CHICAGO — Football scheduling changes are coming to the Big Ten Conference.
What will they be? Iowa athletics director Gary Barta wasn’t privy to say Tuesday at the league's media days. He’ll leave that kind of hefty announcement to commissioner Jim Delany.
But Barta did say an announcement is coming soon about the conference’s football schedules, starting with the 2022 season.
"We’re very close to finalizing the announcement," Barta said Tuesday at the Downtown Chicago Marriott on the Magnificent Mile. “I feel good about the future."
What seems to be changing is the consistent crossover partner for each East and West division team, something that was put in place on the league schedules from 2016 to 2021.
For Iowa, that’s been Penn State.
For Wisconsin, that’s been Michigan.
For Nebraska, that’s been Ohio State.
For Northwestern, that’s been Michigan State.
For Minnesota, that’s been Maryland.
For Purdue, that’s been Indiana.
For Illinois, that’s been Rutgers.
(Clearly, it’s more beneficial to win totals to be Illinois than Nebraska in that six-year formula.)
“It’s going to be random,” Barta said. “It’s not going to be taking our school and Penn State and saying, 'That’s what’s going to happen.' We’re going to do it in more of a random crossover nature. If it does happen, it’ll be the most fair way to do it.”
While it's unclear what the new scheduling philosophy might involve, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see it be modeled partially after the NFL, which (for example) takes the last-place teams in certain divisions and matches them with last-place teams in others for a handful of games. The same goes for first-place division finishers.
There’s also been no discussion about juggling the teams in the East and West divisions, even though the East is perceived to be stronger, with Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State and Michigan State expected to be preseason top-15 (and maybe top-10) teams. Delany made that clear Monday.
Barta, too, likes Iowa’s division — and he should. The West allows the Hawkeyes to annually face all five of their Big Ten border-state rivals.
“It creates more energy and excitement,” Barta said. “So, selfishly, I like the fact we have an East and West.”
Barta said there was no discussion about altering the Big Ten schedules to create a non-conference date (often against an FCS opponent) in mid-November, a practice deployed frequently by the Southeastern Conference.
With a nine-game conference schedule, each Big Ten school plays three (out of seven) opposite-division opponents in the regular season. That math doesn’t make for annual consistency. For example, Iowa hasn't traveled to Michigan since 2012; it hasn't hosted Michigan State since 2013.
So maybe there’s something to be said about a random-yet-fair approach — whatever that ends up being.
“It’s never going to be perfect because of the number of teams we have,” Barta said. “But I really like where we’re headed.”