Things are never going to come easy in the Big Ten for Indiana, but there is now a high likelihood the Hoosiers will face a bit more balanced schedule in the not too distant future.
Speaking to the media before an alumni event at Huber Farms in Borden, Ind., IU football head coach Tom Allen confirmed that discussions are underway to revamp the league’s scheduling approach, with the elimination of divisions the likely outcome.
In an expected move last week, the NCAA Division One Council voted to allow conferences to determine the method for identifying the participants in their conference championship game. In anticipation of that move, discussions have taken off around the country.
“Every conference is having those discussions right now,” Allen said on Wednesday. “We talked about it during our meetings. I think it’s going to happen, I don’t know when, but I do think there’s a push in that direction to have the two top teams meet in the championship game.
“You just look at the landscape of college football right now, that’s the direction it seems to be going.”
While placing the top two teams in the league title game was the impetus, the Big Ten has had a larger imbalance quandary since it move to its current geographically focused East and West divisions in 2014. Allen believes that is a contributing factor to what will eventually be the elimination of the league’s current format.
“At the end of the day you just want equity in the schedules for everybody, and if you look at the last eight years, every winner of the Big Ten has came from the East, four different teams have won it during that time period, so I can see that definitely being the direction we go,” Allen said.
Playing in the East has meant that IU has had to face each of Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State and Michigan State every season since 2014. While Wisconsin has been consistently good in the West, and Iowa respectable, the East has consistently had four of the league’s five or six best programs since the move to divisions.
That has made life in the Big Ten difficult for an Indiana team already fighting an uphill battle. Moreover, the details of how crossover East vs. West games were determined each year has never been completely clear, and that has led to speculation of further inequities.
After Indiana won in Lincoln in 2019, comments by then AD Fred Glass seemed to suggest that there was a push by folks at Nebraska to influence the Big Ten to place IU on its schedule more often.
Allen would like to see those opportunities for discretion and tinkering eliminated as much as possible.
“I think the most sensible thing to do with the size of our conference is to maybe have a couple teams that you play all the time to be able to uphold the rivalries, that’s a big deal in our conference, there’s a lot of really strong rivalries that you want to see continue.
“And then to be able to play a rotated schedule, where if a young man comes to play for Indiana, in the course of his career he will be able to come to every single stadium and play in all of those places. There’s places we still haven’t played in since I’ve been here.
“I think the bottom line is still to just have an equitable schedule, and they’ve (the Big Ten) given some samples out for us to be able to see what that would look like
“It’s very feasible, and I do think it’s going the direction of having a couple that you play constantly, no matter what division you played in the past, and then the rest are rotated.”
2022 may end up being the final season of the East/West divisions. IU has already removed the Big Ten portion of the 2023 through 2025 schedules from its website even though those games have been known and published for a couple years.
Allen said he expects to the league to stay with nine conference games going forward. So with two protected opponents each year, teams could get through a complete rotation in less than two seasons, and complete a home-and-home in less than four. With 14 teams like the Big Ten, the ACC recently move to three protected opponents, which allows its programs to see the rest of the league once every other year using a 3-5-5 format.
Beyond Purdue, it isn’t clear who the league might view as the other program(s) to pair with Indiana each season. The Hoosiers play a trophy game with Michigan State, so they are clearly one option. Illinois and Michigan would seem like other possibilities. And then of course there is Ohio State, a team no one likely wants to see on an annual basis.
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