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Scheduling in a 16-member B1G

Below is a scheduling solution for a 16-member Big Ten using four-team divisions. Using 4-member divisions with balanced out-of-division scheduling greatly reduces the importance of divisional balance. Removing the need for divisional balance gives the flexibility that is needed to keep most if not all rivalry games within divisions and removes the need for most protected cross-divisional rivalry games. It also allows the conference to use the same divisions for football, basketball, and – where it works – other sports as well. In football, this system allows a full divisional round robin but still allows every team to play every other team twice every four years. As expected, it is extremely important to schedule 9 conference football games to make the rotation work. On the other hand, an expansion of the basketball schedule is not at all required.

Here are a few possible division alignments with a handful of new schools. These cases show that the B1G really can be cut into 4 divisions that contain most of the rivalries.

Scenario 1: UVa and Georgia Tech. As long as GT likes playing in the Midwest, things fall into place quiet nicely.

  • Wisc / Minn / Neb / Iowa
  • Illinois / Northwestern / Indiana / Purdue
  • Mich / Ohio State / Mich State / Georgia Tech
  • Rutgers / Penn State / Maryland / Virginia

Scenario 2: Two east coast schools. One of the five east coast schools gets shipped to the Midwest.

  • Wisc / Minn / Neb / Iowa
  • Illinois / Northwestern / Indiana / Purdue
  • Mich / Ohio State / Mich State / Penn State
  • Maryland / Rutgers / Virginia / Virginia Tech

Scenario 3: Mr Delany gets his White Whale. Divisions write themselves.

  • Wisc / Minn / Neb / Iowa
  • Illinois / Northwestern / Indiana / Purdue
  • Mich / Ohio State / Mich State / Notre Dame
  • Rutgers / Penn State / Maryland / Virginia

Football

As stated, 4-team divisional alignments don't need to be balanced. They only account for 3 conference games out of a 9-game conference schedule. If you think your division is stacked then picking 6 teams from the remaining 12 should yield easier games even if one or two are tough. Otherwise, your division isn't stacked. Remember, all conferences are responsible for preventing scheduling imbalance as it stands now. Another note, having rivalry games protected within divisions and at the end of the year is well worth losing the possibility that they are also played a few weeks later in a championship game.

Each division needs a cool descriptive name, but for now let’s just call them A, B, C, and D. For each year, the divisions are paired off. This is the same pairing is used with 4-team pods. In this case, this pairing isn’t quite as important as the ‘pods to build divisions’ approach, though. But, for year 1, the pairs are A/B and C/D. On to the schedule:

  • Week 1: one game with the divisional pair, B@A and D@C.
  • Weeks 2 and 3: Cross-divisional games with each team getting a home and an away game. A vs C and B vs D.
  • Weeks 4 and 5: Ditto against the other division. A vs D and B vs C.
  • Byes are included between weeks 2 and 6. During weeks 1, 6, 7, 8, and 9, all 16 teams are active with 8 games in conference.
  • Weeks 6, 7, and 8: Divisional play. A true round robin inside each division with the best rivalry games at the end. Building it from the end first, week 8 is Mich/OSU, Neb/Iowa, MD/UVA, MSU/ND (all the history there!) etc. The second best rivalry games are the week before. Mich/MSU, Neb/Wisc, MD/PSU. The remaining divisional matchups play in week 6.
  • Week 9: Cross-divisional playoff week. A@B and C@D. This is technically a part of the regular season, so all 16 teams are in action and it counts towards the total game allotment. But, two of these games act as "play-in" or effective semi-final games for the conference championship game.

More about week 9, Thanksgiving weekend:

  • At the end of week 8, all teams are ranked 1 through 4 by their conference record within their division. From there, the 1 seed plays the 1 of the other division. There are a few options for the other 3 cross-over games.
  • The home field is decided as part of the divisional pairing for the year. Because week one saw B@A and D@C, this is reversed with A@B and C@D. All teams know if they will be at home or on the road. What is not known ahead of time is the opponents.

