As the Big Ten races toward expansion, there's the issue of what to do with so many teams in one conference when it comes to scheduling. A 16-team "super conference" would be great for that conference's bottom line (especially when it comes to television rights), but if it means that games against interdivisional opponents become more and more rare, then at some point, it's not as much of a conference as we currently understand the term.
One logical solution, then, is to increase the amount of league games in conjunction with an increase in league members, and that's exactly the road that the Big Ten is going to go down, according to ESPN.com.
ESPN.com was able to get input from several Big Ten athletic directors on the matter, and the question appears to be not whether the Big Ten will increase its number of conference games, but by how many:
"That’s something that we have to really resolve quickly, because the ramifications of that discussion are significant," Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon told ESPN.com. "It’s a high-agenda item."
Commissioner Jim Delany has said he'd like to see more conference games. Brandon and Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith both told ESPN.com that they favored that idea when the Big Ten balloons to 14 teams.
"As the conference expands, it would be unfortunate if a student-athlete came to the University of Michigan, played in the Big Ten Conference for four years and never even got to play or compete against one of the schools in the conference," Brandon said. "That doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. As the number of institutions has grown, I believe we should take a look at at least moving to nine."
"I would like to go to nine or 10," Smith said.
A move to 10 games would certainly be good for maintaining some semblance of conference rivalries. The down side, however, is that any expansion of conference scheduling necessarily increases the amount of road games that the conference will play as a whole—and having five games away from home means a maximum of seven home games. That's assuming two home games in the non-conference, and they can't all be home games. Especially not with the BCS playoff committee and the Big Ten breathing down schools' necks about strength of schedule.
Let's watch Smith dance closer to the inevitable.
"Most of us need seven home games in order to make our local budgets," Smith said. "Is there a way to overcome that? I don't know. We'll have to look at that. The conference is aware that it's an issue."
Mm-hmm. So if you "need seven home games," and you can't get there in some years with two non-conference games, how do you fix the problem?
You add more non-conference games. Make the season longer.
Of course, it's only that simple in theory. Football games have a cost, and it's not just the financial cost of putting them on. There are also significant risks for the players who have to participate in them, and this is in a new era where concerns about brain health are coming to the forefront in an unprecedented manner. Adding games without adding compensation for the players is totally unfair to them.
Ah, and then our old friend "amateurism" rears its head. Because right now under NCAA regulations, you can't give the player more in order to do more. It seems completely exploitative, but well, that's always been one of amateurism's weaker points.
Back to the point at hand. There are only two ways to get around declining numbers of guaranteed home games. That's for either every single school to raise ticket prices and other fees by a substantial margin—one large enough to cover a ~15 percent decline in home games—or to make more home games happen.
In other words, if the schools are going to get what they want, it'll come from hitting your wallet harder or hitting its athletes harder. If there's an Option C, we'd love to hear it.