A look at how unbalanced scheduling could shape the Big Ten race

  • 05/22/2015 11:17 am in

Unbalanced scheduling is one of the challenges accompanying conference expansion. With the addition of Maryland and Rutgers last season, the Big Ten was forced to move to an eight single play, five home-and-home scheduling format.

It was a dramatic change from the previous 12-team scheduling format, which allowed for seven home-and-home pairings and four single plays across the league. Last season, it didn’t matter much in determining the regular season champ as Wisconsin was the clear class of the conference and finished 16-2, which was the best record since Ohio State in 2011.

That is not likely to be the case next winter as the conference appears to have eight or nine teams with legitimate NCAA tournament aspirations and several of those programs are showing up consistently in preseason top 25s.

So how might scheduling determine next season’s regular season Big Ten champion? Using the top seven teams in John Gasaway’s conference power rankings published earlier this month over on ESPN Insider, we ranked the schedule difficulty (from most difficult to easiest) of the top half of the league for next season:

1. Maryland
Home: Illinois, Iowa, Penn State, Rutgers
Away: Indiana, Michigan State, Minnesota, Nebraska
Home/Away: Michigan, Northwestern, Ohio State, Purdue, Wisconsin

Comment: If the Terrapins win the Big Ten, it won’t be due to a favorable schedule. Of Gasaway’s projected top six behind Maryland in the standings, the Terps get four of them twice. And the other two, Indiana and Michigan State, will be road games.

2. Wisconsin
Home: Michigan, Nebraska, Ohio State, Rutgers
Away: Iowa, Minnesota, Northwestern, Penn State
Home/Away: Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Michigan State, Purdue

Comment: The Badgers also get four of the six teams projected with them in the top seven twice, but do catch a bit of a break in getting home single plays with Michigan and Ohio State. Still, single plays with the projected bottom three teams (Rutgers, Nebraska and Penn State) makes this a difficult road.

3. Ohio State
Home: Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Penn State
Away: Indiana, Nebraska, Purdue, Wisconsin
Home/Away: Illinois, Maryland, Michigan State, Northwestern, Rutgers

Comment: Ohio State only gets two of the contenders for double plays, which is favorable, but their road single play schedule is brutal with Indiana, Purdue and Wisconsin.

4. Purdue
Home: Michigan State, Northwestern, Ohio State, Penn State
Away: Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, Rutgers
Home/Away: Iowa, Maryland, Michigan, Nebraska, Wisconsin

Comment: The Boilermakers get half of the six teams projected with them in the top seven twice and then get Michigan State and Ohio State at home along with a road trip to Bloomington.

5. Michigan
Home: Indiana, Michigan State, Northwestern, Rutgers
Away: Illinois, Nebraska, Ohio State, Wisconsin
Home/Away: Iowa, Maryland, Minnesota, Penn State, Purdue

Comment: Michigan draws two of the contenders for double plays and then splits the other four single plays with two at home and two on the road. That split, however, is favorable as IU and Michigan State, both picked by Gasaway in the top three, are home games with Ohio State, picked seventh, and Wisconsin, picked fourth, on the road.

6. Indiana
Home: Maryland, Northwestern, Ohio State, Purdue
Away: Michigan, Michigan State, Penn State, Rutgers
Home/Away: Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, Wisconsin

Comment: The Hoosiers made out well scheduling wise by only getting a double play with one team in Gasaway’s projected top seven in Wisconsin. Of the other five teams projected in the top seven, three are coming to Bloomington and two will be road contests.

7. Michigan State
Home: Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Nebraska
Away: Michigan, Minnesota, Northwestern, Purdue
Home/Away: Iowa, Ohio State, Penn State, Rutgers, Wisconsin

Comment: The Spartans grab this spot (barely) because they drew single play home games with both Maryland and Indiana. While they do have a pair of double plays with teams projected in the top seven, they also drew both Rutgers and Penn State, both picked in the bottom three by Gasaway, twice.

