May 12, 2008

Bowden: Time to expand conference schedules

The ACC athletic directors are meeting Monday and an area of possible discussion will be the introduction of a nine-game conference schedule. Now that teams are playing 12 regular-season games, this is the only move for conferences to make.

The Pac-10 has already acted on the issue. The conference decided to require its teams to play a nine-team round-robin conference schedule. That means that every team plays every other team during the regular season. Thus, there is no reason to have a postseason conference championship because the champion has already been decided during the regular season.

Although a conference with 11 or 12 teams cannot set up a schedule where all teams meet during the regular season, there is no less reason to follow suit. We have to assume the Pac-10 could have just as easily allowed its teams to play another home game against a cupcake, non-conference opponent in order to line the coffers and feed the beast. But the powers that be decided the right thing to do for the integrity of the league AND the value of the fans' ticket was to play another conference team.

The reason to add a 12th game was not to improve the integrity of the regular season or to increase the value of a loyal fan's season ticket package. It was to make more money. And, if you are going to make more money, the best way to do this is to play as many home games as possible and preferably against an opponent that will not upset your chances of making a pretty penny in the offseason too.

This dilemma did not originate with the addition of the 12th game. We have faced it for the past 15-20 years as the conferences grew beyond the ability to play every conference team in the regular season. The SEC, Big 12, ACC, and Big Ten have all had to decide what to do with their non-conference schedules. Do we play worthy opponents on a home-and-home basis or do we bring in a ringer to jump through the hoops for a nice paycheck?

During the 11-game era, the BCS conferences with 11 or 12 teams decided upon an eight-game conference schedule. That left them with three non-conference games to fill. The problem was that many teams did not do what they should have. To balance all of the scheduling objectives, the right thing to do was play two guppies at home and then one worthy team on a home-and-home basis. But many of the bigger schools said, "To heck with public perception, our conference schedule is tough enough, we need to make the money, let's just play three guppies." It wasn't the right thing to do then and it is not the right thing to do now.

The same issue must be dealt with under a 12-game system. What kind of games are we going to play? Well, if we assume that the right thing to do under the 11-game format was to schedule two guppies at home and a worthy home-and-home matchup, then that ought to be continued in the 12-game format. This would allow us to quite easily go to another conference game in our regular season. The 12-team leagues could easily play all five other teams in their division plus four matchups from the other division on a rotating basis. The Big Ten could at least get one game closer to a round-robin format. The reason we formed conferences in the first place was to make scheduling easier by requiring the teams to play each other.

Isn't it funny how protecting the integrity of the regular season is so dadgum important when it comes to a playoff, but it doesn't mean squat when it comes to the teams we actually play?

Terry Bowden is Yahoo! Sports' college football analyst. Send Terry a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.



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