One concern here is the possibility of a rematch of week 1 in week 9. There are a number of ways of dealing with this:

  • Don't use seeding at all for week 9. Match-ups are predefined with opponent swapping to bring line up a 1 vs 1. If the two division winners have met before, you either: 1) Use week 1 as the semifinal after the fact and play week 9 as scheduled. It could make for an intense week 1 if that could be the semi after the fact. In that case these games should be week 5. Or, 2) Allow the rematch at the top level
  • Use full 1-through-4 seeding with opponent swapping to prevent rematches other than the 1 vs 1 game.
  • Matchups are what they are - rematch or not - screw it! At least this game would be played at the other team’s stadium. The benefit to seeding all week 9 games is competitive scheduling. Cellar-dwellers looking to get the year over with play each other while teams looking for better bowls duke it out.

More on week 8, rivalry week:

  • Assuming every team plays a home game and an away game during weeks 6 and 7, the week 8 rivalry game defines every team’s home/away imbalance. If a team has a home game in week 8, they will have 5 home games and 4 away games during the full conference slate. If they have an away game that week, they’ll have 4 at home and 5 away.
  • This allows the rivalry sets to schedule their games any way they like – including mixing in games at neutral venues.
  • If both schools have a high-profile neutral venue that is most associated with them, they could use a 4-year rotation that includes campus games and "neutral" venue games.
  • If there is a neutral venue that really is closely associated with both schools, they could play there every year. Or every other year. Or even every third year.
  • This scheduling would be entirely up to the discretion of the two athletic departments as long as the conference could be convinced it was even competitively. No other adjustments would be needed anywhere else in the conference scheduling.

Imagine the fun things schools could do with this flexibility. Indiana/Purdue at Lucas Oil Stadium every year. Or every third year, Maryland/Virginia at Fed Ex Field, Illinois/Northwestern at Soldier Field or Wrigley. Rutgers could host Penn State at the Meadowlands every other home game (every fourth year).

One benefit of this kind of scheduling is that the season goes through four distinct phases. Phase 1, Non-conference. 2, Cross-divisional. 3, Divisional play culminating in great rivalry games (all divisional games become rivals over time with the small divisions). 4 Pseudo-post-season /post-season. Great teams see a tournament-like path from week 9 to the Rose Bowl. They might even have the week 8 rivalry game decide who plays in the 1v1 game adding yet another level. Assuming a seeded week 9 at the lower levels, bowl teams have a game against a relatively even opponent that's competing with them for the same bowl bids.

From a conference perspective, this really brings the divisional schools closer together. It also ensures that each team plays every other team twice every four years (either home/away/none/none or home/none/away/none) other than the odd case of a 1v1 rematch. Even in that odd case, those two teams see each other more often than in the 6-member divisions that we have now.

Basketball

The same 4-member divisions could be used in basketball as well. This would further intensify the rivalries within each group. The key is to create a system that minimizes the importance of competitive balance between small divisions to rivalries can take precedence. Here's how...

To create an 18-game conference schedule:

  • Each team plays a home-and-home with the other members of their division. Maybe there are two time frames during the season that have a lot of the divisional games, particularly at the end of the season. 6 games, 3 home and 3 away.
  • Every team plays every non-divisional opponent one per year, perhaps trading back from one year to the next. 12 games, 6 home and 6 away.

The conference tournament:

Each team is ranked 1 through 4 within their division. Conference record, then division record, then head-to-head, then... draw from a hat / mascot battle... are the tie breakers. (Tie breakers in 4-member divisions would be less used and less meaningless than in 16-member conferences.)

Each division champion is ranked against each other: A through D. There are a few ways to do this including record of the top team, composite division records against each other (same as total wins in each division), and other tie breakers.

The tournament bracket distributes all divisional members so they don't play in the first two rounds (total of four rounds). It would take a pretty big imbalance to have a serious imbalance in early play. It wouldn’t be that different from the full round-robin version where teams get advantages by who they play once and who they play twice that year.

Much like the 4-team divisions in football, divisional games define 6 games of an 18-game schedule. Playing all 12 other teams should even out the difficulty of the 6-game division schedule. Also, each team is contending for seeds within your division among teams who play identical schedules.

Bball_tourney_medium

via danhoganfitness.com

All in all, I could get really excited about this kind of scheduling. In fact, it's more interesting to me than any of the 14-member systems I've seen so far.

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