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  • Outoftheloop

    Do you ever monitor Discuss? It opens only 50% of the time and then takes forever. Thanks.

  • INUnivHoosier

    I rarely have any issues.

  • David Macer

    No problems either.

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  • At the Quarries

    I read somewhere that you can block certain domains in the Web browser that most of these ads use.

  • Had not heard that, but here’s a couple of articles discussing the issue as many publishers are dealing with it:


  • twoturntables

    I love our schedule draw but the B1G is just plain scary this year. Hopefully with a more experienced team we won’t take any games for granted.

  • mckillio

    Are there any talks of expanding conference play? The positives seem to outweigh the negatives to me.

  • marcusgresham

    Seems like splitting the league into divisions would help but then you are saddled with the fear of the B1G doing something stupid like “Leaders and Legends.”

  • mckillio

    I would imagine that they would just mirror the football divisions, East and West.

  • Robert Weber

    No problems here. Try clearing your cache?

  • Robert Golden

    Hopefully no visits to ASU or anywhere else. W/o Maker we are final 4 contenders and w/ him we’re favs.

  • IU track Alumni

    It may be a rough year for the buckeys. A extremely young team with a very hard BIG schedule. IU has a very favorable schedule and the most experienced team in the BIG. Looks promising for us!

  • Kyl470

    Call me old school, but I say scrap the Big Ten tournament. Cut down on some of the non conference cup cakes and play a 26 game regular season. Play all 13 teams twice. Let the regular season champ get the automatic bid. If there is a tie let them be co-champs. You can give the auto bid to whichever team you want because let’s be serious if you tie for 1st in the Big 10 you are making the tournament.

  • Kyl470

    It would make the most sense. You have two seven team divisions. You play the 6 teams in your division twice and the other 7 teams in the other division once.

  • At the Quarries

    From Jeff Borzello on Twitter:

    Thon Maker’s guardian tells ESPN that they’re in most contact with Indiana and Arizona State.

    Won’t enroll in college until at least Dec.

  • calbert40

    I will continue to howl into the wind on this topic, but this scheduling situation is beyond ridiculous. It wasn’t ideal prior to the inclusion of Maryland and Rutgers, but it was far better than this. While IU is the beneficiary this season, that schedule sucks for Maryland. To boil it down, the regular season schedule is NOT optimized to showcase which team is the best in the B1G.

    I think the B1G needs to separate the teams into two divisions of seven. I understand many people hate this idea, but it isn’t about what we like as much as it is an issue of fairness and competitive integrity.

    Play the teams in your division twice (12 games). Play the teams outside your division once (7 games). That’s 19 games, which is just one more than we currently play. It also gives the opportunity for these schools to make more money, which is the driving force behind why MD and RU are in the conference in the first place.

    Option 1: Purely Geographically split
    EAST: Rutgers, Maryland, PSU, OSU, Michigan, MSU, IU

    WEST: Nebraska, Minny, UW, Iowa, Illinois, NW, Purdue

    Option 2: Competitively split in the middle of the conference
    EAST: Rutgers, Maryland, PSU, OSU, Michigan, MSU, NW
    WEST: Nebraska, Minny, UW, Iowa, Illinois, Purdue, IU

    I happen to like option 2. I’d like to keep certain rivalries together (IU-PU, MSU-UM, UM-OSU, etc). This option accomplishes that. Each division also has three traditional powers, one or two teams that are less consistent, but still good, and two that are typically weak. The East may be stronger, but also has PSU and RU, which are probably to two weakest programs overall to balance that.

  • At the Quarries

    If I were Thon I’d take the team with the better chance for a longer post-season.

  • Lance76

    I am old school and that is the only fair way to do this. Perhaps solving the tie by considering traditional tie breakers in points and who beat who would work.

