Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany announced a new scheduling guideline for Big Ten schools in the future, which would require teams to play at least one "Autonomy 5" game (I asked if this included BYU and Notre Dame, and Delany said they count as well), and zero FCS games, to go with a new nine game league schedule starting in 2016. Once this fully goes into effect, the Big Ten will join the Pac-12 as the only conferences with nine conference games and a championship game, something they will probably strongly promote come playoff selection time in the future.
The FCS ban, which had been discussed back in 2013, may take a while to fully implement. Eight Big Ten teams are currently scheduled to face an FCS squad in 2016, and Delany said if a team has a contractual issue, "We'd take a look at that", so it isn't clear if conference teams will need to drop games and find new MAC partners en masse on short notice. Iowa has also scheduled Northern Iowa for 2017, and could potentially push for an exception to continue to play a quality FCS, in-state program that they have some history with.
Debating whether to play FCS teams crept into the coach press conferences as well, as a reporter asked Penn State coach James Franklin on what he thought about Gus Malzhan's quote on how the SEC is at a disadvantage because they beat each other up before the playoff. "I think it's an interesting argument. Eight games in the SEC and playing FCS or nine games in the Big Ten and not playing FCS?" Removing the FCS games from the schedule, at least in the eyes of public opinion, could give the Big Ten another talking point when discussing their strength of schedule.
While that makes a good talking point, the devil is in the details. Many Big Ten teams have learned the hard way, from Michigan to Minnesota to Purdue, that a good FCS squad is not only just a good as a MAC team, they are also more than good enough to beat you.
The Sagarin computer rankings have continuously backed that up as well, often ranking multiple FCS programs above FBS programs. A geographically far flung FCS team might not be compelling for the fans or TV and should probably be avoided, but removing those games from the conversation, doesn't necessarily improve strength of schedule. It could make guaranteed home games even more expensive for Big Ten teams though.
The Power 5 requirement, which the SEC and ACC also have, also sounds nice, but also isn't likely to make a huge impact for many Big Ten programs.
Most of the top teams in the conference have already made a habit of regularly scheduling power five programs. Ohio State, after all, has at least one already on the schedule every year until 2025, and has more than one in multiple seasons. Michigan has at least one in every season from now until 2028. Michigan State does until 2022 (when a home and home with Boise State starts), Penn State does until 2020, as does Nebraska. The only top-tier Big Ten program who will need to make an adjustment in the near future is Wisconsin, who will need to bump either Utah State, Florida Atlantic, or a road trip to USF, to make room in 2017. Penn State doesn't face a P5 team this season, but given their roster situation, I think few would complain.
The formal announcement that Notre Dame and BYU count also likely doesn't change too much. Any Big Ten program would jump at a chance to play Notre Dame no matter what the league said (and Purdue, Ohio State and others already have), and BYU hasn't exactly been a stranger to B1G schedules. The Cougars face Nebraska and Michigan this season, and future games scheduled with Wisconsin and Michigan State over the next few years. I do not expect BYU to be an annual Big Ten opponent or anything, but even if Delany didn't say they're acceptable, as long as BYU remains independent, I wouldn't be shocked to see them added to a few other program's future slates, including Ohio State.
So big picture, this policy impacts the bottom tier of the Big Ten the most, as these teams will no longer be able to schedule a likely-win over an FCS team, and will need to find a power five opponent in years when they might be tempted to avoid one as they strive for a bowl, as Indiana has done a few times over the last five years. Of course, not all power conference teams are created equally, and while an Indiana/Kansas or Purdue/Wake Forest matchup does satisfy the letter of Delany's law, it doesn't necessarily hit the spirit of it. Those won't exactly be must-see television.
The political side of this decision may very well help on the margins, and overall, it could potentially mean better games across the league, but that decision is ultimately up to individual Big Ten athletic directors and schools who set the schedule. A team that is trying to make the playoff is going to schedule good teams no matter what the league off says, and a team that just wants to go 6-6 is going to schedule as many winnable games as their budget allows. Today's statements don't change any of that, and that's okay.
The window dressing matters though, and if this helps change any minds about the Big Ten, it's worth it. I just wouldn't necessarily hold my breath.