Back in July at Big Ten Media Days, conference commissioner Jim Delany unveiled new football scheduling guidelines that will take effect next season, as the conference switches to a nine-game conference schedule. Moving forward, Big Ten teams won't be allowed to schedule FCS teams, and must play at least one team from a Power 5 conference (Delany called them "Autonomy 5" in the presser) each season.
It went without saying that Notre Dame would be considered a Power 5 team for the sake of this scheduling rule. At Media Days, I asked Delany if BYU would also count, and he said yes. Nobody could really complain about that. The ACC and SEC also consider BYU to be a Power 5 program for the sake of scheduling, and the Cougars have been, at minimum, a top 40 program for the last several years. BYU recruits like a lower-tier Power 5 team, plays like a mid-tier Power 5 team, and travels like an elite program. That makes total sense.
Yesterday, ESPN's Brett McMurphy reported that a few other teams would also satisfy the Big Ten's Power 5 requirement.
One of those programs is Cincinnati. That makes some sense. The Bearcats have been better than several Power 5 programs in recent memory, they're close to a few other Big Ten programs, and they're already on the future schedule of multiple Big Ten teams.
Another is Navy. That's a more curious choice, since Navy will barely have room to play a Big Ten team anyway (playing Air Force, Army and Notre Dame each season eats your schedule room), and while they're a good program, the Midshipmen and probably shouldn't be the best team on a Big Ten team's schedule, but fine. It's not indefensible.
But Army? UConn? And potentially other Group of Five programs? The league will reportedly consider them as satisfying the requirement as well, and if that's the case, what's the point of any of this?
Neither of these schools are Power-anything, let along Power 5, as far as on the field results are concerned. Army doesn't even recruit like an FBS program, let alone a power-conference one. And by just about any metric, the Cadets have been one of the worst teams in college football of late. They are considered a P5 as far as the SEC's scheduling requirement goes though, so perhaps the Big Ten just wanted to follow suit. UConn did technically make a BCS bowl in 2010 (in the biggest postseason fluke event since BYU's 1985 national title), but since then is 17-34, without a single winning season.
So why include UConn? Probably because two Big Ten teams, Illinois in 2019-2020, and Indiana also in 2019-2020, scheduled the Huskies. Indiana's 2019-2020 schedules are now totally booked (without a Power 5 team), and Illinois may not want to add another to join a murder's row of at UConn/Eastern Michigan in 2019, or Florida Atlantic/UConn in 2020. Since these games were booked before the Big Ten announced their rule, and the league has already told teams that they'd let them honor existing contracts (which is why the eight teams who are scheduled to play FCS teams in 2016 will still play them), I can understand why ADs may have asked the Big Ten for a reprieve. Buyouts are expensive, and finding new inventory, even as far away as 2019, can be hard.
But that's not a good reason. If you're going to allow a crummy team like UConn to count, why not Florida Atlantic, which also has multiple Big Ten future games? Or Western Kentucky? Shouldn't the Big Ten have talked to ADs to figure out if existing contractual commitments would make complying with the new rule a burden before they announced it to the press? McMurphy's report said that anybody can petition the league to consider a Group of Five team, and the league will decide based on "RPI and other factors". This is the first time I've heard of the RPI being used for football, but if that's the metric the league is using, how on earth could they allow Army or UConn? If a waiver will be granted any time it is inconvenient or difficult to schedule a bigger game, what was the point of the scheduling announcement to begin with?
It's hard to argue, at this point, that the Big Ten didn't basically go "As part of our commitment to improved strength of schedule, starting in 2016, we will no longer play FCS programs, except for the half of our conference that will next year, and maybe the year after, and we'll also play a Power 5 team every year, except when that's expensive or complicated or we really need to make a bowl game." That doesn't quite roll off the tongue the same way though.
With that, the Big Ten missed out on an opportunity to lead, and made themselves look pompous and silly. But it doesn't have to be this way. I have a suggestion that could make the Big Ten a leader in the college football community, and could improve schedules not just for their member schools, but for everybody.
Instead of trying to build some complicated actuary table to figure out who is a "good" team or who isn't, just say this:
Big Ten schools will honor all previously negotiated contracts, but moving forward, Big Ten schools will not schedule any football game more than three years in the future.
The only reason schools do this is because everybody else does it, but Big Ten brands are valuable enough that if they stick to their guns, they can make others wait as well, and work to stop this ridiculous practice of scheduling games 8, 9 or more years ahead.
Right now, Ohio State is scheduled to travel to Boston College in 2024. The kids who will play in that game aren't on campus. They're not even in high school. Urban Meyer almost certainly won't be coaching Ohio State then. Steve Addazio could be anywhere from coaching Notre Dame to screaming at dudes at some suburban Massachusetts prep school. Going that far out is a crapshoot, where teams have to guess who might be a good team, and that can lead to mismatched schedules that are bad for fans and coaches.
So let's nix that. If the Big Ten would like to use RPI or another metric, well, at least now they can make a more educated projection of how good a team might be, instead of having to make arbitrary guesses. If they wanted to hold fast to a Power 5 requirement, at least they'd be able to help teams better project who might be in their weight class. Waiting is better for fans, for coaches and for players. The sport just needs somebody to save administrators from each other. The Big Ten could do that.
The conference has a chance to be an actual 'leader' and 'legend' for a change. Failing that, we might look back at this scheduling proposal in a few years as being like the ol' Leader and Legends division names, another one of the Big Ten's ideas that sounded good at the time, but didn't stand up under scrutiny.