Posted by Jerry Hinnen and Adam Jacobi
College basketball's ACC-Big Ten Challenge? It's nice and all, but so 2007 (or so). So leave it to Larry Scott and Jim Delany to engineer the 2017 version -- and do it on the gridiron.
Scott's Pac-12 and Delany's Big Ten announced Wednesday that they have reached a formal nonconference scheduling agreement across all sports, with the football version starting five seasons from now in 2017. All 12 teams in each league will play one team in the other as part of their nonconference schedule.
"This makes a lot of sense," Scott told the USA Today, "in terms of continuing to broaden our exposure and improving programming and improving the caliber of our schools' matchups."
“As other conferences continue to grow through expansion, we believe there is great merit in deepening the historic relationship between the Big Ten and Pac-12,” said Delany. “We believe that both conferences can preserve that sense of collegiality and still grow nationally by leveraging our commonalities in a way that benefits student-athletes, fans and alumni. This collaboration can and will touch many institutional undertakings, and will complement our academic and athletic missions.”
The leagues have yet to reach a consensus on some issues of arrangement, from what the series will be called to how the teams will be paired up (and sites assigned) to where the games will be televised. But the "Pac-12-Big Ten Challenge" nonetheless promises to make an immediate, seismic impact on the nonconference profile of both leagues, and should provide plenty of high-stakes, must-see viewing for both leagues' respective TV networks.
That doesn't mean there won't be drawbacks. The Rose Bowl will now run the small but tangible risk of repeating a regular-season matchup, for one. For another, with both conferences committed to nine-game league schedules, another fixed non-conference matchup will leave schools with annual non-league rivalries (think Michigan or USC, and their series with Notre Dame) with just one open "breather" date to fill on their schedules.
To that end, Scott has stated that the Pac-12 will remain committed to its nine-game schedule, but Delany told USA Today the Big Ten will "likely rethink the move," and if that sounds like a polite way of saying "it's out," it should be no surprise that Pete Thamel reports the Big Ten will stick with its eight-game schedule now instead.
Speaking as college football fans, the lack of juicy non-conference games has been a creeping menace to the quality of college football seasons -- just look at the dreck that fills SEC non-conference schedules every September (and mid-November) -- and Scott and Delany deserve major commendations for their part in fighting that problem head-on.
"This will add a tough, high-quality opponent," Scott said. "Certainly, it creates a tougher path (to the national championship game). But the benefits, we think, outweigh the fact it's far more challenging."
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