How would a 14- or 16-team Big Ten work?

Over the years on Rock M Nation, we've beaten into the ground the thought of a 12-team Big Ten that included Missouri, how it would look, how the divisions would break out, how Mizzou would fare, etc.  But with last weekend's word that the Big Ten was potentially considering jumping straight from 11 teams to 14 or 16 got my imagination working all over again.  I decided a long time ago not to take the thought of a 16-team conference seriously until I heard that they were, but ... well, it appears they are.  So we should probably figure out a thing or two about a mega-Big Ten, asking all the same questions I mentioned earlier.  How would the divisions break out?  How would it impact Mizzou if they were one of the invitees?  In all ... how would it work exactly?

I have a million thoughts/questions about this, but really all of those boil down to two main themes: 1) What would Mizzou's schedule look like, and 2) What would the impact of this mega-expansion be to the world of college football/basketball as a whole?  Today, we'll look at the former.

What would Mizzou's schedule look like?

We've seen plenty of examples of how a 12-team conference slate can shake down -- you can do with the standardized rotations of the Big 12, or maybe the "inter-division rival" method of the SEC.  But what the hell do you do with 14 or 16?

16 teams

We'll start with 16 because there's at least a small precedent, and because it's a bigger shift than going from 12 to 14.

The most seemingly easy way to draw up schedules for a 16-team league would be as follows: each team plays its seven division rivals, plus two non-division rivals for a nine-game conference slate.  You play everybody in the opposite division twice in eight years.

To show how this would play out, let's play a game of Pretend: let's say that to get to 16 teams, the Big Ten adds the teams Kevin Harlan suggested recently (only, subbing in Nebraska for Notre Dame, since ND is very unpredictable right now).  So Pitt, Rutgers, UConn, Nebraska and Mizzou join the Big Ten/16.  Now, keep in mind for all of this, I'm not aiming for accuracy by naming those five.  Substitute in Notre Dame, Syracuse, Louisville, Iowa State, Kansas, Maryland, or any number of teams; I chose this because it was the best mix of interesting and semi-realistic.

With those five teams added to the fray, I think you end up with the following divisions:

West Division: Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, Purdue, Wisconsin
East Division: Connecticut, Michigan, Michigan State, Northwestern, Ohio State, Penn State, Pittsburgh, Rutgers

That's actually not a bad split.  Obviously NW'ern is further west than Indiana and Purdue, and that division setup would break up Illinois-NW'ern, but this was the best I could do.  You can't break up Indiana and Purdue, you can't break up Penn State and Pitt, you can't break up Michigan and Michigan State, you can't break up Michigan and Ohio State, you can't break up Nebraska/Missouri/Illinois, you can't break up Iowa/Minnesota/Wisconsin ... lots of connectivity here!

Anyway, if those were the divisions, here is what an eight-year breakout of nine-game schedules would look like for Missouri:

Year 1 Year 2 Year 3 Year 4
@Nebraska
Wisconsin
@Minnesota
Iowa
@Indiana
Illinois
@Purdue
Michigan
@Rutgers
Nebraska
@Wisconsin
Minnesota
@Iowa
Indiana
@Illinois
Purdue
@Michigan
Rutgers
@Nebraska
Wisconsin
@Minnesota
Iowa
@Indiana
Illinois
@Purdue
Ohio State
@Northwestern
Nebraska
@Wisconsin
Minnesota
@Iowa
Indiana
@Illinois
Purdue
@Ohio State
Northwestern
Year 5 Year 6 Year 7 Year 8
@Nebraska
Wisconsin
@Minnesota
Iowa
@Indiana
Illinois
@Purdue
Pittsburgh
@Michigan State
Nebraska
@Wisconsin
Minnesota
@Iowa
Indiana
@Illinois
Purdue
@Pittsburgh
Michigan State
@Nebraska
Wisconsin
@Minnesota
Iowa
@Indiana
Illinois
@Purdue
Penn State
@UConn
Nebraska
@Wisconsin
Minnesota
@Iowa
Indiana
@Illinois
Purdue
@Penn State
UConn

(First of all, it goes without saying that with a nine-game conference slate, Missouri isn't playing ANYBODY of note in non-conference play, especially assuming they're also playing Kansas.  The other two non-con games would almost certainly be of the McNeese State and Miami-OH variety every year ... and it would be hard to complain too much about that.  But that's neither here nor there.)

