putting U-M's two primary rivals on the road at the same time, which hasn't been done in 50 years.

The other thing that stands out is the lack of big-time matchups between football powers in the two divisions. Michigan doesn't play Nebraska or Wisconsin. Ohio State doesn't either. Nor does Penn State. Wisconsin doesn't seen U-M, OSU or PSU and neither does Nebraska.

On that point, commissioner Jim Delany said those types of battles will begin in 2016, when the conference moves to a nine-game schedule, but why wait? Could it be that they are trying to create a scenario in which their proudest programs have an easier road to the Big Ten Championship, and thus creating the most favorable title-game matchup? It certainly appears that way when you consider the current television contract with ESPN/ABC runs through 2015-16, and the league would love to have two marquee Championships in 2014 and 2015 to drive up its bargaining power.

The consequences, though, of that decision is a conference home slate for teams like Michigan that lacks pizzazz. The Wolverines have fewer marketable games than any other East Division member (OSU's isn't very appealing either except it does get U-M).

Sure, it's nice to play Northwestern as a crossover game -- a visit to Evanston/Chicago is a blast and certainly the Wildcats are a more formidable program than, say, Iowa, Illinois or Minnesota but in scheduling NU and the Gophers, U-M doesn't get Wisconsin or Nebraska, and its home schedule is especially weakened.

As for playing at Michigan State and at Ohio Stat, it doesn't make a lot of sense. Again, there are many factors in play when putting one of these master schedules together, but certainly something could have been done to keep OSU and MSU home and away. The Big Ten owes Michigan and its fans an explanation for that.

The Big Ten prepares to reveal a new bowl lineup

In conjunction with its conference slate announcement, the Big Ten also unveiled plans to partner with new bowls, in an effort to fight "bowl fatigue." The Rose Bowl will remain the destination for the conference champion (not involved in the college football playoff) and the Capital One and Outback bowls are expected to remain in rotation, but all bets are off after that.

What They're Saying

Perhaps the biggest change, Meinke notes, is that the Big Ten is ready to take greater control of the reins during the selection process: "The Big Ten no longer will give the bowls autonomy to select teams. The league is expected to have more control over which teams head where in the next bowl agreement, which will run from 2014-19, while still giving the bowls some say.

"To keep things fresh, the Big Ten is expected to mandate that non-BCS bowls select five different teams in a six-year period. That will help ensure a team such as Michigan, which has played in bowls in 36 of the past 38 years, won't get stuck traveling to the same region year after year.

"The Wolverines have played in Florida for three of their past four bowls."

ESPN.com is reporting that the Pinstripe Bowl in New York City, the Holiday Bowl in San Diego and the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl in San Francisco could all be added as the Big Ten tries to spread its league members across the country.

"'We want to be national,' Wisconsin AD Barry Alvarez said. 'We want to play at least two in Florida, we want to play in the desert, in Texas, in California, also New York and some place on the East Coast is an option. We want to spread our brand nationally.'

"There's also a stronger emphasis on creating more attractive matchups down the line and preventing teams and their fan bases from going to the same city or state year after year -- unless it's the Rose Bowl.

"Brandon said an expanded bowl landscape helps the Big Ten recruit nationally and reach out to its alumni bases in all areas of the country.

"The current lineup is very Florida heavy and very SEC/Big 12 heavy. The next lineup won't be."

My Take: Kudos to the Big Ten. This is smart, forward thinking. The league needs to create more attractive matchups across the board, and more balanced matchups as the past few years have routinely seen league teams play 'up' against foes from other conferences - quite often a third-place Big Ten team was playing a second-place Big 12 or SEC, and down the line like that.

By asserting more control over the selection process, the league can avoid these disadvantages, giving the conference a better chance to be successful in the postseason.

Certainly every few years, a new set of bowls is a good idea. It creates new excitement and energy and increases the Big Ten footprint, adding to the recruiting and television opportunities that grow the league.

The Big Ten's current bowl lineup is a detriment, with so many games overlapping on Jan. 1 that the viewer's attention is split. It would be far more ideal to spread the eight to 10 teams over a week-long span and in primetime matchups, which is why I've always advocated for the Peach Bowl (the evening of Dec. 31).

Michigan And Ohio State To Meet Once In Hoops

The Big Ten has yet to release its 2013-14 basketball schedule but it was leaked this week that the Wolverines and Buckeyes will only meet once, and that the game will occur in Columbus. Indiana-Purdue will also only play once, drawing considerable flak from media and fans that think certain rivalries should be guaranteed a two-game slate.

What They're Saying

MLive.com's Nick Baumgardner said what makes college basketball special is playing a rival twice in the regular season: "In football, if you're lucky to have a rival, you generally tee up once a year for ultimate bragging rights.

"But in basketball, if your rival lives in the same league as you, part of the beauty of sport lies in the mystique of redemption.

"When Michigan knocked off Michigan State at the Crisler Center early in the 2011-12 Big Ten season, Spartan captain Draymond Green sat in his locker room stall and said he'd be at peace with the loss.

"So long as his club paid the Wolverines back a 19 days later in East Lansing. And, of course, they did.

"Last season, when Michigan collapsed during the first 15 minutes in front of a raucous Ohio State crowd in Columbus, only to fall just short on a near-miss from Trey Burke in the closing seconds -- the Wolverines took all the 'not ready,' 'too young,' 'too soft' talk with a grain of salt.

"They knew the Buckeyes still had to come to Ann Arbor. On that night, Michigan evened the score when Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. put together a pair of blocks against Aaron Craft in the final minute.

"These are rivalries. And in college basketball, rivalries are best served plural. As in, more than once."

With knowledge that they will only play once in league play, the Wolverines and Buckeyes could schedule a non-conference game against each other, but won't, OSU AD Gene Smith told the Detroit Free Press: "When told that other schools have gone that route, Smith chuckled: 'Good for them. We really don't. We're going to play the schedule as it's assigned. We will not do that. We will schedule nonconference and manage around that. Missing Michigan a second time, yeah, it bothers us, but we're not going to fall on the sword."

As for who makes out best under the early information we have on next year's schedule - it's Wisconsin, Yahoo Sports' Jeff Eisenberg pens: "Wisconsin caught a huge break only playing Big Ten contenders Michigan State and Ohio State once apiece, both at home, a coup for a Badgers team 0-8 in the Breslin Center since 2004 and 9-1 at home against the Buckeyes since 2001. The advantage is tempered a bit by also getting perennial bottom feeders Nebraska and Penn State once as well, but not going to East Lansing or Columbus should enable Wisconsin to contend for yet another top four Big Ten finish."

My Take: Again, I understand the challenge with scheduling. Not every program is going to be happy, and some foes are going to have it easier than others some years, and other years, someone else will have it easier. That's the way it goes. When it comes to this type of stuff, though, the best thing the conference can do is be transparent. Explain its process and if there is something glaring that doesn't make sense, listen to the criticism/feedback and adjust.

In this case, the early leaking of that information has created quite a storm that rivals will see each other only once. With the league not signing off on a new schedule yet, perhaps it should listen to its constituents and make some changes. If it's not too late. If it is, then explain its decision, enact a new policy and make sure it doesn't happen again.


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