The Big Ten held its annual meetings this week and one very interesting piece of news shook out: The Big Ten will no longer schedule FCS teams in the future.
Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez was on a Madison radio station after the news broke and he obviously agreed about the decision, according to USAToday and other media outlets:
"The nonconference schedule in our league is ridiculous," Alvarez said on WIBA-AM in Madison, Wis. "It's not very appealing ...
This obviously gives the league a badly-needed upgrade in its image of what many fans perceive as soft scheduling. But what about the rest of the BCS conferences? Should they follow the Big Ten's lead?
The Big 12 has an interesting dilemma on its hands.
Right now, the Big 12 doesn't hold a conference championship because it does not have the current NCAA-mandated 12-school membership minimum requirement. The Big 12 has 10 schools in its conference. The league also isn't showing any signs of expanding its membership in the near future.
The problem for the Big 12 is that at the the very most, the Big 12 champion will have had played a total of 12 games prior to the period in December when bowl selections are announced. The ACC, Big Ten, Pac-12 and SEC champions will have played at least 13—in some cases a team may have 14 games under its belt since the NCAA allows an extra game to be scheduled if Hawai'i is on its schedule.
The Big 12 teams do enjoy one advantage over most of the BCS conferences—like the Pac-12, its teams only schedule three non-conference games a year while the ACC, Big Ten and SEC teams schedule four. In other words, the Big 12 and the Pac-12 teams both play nine conference games in the regular season while the ACC, Big Ten and SEC teams play eight—last year the Big East teams only played seven.
Still, if one of the Big 12 team's non-conference opponents includes an FCS team, that erases its advantage. That advantage also disappears completely when the Pac-12, Big Ten, ACC and SEC hold their respective conference championships.
Until the Big 12 increases its membership to 12 schools and holds an official conference championship, its teams' strength of schedules likely won't be able to overcome other BCS conferences' strength of schedules (SOS) because most of the other BCS conferences' champions will have had to play an extra game late in the season—when injuries and attrition have taken their tolls.
A 12-game schedule that has 12 FBS teams on it and a minimum of nine BCS teams, however, will impress pollsters. An SEC champion will usually have an FCS team on its schedule but it will have also played a minimum nine BCS teams—eight conference foes plus an additional SEC team in its conference championship.
Also worth noting is that many SEC teams have a rivalry game outside the conference—Kentucky plays Louisville, Georgia plays Georgia Tech, South Carolina plays Clemson and Florida plays Florida State. So while the SEC does schedule a lot of FCS teams, it also schedules BCS teams in its non-conference games.
If the Big 12 were to follow suit from the Big Ten and no longer schedule FCS teams, this could help bolster its SOS when the bowl committees make their selections in December.
The only drawback to eliminating FCS teams could hit the Big 12 hard in two years—when the new playoff system starts. That extra FBS opponent may determine its fate—do you risk a loss to an FBS team to bolster your playoff berth prospects or do you play it safe and take the easy win over an FCS team?
Right now, this looks like the right move for the Big 12.
If the conference expands to 12 teams and holds a conference championship, then this probably wouldn't be in its best interests—the league's strength was readily apparent last year when nine of its 10 teams went bowling but having its champion crowned via a conference championship would be even more impressive to pollsters and bowl selection committees.
Remember, an 11-1 Oklahoma State team wasn't selected to the BCS Championship game two seasons ago because both Alabama (11-1) and LSU's (13-0) resumes were viewed as more impressive despite Alabama, like Oklahoma State, not playing in a conference championship.
Until the Big 12 expands, it will have to strengthen its schedules any way it can, and its first step should be eliminating FCS opponents on its schedules.