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The Big Ten is considering scheduling models that could eliminate divisions and reduce conference play to eight games, Iowa athletic director Gary Barta told The Athletic’s Scott Dochterman.
The Big Ten plays a nine-game conference schedule that features six divisional and three cross-divisional games. However, the league could reevaluate its positioning after its media rights expire following the 2022 season.
“We’ve had several conversations,” said Barta. “One of the things that we’re watching is whether it’s related to The Alliance, which we’re talking through and/or, what gives us the best opportunity to have the most success in the College Football Playoff format? We’re wondering if we’re going to know what the format is before we have to make that decision … but we have had active conversations about the schedule beyond 2022.”
The Alliance adds another level of intrigue to the situation. The three involved conferences — the Big Ten, ACC and Pac-12 — expressed interest in scheduling nonconference matchups heading forward. Eliminating a conference game could be a way to free up extra opportunities for nonconference matchups, especially for a team like Iowa, which has a standing nonconference game against Iowa State.
Meanwhile, the potential of eliminating divisions comes at a critical juncture for the Big Ten with the West Division visibly behind the East. During the Early Signing Period, all seven Big Ten East schools ranked ahead of the Big Ten West in 247Sports’ recruiting rankings. Iowa has since jumped to No. 6 in conference, but the bottom five recruiting schools remain in the Big Ten West.
No West Division team has won the conference in the eight years since the format was introduced in 2014. The last time a West Division team even played its opponent within a touchdown was 2017 — a 27-21 loss for Wisconsin to Ohio State — and Michigan obliterated Big Ten West champ Iowa 42-3 in the 2021 Big Ten Championship Game. The Big 12 is the only major conference to forego a divisional schedule and slot its No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the Big 12 Championship Game, but it also plays a round-robin schedule in the regular season.
Hanging over the entire Alliance is the dominance of the SEC. The league has won five of the eight championships in the CFP era, including four unique champions. Ohio State and Clemson are the only schools in the Alliance to win a CFP game since 2015. With Texas and Oklahoma set to join the SEC, the gap may only be growing.
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