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Expanding Big Ten weighs competition, rivalries, TV ratings and road trips to make football schedule

Conference releases 5 seasons worth of football opponents for each of its soon-to-be 18 schools

By RALPH D. RUSSO, AP College Sports Writer
Published: October 5, 2023, 10:41am

Weighing competitive balance, traditional rivalries, television ratings and some very long road trips, the Big Ten produced 262 versions of a football schedule to find the one that best fit its soon-to-be 18-team, bicoastal conference.

The Big Ten released five seasons’ worth of football opponents for each of its schools on Thursday. The conference adds Southern California, UCLA, Oregon and Washington next year to a league that had all its schools in the Eastern and Central time zones.

The 2024 schedule will be highlighted by Oregon hosting Ohio State, Penn State at Southern California and Michigan going to Washington.

Big Ten Chief Operating Officer Kerry Kenny said the conference wants to have game dates for the 2024 season set by the end of October.

The Big Ten schedule will remain at nine league games and the conference next year will scrap its divisional format, which had already been determined before the latest expansion. The top two teams in the final standings will play in the conference championship game. Tiebreaking procedures will also be announced later.

The Big Ten had released opponents for the 2024 and 2025 seasons — the first with USC and UCLA — in June, but those needed to be torn up after the conference expanded West again in August with Oregon and Washington also leaving the Pac-12.

“Had to go back to the drawing board,” Big Ten Commissioner Tony Petitti said. “We’re staying with a lot of the principles that were in place when we did the original announcement back with USC and UCLA being integrated.”

Scheduling consultant Kevin Pauga said: “For the better part of eight weeks, the computer was running in some form or fashion.”

The Big Ten calls its scheduling model Flex Protect XVIII, which locks in important annual rivalry games but doesn’t require every team to have the same number of protected games.

The 18-team model has 12 protected annual matchups: Illinois-Northwestern; Illinois-Purdue; Indiana-Purdue; Iowa-Minnesota; Iowa-Nebraska; Iowa-Wisconsin; Maryland-Rutgers; Michigan-Michigan State; Michigan-Ohio State; Minnesota-Wisconsin; Oregon-Washington; and USC-UCLA.

Teams will play every other conference opponent at least twice – home and away – during a five-year period, but no more than three times.

Notably, the West Coast schools are not guaranteed to face each other every season. In 2024, Oregon and USC do not play each other while Washington and UCLA play each of the other three former Pac-12 schools.

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Kenny said various options were considered, but since there was not unanimity among the four new members about being locked into playing each other annually, the conference felt they would benefit from the wider exposure.

“We found over time that the best way to create a cohesive conference after you go through an integration process is to play each other more, not less,” Kenny said.

Washington’s five conference road games in 2024 will include three trips into the Eastern time zone (Indiana, Rutgers and Penn State) and another to the Central time zone at Iowa, along with Oregon. Washington played a total of five regular-season games outside the Pacific and Mountain time zones from 2013-23.

None of the 14 incumbent schools will be required to make more than one trip to the West Coast in any season.

The conference used recent and historical results to try to balance degree of difficulty in scheduling. Kenny said teams were split into two groups of nine, then three groups of six, and finally six groups of three. He declined to identify which schools were grouped together.

The Big Ten is in the first year of seven-year deals with Fox, NBC and CBS that will pay the conference more than $7 billion. The league had to factor in the desire of those partners to air as many high-profile matchups as possible while avoiding overburdening the perennial powers.

“Our goal was to try and create those opportunities where we eliminated the outliers,” Kenny said. “So the hardest schedule and the easiest schedule on paper should all be around a consistent equator line as you look across all 18.”

With the College Football Playoff expanding to 12 teams next year, Petitti said strength of schedule should be a vital component to determining at-large bids.

“The league is incredibly strong,” said Petitti, one of 11 members of the CFP management committee, “but with that comes the fact that that schedule has to matter when teams are qualifying for the postseason, and that’s our job.”

2024 Conference Opponents

(Games dates to be announced)

OREGON
Away

Michigan

Purdue

UCLA

Wisconsin

Home

Illinois

Maryland

Michigan State

Ohio State

Washington

WASHINGTON
Away

Indiana

Iowa

Oregon

Penn State

Rutgers

Home

Michigan

Northwestern

UCLA

Southern Cal

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