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Why Won't Big Ten Teams Schedule S.E.C. Opponents?

The offseason is a time for reflection and obsession; in my case, these two inclinations converge upon the question of cross-sectional scheduling by B.C.S. conferences. At this time, I would like to turn my attention to the Big Ten.

Unlike the Pac-10, which has only one longstanding out-of-conference rivalry (Notre Dame-Southern California), the Big Ten has several such traditional non-league outings: Indiana-Kentucky, Iowa-Iowa State, and Michigan's, Michigan State's, and Purdue's perennial showdowns with the Fighting Irish.

Uh, different Indiana-Kentucky rivalry, Ashley.

Including the foregoing rivalry games, the 11 Big Ten teams' regular-season non-conference games over the course of the last five seasons (2002-2006) have been against teams presently claiming the following conference affiliations:

  • Atlantic Coast (6 home, 5 away): Boston College (1 home, 1 away), Duke (1 home, 1 away), North Carolina (1 home, 1 away), N.C. State (1 home, 1 away), Virginia (1 home), Wake Forest (1 home, 1 away)
  • Big 12 (7 home, 5 away, 2 neutral): Iowa State (3 home, 2 away), Kansas (1 home, 1 away), Missouri (2 neutral), Nebraska (1 home, 1 away), Texas (1 home, 1 away), Texas Tech (1 home)
  • Big East (10 home, 7 away): Cincinnati (3 home, 1 away), Connecticut (1 home, 1 away), Pitt (1 away), Rutgers (2 home, 2 away), South Florida (1 home), Syracuse (2 home, 1 away), West Virginia (1 home, 1 away)
  • Conference USA (7 home, 2 away): Central Florida (3 home), Houston (1 home), Marshall (1 home), Rice (1 home), Southern Miss (1 away), Tulsa (1 home, 1 away)
  • Division I-AA (17 home): Eastern Illinois (1 home), Florida A&M (1 home), Illinois State (3 home), Indiana State (2 home), Montana (1 home), New Hampshire (1 home), Nicholls State (1 home), North Dakota State (1 home), Northern Iowa (1 home), Southern Illinois (1 home), Texas State (1 home), Western Illinois (1 home), William & Mary (1 home), Youngstown State (1 home)
  • Independent (11 home, 10 away): Navy (1 away), Notre Dame (7 home, 9 away), Temple (4 home)
  • Mid-American (49 home, 6 away, 1 neutral): Akron (5 home), Ball State (4 home, 1 away), Bowling Green (4 home, 1 neutral), Buffalo (3 home), Central Michigan (7 home, 1 away), Eastern Michigan (4 home), Kent State (4 home, 1 away), Miami (5 home, 2 away), Northern Illinois (5 home), Ohio (1 home, 1 away), Toledo (2 home), Western Michigan (5 home)
  • Mountain West (10 home, 5 away): Air Force (1 home, 1 away), Colorado State (1 home, 1 away), San Diego State (4 home), T.C.U. (1 home, 1 away), U.N.L.V. (2 home, 1 away), Utah (1 home, 1 away)
  • Pac-10 (10 home, 10 away): Arizona (2 home, 2 away), Arizona State (2 home, 2 away), Cal (2 home, 2 away), Oregon (2 away), U.C.L.A. (1 home, 1 away), Washington (2 home, 1 away), Washington State (1 home)
  • Southeastern (3 home, 2 away): Vanderbilt (1 home), Kentucky (2 home, 2 away)
  • Sun Belt (4 home, 1 away): Arkansas State (1 home), Florida Atlantic (1 home), Louisiana-Lafayette (1 home, 1 away), Troy (1 home)
  • Western Athletic (8 home, 2 away): Fresno State (1 home), Hawaii (1 home, 1 away), Idaho (1 home), Louisiana Tech (2 home), Nevada (1 away), San Jose State (2 home), Utah State (1 home)

In the last five years, the caliber of S.E.C. out-of-conference opponents has improved while the quality of Big Ten non-league foes has declined. The Hoover Street Rag put it this way in its comprehensive breakdown of the subject:
The SEC's non-conference slate used to be a fraud, apart from a few rivalry games. They're still well behind some of the other conferences, but they play over 40% more BCS competition in non-conference play than they used to (1.21 vs. 0.85 g/p/s). The Big Ten has slid the other way. On average, half of its schools have dropped one of their non-conference games against a BCS school (down to 1.51 g/p/s from 2.05).

