Saturday, May 23, 2009

Math doesn't exist in the Big Ten

Amid all the talk of possible Big Ten expansion last week, it was thoroughly overlooked when the topic of switching to a nine-game conference schedule came up at the conference meetings.

I have long advocated playing as many conference games as possible, especially with the recent development of teams filling most (if not all) of their nonconference slots with fluffy-soft cupcakes in order to pad their win total and ensure bowl eligibility. So in theory, I fully support the Big Ten adding another conference game.

There's a problem, though, that the Big Ten simply refuses to acknowledge: It isn't possible for each team to play nine conference games. This has been covered previously at Mgoblog and touched on by Dr. Saturday, so this isn't exactly a revelation. The basic dilemma is this: there's no way for 11 schools to play nine games against each of the other teams in the conference. That's a total of 99 games played, and it isn't possible to have an odd number of games played when there are two teams involved in each game.

But who cares about logic:

"By [2012], you'll probably see it," Michigan athletic director Bill Martin said. "It's hard, but we all understand the need for it."

I'm not sure I'd say there's a need for it, although it'd certainly be nice. But that's beside the point. The question I (and many others) have is how the conference could justify the only possible solution to the scheduling conflict: having 10 teams play nine conference games while only one team plays eight.

What happens if, say, Penn State finishes 7-1 and Ohio State finishes 8-1 but the two don't play each other (remember, adding another game still won't result in a round-robin schedule)? What happens if Penn State finishes 7-1 and Ohio State finishes 8-1 but the Nittany Lions beat the Buckeyes?

The conference would have to prepare a number of tiebreakers for scenarios like those above, and I can't imagine that the Big Ten wants its title and a potential BCS berth decided that way. Just look at the PR hit the Big 12 took last year over its own tiebreaker, which resulted in Oklahoma being selected over Texas to play for the national title. If I'm the Big Ten, I want no part of any similar controversy, and this change would open the door to all sorts of controversial finishes.

Again, it'd be nice to see Michigan be able to drop Eastern Michigan or Delaware State in favor of Northwestern or Indiana, but not at the cost of a potentially disastrous clusterfuck at the top of the conference standings.

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