The 2019–20 season marks the sixth year of the College Football Playoff. Since its inaugural season in 2014–15, the Big Ten has had two programs selected to represent the conference: Ohio State (twice, 2014 and 2016) and Michigan State (2015). The Big Ten has been left out of the College Football Playoff the last two seasons.
Ohio State—and the Big Ten, for that matter—thought the Buckeyes had a chance at the playoffs last season. No. 6 Ohio State beat No. 21 Northwestern, 42-24, in the Big Ten title game and ended the season 12-1. It wasn’t enough and it wasn’t enough the year prior when the Buckeyes were the first team out with an 11-2 record.
Alabama, Clemson, Notre Dame and Oklahoma were the four selected for last season’s College Football Playoff. Georgia—the runner-up in the SEC championship game—was placed one ahead of the Buckeyes in the final playoff rankings.
This, as you can imagine, has the Big Ten talking. Some believe the answer to the conference’s issue is the East and West divisions. Are they imbalanced? Maybe (and Big Ten coaches had plenty to say about that), but others don’t believe that’s the only thing stopping the Big Ten from being in the College Football Playoff year after year. There’s plenty who believe it comes down to strength of schedule.
“I’ve been disappointed, quite honestly, with the strength of schedule [and how the committee has evaluated it],” conference commissioner Jim Delany said at Big Ten Media Days last week. “I said it earlier. I said it last year. We’re not going to change. There may be pressure to change, but I think that’s short-selling our fans, our players, our TV partners, and I’m hoping that the committee catches up with the intent of the founders.”
What Delany is referring to—if you need a referesher—is the fact that the Big Ten moved to a nine-game conference schedule in 2016. As Delany noted, the decision to do so was made with fans in mind, as well as sponsors and TV opportunities. And while he didn’t say it, the decision was probably also based in boosting the Big Ten’s résumé when it comes to the College Football Playoff.
Yet, the SEC and ACC continue with the eight-game conference schedule. Ah, the imbalance.
Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby recently addressed it, too. While he doesn’t want to put schedule models on any other league, he expressed a desire for all conferences to find a way to play 10 Power Five opponents in order to get into the College Football Playoff.
“I second Bob,” Delany said. “Usually when Bob says things like that, he precedes it by saying, ‘If I were a football czar.’ Bob is not a football czar, [and] neither am I. The best I can hope for is that the College Football Playoff committee, as their members turn over and change—and there's a lot of change in that group—they're good people with good intentions and good football awareness, [that it pays] more attention to the founders' effort to value strength of schedule as well as winning conference championships.
“The actual language in the founding document says, ‘When comparing teams with similar records and similar résumés, should look at strength of schedule as well as winning conference championships.’”
While Delany is committed to the nine-game conference schedule, new Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren could choose to make a change. We’ll likely know more within the next year. Until then, what do Big Ten coaches think about the conference’s scheduling?
Let’s take a look at a few of the response.
Penn State coach James Franklin
“Obviously I think the nine conference games is something that needs to be discussed. When you play nine conference games, you're going to have more losses within your conference, just obviously mathematics tell you that. The hard part I think with that is the set of criteria that you've been told are going to impact being able to make the playoffs, strength of schedule and things like that. There's a lot of variables there, there's a lot of things you can't control and also the people that are in that room are different every single year.”
Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald
“I think the nine league games are great for our fans, I think it's great for our guys from a competitive standpoint, but to me to have a true champion we have to have the same data points. Until we do that, it's not any different in form from the BCS, it's just a different name. But again, I think for me it's all the details that come along with that. I just want to get our program in position to be in Indianapolis and then get in that conversation, but to [include] five Power 5 leagues, your Group of 5 champions, your independents, to have I think a true champion that's won on the field, we've got to have shared data points.”
Purdue coach Jeff Brohm
“What you would like to see is an even playing field. Whether everyone plays nine conference games and so many Power 5 teams, or whether everyone plays eight conference games, it doesn't matter to me. I do think it would be better if it was an even playing field. [In the Big Ten], you are going against great competition every week and I think it has taken its toll a little bit on the Big Ten. To me, Ohio State was one of the top four teams in the country last year. They just had an off day against us and we played well and it cost them.”
What do you think? Is the schedule the issue for the Big Ten and its fate in the College Football Playoff? Let us know in the comments below.
Erin is the Deputy Editor and Digital Marketing Strategist for Hail Varsity. She has covered Nebraska athletics since 2012, which has included stops at Bleacher Report, Cox Media Group’s Land of 10, and even Hail Varsity (previously from 2012-2017). She has also been featured on the Big Ten Network, NET’s Big Red Wrap-Up, and a varsity of radio shows nationwide. When not covering the Huskers, Erin is probably at Chipotle.