With the recent reports that Colorado is likely to stay in the Big 12 for 2011, I started thinking about how the conference schedule would work next year. Let's assume that with 11 teams the conference will go ahead and do away with divisions and the championship game as they've been planning (keeping divisions with 11 teams would be a scheduling nightmare). A full round robin schedule doesn't seem likely, as that would require 10 conference games, leaving only two games for non-conference matchups. Possible I suppose, but I don't see it happening. What are the likely alternatives?
First, a nine game schedule with each team skipping one other is mathematically impossible with 11 teams. Intuitively it seems you could pull it off using bye weeks, but it literally cannot be done. You cannot defy math! Well, unless you are Bill C. I suppose.
So, an eight game conference schedule seems most likely. That means each team would miss two other teams in the conference, and that's where the controversy would begin. At least one team
would might get to miss both Texas and Oklahoma, while at least a few would have to play both of them. How do you choose the scheduling winners and losers? Remember, it's just for one year, so we don't really need a system to stand for the long term. We need a system that addresses the current balance of power in the conference.
A random draw would be "fair", but not very satisfying, especially if any team with a decent chance of actually winning the conference next year got to skip the Big Two. Can you imagine the backlash if Mizzou "won" the Big 12 next year by going undefeated, without having played Oklahoma or Texas?
I think a more reasonable approach to choosing which schools get to skip each other would be based on recent conference standings. This is not unlike how the NFL designs schedules. Let's use the Big 12 standings over the last three years to see how this would work.
Big Twelve Standings (excluding Nebraska), 2007-2009
- Texas, 20-4
- Oklahoma, 18-6
- Texas Tech, 16-8
- Missouri, 16-8
- Oklahoma St, 15-9
- Kansas, 12-12
- Kansas St, 9-15
- Texas A&M, 9-15
- Colorado, 8-16
- Iowa St, 5-19
- Baylor, 3-21
I'm suggesting that the top team would skip the two bottom teams, and so on down the standings. Here's how that would work out (each team is listed with the two teams they would NOT play in the 2011 season):
- Texas - Baylor, Iowa St
- Oklahoma - Baylor, Colorado
- Texas Tech - Iowa St, Texas A&M
- Missouri - Colorado, Kansas St
- Oklahoma St - Texas A&M, Kansas
- Kansas - Oklahoma St, Kansas St
- Kansas St - Missouri, Texas Tech
- Texas A&M - Texas Tech, Oklahoma St
- Colorado - Oklahoma, Missouri
- Iowa St - Texas, Texas Tech
- Baylor - Texas, Oklahoma
One thing that jumps out is that one of the traditional conference rivalries - Kansas vs. Kansas St - would get skipped, but we could fix that by flipping two matchups that are nearby in the standings:
- Texas Tech - Iowa St, Kansas St
- Kansas - Oklahoma St, Texas A&M
- Kansas St - Missouri, Texas Tech
- Texas A&M - Kansas, Oklahoma St
So Missouri wouldn't get to face Colorado on their farewell tour of the conference, and would miss Kansas St for one year.
Overall this approach seems pretty fair. One could argue that Kansas St and Texas A&M are likely to be better than Oklahoma St or Kansas over the next couple of years, but if you wait to include the 2010 standings then that might start to show up anyway. I think this would achieve the important goal of having every team that's likely to be a contender for the conference face every other contender. To be the best, you have to beat the best.