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Ohio State scheduling implications for a 9-game Big Ten slate

The Big Ten has officially announced a nine-game league schedule, where Ohio State will alternate between four and five Big Ten conference home dates a year. If Gene Smith's recent interview is accurate, this could have major implications for Ohio State's non-conference slate for years to come.

Is this matchup at risk?
Is this matchup at risk?

In case you've been living under a rock, we'll get you up to speed. The Big Ten officially split into East and West divisions, and have established a nine-game league schedule, effective 2016. Beginning then, schools in the East division, including Ohio State, will have five league home games every even year, and four home games every odd year.

AD Gene Smith also sat down for an interview with Eleven Warriors recently, and let loose this particularly interesting scheduling tidbit:

11W: Will the marquee non-conference games be affected by the nine-game schedule, or is it possible to match up the year you have five road conference games with the home non-conference game?

GS: We’re just building around it. It’s not that coordinated. I wish it was that sophisticated. One year we’ll have five home conference games, the next year we’ll have four. It will be every other year. Because of that, we can look at our current existing non-conference agreements and try and build around them. We don’t know the teams that will be in the 5-4-5-4 except Michigan.

11W: If there are years where you only have six home games, obviously the money has to be made up somewhere.

GS: That’s not going to happen to us during my tenure. We’re going to be able to schedule seven home games. That seventh game a lot of people may not like sometimes, but it’s just too big a (financial) hit. One of the things Dave Brandon and I have talked about is it’s not just (the athletic department), it’s the economic impact in the community. We’re sensitive to that. The gas stations, hotel rooms, restaurants, convenience stores, all of that. It’s huge. We see it as a bigger responsibility than just our individual local budget.

This is pretty significant. Smith basically said that the school needs to have seven home games a season to meet their budget (and community) obligations. During the odd years when the school only has four league home games, and with only three slots available for non-conference games, that means that the school must play every single one of those games at home.

This is a problem, since Ohio State currently has two road games scheduled for those years. In 2017, a road game is scheduled with North Carolina (UNC comes to Columbus in 2018), and a road trip to Boston College is scheduled in 2012 (BC comes to Columbus in 2020).

Assuming everything Smith said is true, that leaves only a few options:

1) Ohio State could reschedule the two road dates for 2024 or beyond, where Ohio State does not currently have a road game scheduled

2) Ohio State could try to buy out their road trip obligation and keep the series or possibly trade the home/road dates with the opponent

3) Ohio State could cancel the series entirely

4) Ohio State could lobby/keep their fingers crossed that by 2021, an extra game has been added to the college football season, allowing them play a fourth non conference game.

None of those sound especially appealing (though swapping the home and road dates would be the path of least resistance, assuming they stand up logistically), given that the Buckeyes want to continue to schedule aggressively (especially if the rest of the conference doesn't rebound). If the school can only play one road game every other season, do they really want to waste it on Boston College?

The fact that Smith specifically mentioned the community obligation (local gas stations, restaurants, and places that will sell you a sandwich that contains cheese sticks at 2 a.m.) means it's pretty unlikely that OSU would look to a neutral site to make up the financial gains from a pasty home game. While it might be possible for OSU to make enough money to help fund non-revenue sports by say, playing Alabama in Dallas, but that won't help that guy on High Street sell any more t-shirts that week.

It could be worse, as UNC and BC are the only obvious potential casualties to the change (we'll get to the 2016 schedule in a second). Scheduled home and homes with Oklahoma, TCU, Texas and Oregon, right now, fall in the right spot on the calendar. Of course, with several of these games so far away, and with all the changes that programs can have during that time span, the odds are decent that at least one of those series may not come to pass.

The lack of flexibility for Ohio State's road schedule may actually become a significant road block to Gene Smith's efforts to build out Ohio State's schedule. The 2018 slate looks to be an ideal Buckeye schedule, featuring a College Football Playoff conference road game (at TCU), and home games against solid bowl-level squads in Cincinnati and UNC. The UNC game might be tied to OSU's ability to keep the road date though. Finding solid teams, especially power conference caliber teams, that are willing to come to Columbus without a guaranteed road date may be harder and harder to do.

A possible solution to providing schedule depth may be to look at stronger non-power conference teams. Ohio State had a nine-win UCF squad on the schedule this year, plays San Diego State next season, and Tulsa in 2016, all without return dates. BYU, a team Ohio State had discussed the 2013 open date with before, might be persuaded to take a trip to Columbus without a date in Provo. Fresno State, Southern Miss, Colorado State, or perhaps some non-Cincinnati members of the new American Athletic Conference may also be possible targets.

The 2016 schedule will also require revisiting. Currently, four teams are scheduled, a road date at Oklahoma, and home games against Tulsa, Central Michigan and Bowling Green. Since OSU will only have three slots, somebody will have to be cut. You have to think the Oklahoma game is safe, and given the in-state and Urban Meyer ties, it's probable that Bowling Green will remain on the table as well. That leaves Tulsa or Central Michigan. Tulsa has been the stronger program as of late, so if I had to guess, I'd say Central Michigan gets cut, though that's only a guess.

If nothing else, as Smith inferred, just because FCS teams are likely out of the mix, that doesn't mean Ohio State won't get a healthy dose of #MACtion now and again.

Buckeye fans may want continuously strong and deep schedules, and while the program has made every effort to bring in at least one top-tier game a year, new constraints will make it awfully tough to surround that with quality games.