  • You know, I’m not really a fan of Maker coming in for just one semester. I think this team can really gel as a unit, and adding in another, particularly so high-profile, could wreak havoc. And how well could a player come in just before the beginning of the B1G season and play–no practice, no preseason games, not integration into the roster. Not only could that hurt the psychological dynamic, but how much effective would Maker actually be?

    I’d support that if he was going to stick around for at least one more season, but my understanding is that would be it. I just don’t see it being effective.

  • At the Quarries

    You know, I used to think the same way. Now I’m just thinking of him as Devin Davis with a doctor’s “okay to play”. Ha. The only circumstance in which I would not take him is if he is going to come in “expecting” a leading role.

  • TomJameson

    The competitive split won’t always be even through the years. Teams rise and fall, even the traditional powers aren’t always. I’m not sure the geographical split would work very well either … I just have this vague feeling that dividing the divisions like that might create too much separation of the market.

    I kind of like the idea expanding the B1G season to include more double plays and possibly eliminating the B1G tourney to make room for it. Seems to be the fairest solution but to be honest, I haven’t really thought too much about it. Biggest thing I can think of against expanding the regular season is that the B1G is really brutal, and can the kids take that schedule? lol

  • Sure, and time will tell, of course. But even DD being physically cleared would have been a part of the team all along. And given all of the hype around him, I can’t imagine him going somewhere that he’s NOT expected to play a leading role.

  • Robert Golden

    Massive tradition, everyone gets in, upsets galore, similar to the World & FA Cup. Would like to see MLB try it.

  • Mr. Mitchell

    Looking at the unbalanced schedule with a thought about coaches/defense and MSU wins the B1G

  • Hoosier Hall

    Point guard spot for Ohio State will be their downfall. Lyle is talented but immature and has no D1 experience. Shannon Scott was a great leader and Russell is impossible to replace.

  • Bill

    Discuss gives me all kinds of issues too

  • Bill

    In my opinion. The last time conference was loaded. Iu won it.

    Hope we go again

  • calbert40

    The tourney makes too much money for them to ever get rid of it. I don’t think the market aspect would hurt too much, because every team would play everyone at least once.

    Personally, I’m old school enough to prefer the clean 18 game schedule they played when the Big Ten only had ten teams! But that ship has sailed. I think the best option that would preserve rivalries as well as competitive balance is a divisional schedule.

  • TomJameson

    Calbert, that’s a good point about the money in the tourney.

    I really don’t know the answer, but I would like to see everybody play each other twice, but you’re right about that ship sailing.

    Maybe two divisions (with an eye toward preserving rivalries) is the answer. But I really feel that a competitive balance today may not be the competitive balance in 5 years. Some teams could be “givens”, but at some time it would not be. Wonder if they could re-align the divisions every 5 years or so?? That may be one solution.

    But for sure, today it is an uneven balance and somebody smarter than me should be going about the business of fixing it. LOL

  • calbert40

    Competitive balance can be a tricky thing. No argument here. There are obvious outlying seasons (IU ’09-’11 on the losing end, or I remember Minny winning the league and getting a 1 seed in the tourney one year). The point is that those seasons are remembered due to their strangeness.

    On the whole, there are strong programs, good programs and typically poor programs.

    Strong (almost always in top half of the standings): IU, MSU, UW, OSU. I’ll include MD.

    Good programs (capable of beating anyone but not quite as consistent): UM, PU, ILL, Iowa,

    Poor (typically in the bottom half of standings): Minny, PSU, Neb, NW. Rutgers.

    East: RU, MD, PSU, OSU,UM, MSU, and I’ll add NW.

    West: IU, PU, ILL, UW, Iowa, Neb, Minny

    Sure, every so often a team like Neb finishes in the top 4, but that’s gonna be rare. I think most people would view the East as stronger, but it isn’t as deep. The West is more balanced, and in some years, IU, PU and UW is a really strong top half.

  • Jeremy

    Has Belfieldt made a decision ? I think he would be a nice addition but I am concerned about his past many injury issues.