5 Reasons the Big Ten Football Program Will Benefit from Changes in 2014
The Big Ten will have an entirely new look in 2014, and whether you like change or not, the modifications will be favorable for the conference.
While not all of these are official, it's likely that there will be four substantial differences after next season.
The two confirmed changes are the additions of Maryland and Rutgers to the Big Ten, and the non-conference schedules won't contain any FCS teams (via Paul Myerberg of USA Today).
The other two promising changes will be the expansion to nine or 10 conference games, and the realignment of the divisions to West and East (per Yahoo! Sports).
If this happens, the West should feature Nebraska, Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois and Northwestern. The East will have Michigan State, Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State, Maryland and Rutgers. This leaves Purdue and Indiana as the two teams likely to be split up.
With all these transformations, here is why the Big Ten schools will improve moving forward.
The Schools Save Money
FCS and MAC schools are going to be busier on the phones in the upcoming years.
By eliminating FCS opponents and one or two non-conference games, these teams will have to find a new conference to earn some cash to help fund their seasons.
In the past, Big Ten schools have often paid the smaller programs roughly anywhere from $500,000 to $1 million to get an easy win or—in several cases in recent years—struggle for 60 minutes to find a way to win or take a loss in front of the home fans.
As impressive as Penn State's season was last year, the Nittany Lions not only suffered a 24-14 loss to Ohio in their opener, they paid the Bobcats $850,000 as well (via Guy Cipriano of CentreDaily.com).
So in addition to saving Big Ten schools a few dollars in the future, they will avoid having to play games with everything to lose and nothing to gain.
Sounds like a good deal for the Big Ten.
More Exciting Games in September
Here's a look at the lineup of games from Week 4 for the Big Ten in 2012.
UTEP at Wisconsin
Central Michigan at Iowa
UAB at Ohio State
South Dakota at Northwestern
Temple at Penn State
Idaho State at Nebraska
Eastern Michigan at Michigan State
Michigan at Notre Dame
Syracuse at Minnesota
Louisiana Tech at Minnesota
With the exception of Michigan and Notre Dame, none of these games will raise an eyebrow to the average fan.
By cutting the non-conference games by one or two, this list is a perfect example of what we won't see in 2014.
Instead, it will be a full slate of Big Ten showdowns.
Best-case scenario, it's one more chance for a team like Nebraska to enter the Horseshoe or Michigan to march into Camp Randall Stadium.
Worst-case scenario, it's recently-losing teams like Illinois making a long journey to College Park to face Maryland.
Either way, a Big Ten game in 60-degree weather is more likely to keep the students from sleeping in and the fans off the golf course.
Fan Attendance Increases
It might not be a dramatic change in some cases, but several Big Ten teams should see a few extra thousand fans in their respective stadiums in late September.
In 2012, Wisconsin didn't reach 80,000 fans in any of its non-conference home games but did so in all of its Big Ten contests.
For a school like Northwestern going forward, a game against Ohio State or Michigan will draw more fans from the Chicago area than a MAC school or an average Big East team.
This is also true when it comes to the away team. If the visitors have a huge fanbase that travels well, like Penn State or Iowa, they will bring more fans on average than a Conference USA or FCS school.
It's a win-win. Fans from the Big Ten, whether home and away, are more likely to attend conference games than fans from the smaller schools in most cases.
With college football attendance figures hitting their lowest numbers since 2003 (via Ben Kercheval of NBC Sports), this is an excellent move by the Big Ten to help remedy the situation.
Rivalries Stay Intact, Potential Ones Develop
The division into West and East makes complete sense when it comes to the rivalries.
Wisconsin and Iowa will once again square off for the Heartland Trophy annually. Wisconsin will also have the chance to develop a classic showdown with Nebraska as two of the powerhouses in the West.
Michigan State and Penn State will put the Land Grant Trophy back on the line each season.
Maryland and Rutgers will have a chance at developing an annual clash rather than possibly having to travel over 1,000 miles more than once.
It's simply a great scenario.
Although, there is the downside of the non-conference rivalries diminishing: essentially, September games with Notre Dame.
However, the Irish are only scheduled to play Michigan until 2014. Last season, Notre Dame declined its option to continue the series, giving its three-year notice as stipulated in the teams' contract (via Matt Fortuna of ESPN.com).
Notre Dame still has long-term deals with Purdue and Michigan State, and I don't see either series coming to an end. It's a great chance to keep a traditional rivalry and play a great program to learn about your team before conference play. And neither team has to travel very far.
With that, it should be similar with Iowa and Iowa State, as well as Maryland and West Virginia.
TV Ratings and Recruiting Increases
We all know that money and television ratings play a huge role in collegiate sports today.
With the addition of Maryland and Rutgers, the Big Ten Network will get exposure on the East coast and pocket a lot more cash in the upcoming years.
But it goes further than that. It's recruiting.
Maryland and Rutgers might not be the biggest juggernauts of the college football world, but there is great talent in the surrounding area. As Matt Dorsey of the Detroit Free Press points out, there were more players in the NFL in 2011 from New Jersey than from either Pennsylvania or Michigan.
Now when the East Coast recruits watch Maryland and Rutgers play, they will be seeing Ohio State and Michigan on the opposite sideline as opposed to Florida State and Louisville.
This may take a few years to produce results, but it's a positive step for the Big Ten to expand its recruiting outside the Midwest.
So while some Big Ten fans aren't happy about stretching the conference all the way out to the Atlantic, this will ultimately help the conference get back to being one of the best in the nation.