That assessment is borne out by the fact that, in the last five seasons, one-fourth of all regular-season non-conference games played by Big Ten teams (50 out of 200) have been home or neutral site games against the M.A.C., at a time when L.S.U.'s efforts to arrange games with Michigan have met with stonewalling and the Wolverines have declined to enter into negotiations with Georgia to arrange a home and home series between the two historic powers.

When I first proposed such a series between the Red and Black and the Maize and Blue more than a year ago, Paul Westerdawg warned me that "the Big 10 schools won't even consider a game in early [S]eptember against UGA. Too much heat and too much speed."

I didn't buy that argument, either as to the heat or as to the speed . . . yet it is a fact that Big Ten teams are refusing to schedule regular-season non-rivalry games against the Southeastern Conference. Why?


LD offers the following explanation: "[M]ost Big 10 ADs have avoided SEC opponents over the last decade because there are multiple bowl tie-ins to the SEC."

That rationale makes sense as far as it goes, I suppose; it explains why Michigan wouldn't schedule Georgia (which the Wolverines very well could face in a Capital One or Outback Bowl) but would schedule Vanderbilt (which has never played a bowl game later than New Year's Eve).

What it doesn't explain, though, is why Big Ten teams played 20 regular-season games against Pac-10 opponents over the course of the last five years. That represents 10 per cent of all regular-season out-of-conference contests appearing on Big Ten schedules over that span. The Big Ten scheduled four times as many games against the Pac-10 as against the S.E.C. and no other B.C.S. conference was as well-represented on Big Ten slates as the Pacific Coast league.

Arizona, Arizona State, Cal, Oregon, U.C.L.A., Washington, and Washington State all have scheduled Big Ten teams in the last five years and all but the Cougars hosted a Midwestern B.C.S. conference opponent at least once during that span . . . all in spite of the fact that the Pac-10, like the S.E.C., shares two bowl tie-ins with the Big Ten.

Can you guess which bowl tie-ins I mean? Here are a couple of hints.

Of the seven Pac-10 teams appearing on Big Ten slates in the last five seasons, five have attended at least one Rose Bowl since the 1994 campaign and five have attended at least one Sun Bowl since the 2001 season. In light of those realities, aren't postseason rematches with Pac-10 opponents at least as likely as second chances in bowl games against S.E.C. competition?

Furthermore, the Rose and Sun Bowls, like the Capital One and Outback Bowls, are played in much sunnier climes than the Midwest, yet Big Ten teams played half of their regular-season games against Pac-10 opponents on the road. If Big Ten teams are willing to travel to Berkeley, Eugene, Los Angeles, Pullman, Tempe, and Tucson, why shouldn't they display a similar inclination to journey to Athens, Auburn, Baton Rouge, Gainesville, and Knoxville . . . or, at the very least, to Columbia, Fayetteville, Nashville, Oxford, and Starkville?

If the risk of a bowl rematch is not the real reason, though, what is? Is it the fear of playing in the heat and humidity of the South? I find it hard to believe that this explanation holds any water whatsoever. Illinois played at Southern Miss in 2002. Minnesota played at Louisiana-Lafayette in 2002. Northwestern played at Duke in 2003. Purdue played at Wake Forest in 2003. Northwestern played at Texas Christian in 2004. Ohio State played at N.C. State in 2004. Wisconsin played at North Carolina in 2005. Ohio State played at Texas in 2006. Are we to believe that it isn't humid in Lafayette, La., in Hattiesburg, Miss., in Chapel Hill, N.C., in Durham, N.C., in Raleigh, N.C., in Winston-Salem, N.C., in Austin, Tex., or in Fort Worth, Tex.?

"It's like a sauna in here!"

The unapologetic S.E.C. homer in me would like to believe that Big Ten teams are just plain scared, but that, too, is a theory unsupported by evidence. Between 2002 and 2006, S.E.C. teams were 1-0 against Big Ten teams in B.C.S. bowl games, but, during that same period, the Big Ten was 2-1 against the S.E.C. in the Music City Bowl, 3-2 against the S.E.C. in the Outback Bowl, and 3-2 against the S.E.C. in the Capital One Bowl . . . and those results came in games played in Nashville, Orlando, and Tampa.

I am all out of theories and still without an explanation. None of these excuses provide anything like a reason. You tell me . . . why won't Big Ten teams agree to arrange home and home series with S.E.C. squads? Let me know in the comments below.

Go 'Dawgs!