Pretending Year 1 is 2010 (it wouldn't be, but just to prove a point ...), you would be looking at a home schedule of somebody like Miami-OH, McNeese State, Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois and Michigan instead of SDSU, Miami-OH, McNeese State, Kansas State, Colorado and Oklahoma.  You'd still have a trip to Lincoln like you do in real-life 2010, but instead of trips to College Station and Lubbock (and neutral-site games in KC and StL), you'd have trips to Minneapolis, Evanston, likely KC, and ... New Brunswick.

(Seriously, how hilarious would it be if Mizzou were conference "rivals" with teams from New Jersey and Connecticut in 3-4 years?  The mind reels.  And you can't say it's out of the realm of possibility at this point...)

You can't say that this layout wouldn't at least be intriguing.  (Among other things, The Beef would have an excuse to make trips to both Happy Valley and Connecticut sometime between the years of 2012 and 2020, so that's something, right?)  Of course, it would come with an obvious set of drawbacks -- you barely play half of your conference "rivals", and while we sometimes don't necessarily feel connected in any geographic sense to teams like Texas Tech or Baylor ... we're more connected to them than, say, Pittsburgh or Rutgers, aren't we?

But geography isn't the point of this post -- scheduling is.  Are there any other options here?  Of course!  College football HAD a 16-team conference not too long ago -- the WAC of the mid-1990s.  How did they distribute their teams?

To help in organizing schedules and travel for the farflung league, the members were divided into four quadrants of four teams each

...

Quadrant one was always part of the Pacific Division, and quadrant four was always part of the Mountain Division. Quadrant two was part of the Pacific Division for 1996 and 1997 before switching to the Mountain Division in 1998, while the reverse was true for quadrant three.

Interesting.  I guess the Quadrant system would look something like this:

West East
Quadrant 1 Quadrant 2
Quadrant 3
Quadrant 4
Illinois
Iowa
Missouri
Nebraska
Indiana
Minnesota
Purdue
Wisconsin
Ohio State
Michigan
Michigan St.
Northwestern
Connecticut
Penn State
Pittsburgh
Rutgers

Quadrant 2 would be part of the West for two years, I guess, then it would switch places with Quadrant 3.  Maybe this doesn't end up being called East and West, but whatever it's called, this is a relatively logical division.

That would result in eight years of schedules that look something like this:

Year 1 Year 2 Year 3 Year 4
Illinois
@Iowa
Nebraska
@Indiana
Minnesota
@Purdue
Wisconsin
@Connecticut
Penn State
@Illinois
Iowa
@Nebraska
Indiana
@Minnesota
Purdue
@Wisconsin
Connecticut
@Penn State
Illinois
@Iowa
Nebraska
@Ohio State
Michigan
@Michigan St.
Northwestern
@Pittsburgh
Rutgers
@Illinois
Iowa
@Nebraska
Ohio State
@Michigan
Michigan St.
@Northwestern
Pittsburgh
@Rutgers
Year 5 Year 6 Year 7 Year 8
Illinois
@Iowa
Nebraska
@Indiana
Minnesota
@Purdue
Wisconsin
@Pittsburgh
Rutgers
@Illinois
Iowa
@Nebraska
Indiana
@Minnesota
Purdue
@Wisconsin
Pittsburgh
@Rutgers
Illinois
@Iowa
Nebraska
@Ohio State
Michigan
@Michigan St.
Northwestern
@Connecticut
Penn State
@Illinois
Iowa
@Nebraska
Ohio State
@Michigan
Michigan St.
@Northwestern
Connecticut
@Penn State

Of course, the WAC did this because they were spread out over about four continents and had to make travel as easy as possible.  While Nebraska and Rutgers aren't close, they're still not as bad as the WAC, and they'll obviously be messing with bigger travel budgets anyway.  I say the first option is the less confusing, more stable of the two choices.

So that's the 16-team option.  In comparison, 14 teams seem downright manageable.

14 teams

Based on nothing more than rumors, if the Big Ten decides to expand to 14 teams, it wouldn't surprise me if they attempted to veer entirely eastward, with something like Pitt, Syracuse and Rutgers joining the fray.  I just can't imagine 'Cuse leaving the Big East in basketball, but I guess money does talk in the end, so maybe they would.  It wouldn't be very interesting, however, if I drew up a scenario that didn't include Mizzou, so let's say the conference expands to 14 by adding Mizzou, Pittsburgh and Rutgers.  Then you end up with roughly the same divisions:

West Division: Illinois, Indiana (or technically Purdue), Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Northwestern, Wisconsin
East Division: Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Penn State, Pittsburgh, Purdue (or Indiana), Rutgers

There are two ways to create a nine-game schedule from this (and yes, I assume they'd go to nine games here too): six division opponents + one cross-division "rival" + two rotating teams from the other division. Of course, the "rivalries" are spread a little thin here.  Obviously Indiana and Purdue would match up, and Michigan and Minnesota could keep the Little Brown Jug alive ... but after that?  Iowa-Penn State (since they always seem to play good games ... that Iowa wins)?  Illinois-Ohio State?  Who knows.  For the purposes of the exercise, I'll say Mizzou's cross-division rival is Michigan State.  I have a buddy who went there, so ... yeah.  That results in the following eight years of schedules:

Year 1 Year 2 Year 3 Year 4
Iowa
@Wisconsin
Northwestern
@Minnesota
Illinois
@Indiana
Michigan State
@Ohio State
Purdue
@Iowa
Wisconsin
@Northwestern
Minnesota
@Illinois
Indiana
@Michigan State
Ohio State
@Purdue
Iowa
@Wisconsin
Northwestern
@Minnesota
Illinois
@Indiana
Michigan State
@Pittsburgh
Michigan
@Iowa
Wisconsin
@Northwestern
Minnesota
@Illinois
Indiana
@Michigan State
Pittsburgh
@Michigan
Year 5 Year 6 Year 7 Year 8
Iowa
@Wisconsin
Northwestern
@Minnesota
Illinois
@Indiana
Michigan State
@Penn State
Rutgers
@Iowa
Wisconsin
@Northwestern
Minnesota
@Illinois
Indiana
@Michigan State
Penn State
@Rutgers
Iowa
@Wisconsin
Northwestern
@Minnesota
Illinois
@Indiana
Michigan State
@Ohio State
Purdue
@Iowa
Wisconsin
@Northwestern
Minnesota
@Illinois
Indiana
@Michigan State
Ohio State
@Purdue


There is, of course, the option to stick with eight conference games, but I honestly think moving to nine makes sense, and for one major reason: money.  To bring in three or five more teams without thinning out the revenue pool, they'll need as many made-for-TV matchups as possible, as early in the season as possible.  Most teams would have little incentive to play big-time non-conference matchups, and I think the nine-game schedule is the most likely response to that.  And there's no question that it would load Mizzou's schedule up pretty well.  If Kansas isn't in a conference with Mizzou, that means they'd be playing at least ten major conference teams every season ... which is both good (money, exposure, big-game atmosphere) and bad (more potential losses, of course)

We'll get into more pluses and minuses of this system tomorrow, after we also talk about the repercussions of such a move by the Big Ten (whether it includes Mizzou or not).

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