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Weekday mornings on Michigan Radio, Doug Tribou hosts NPR's Morning Edition, the most listened-to news radio program in the country.

Big Ten announces new football scheduling and conference championship format for 2024

The Big Ten college football league has announced structural changes to it's 2024 and 2025 seasons.
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The Big Ten college football league has announced structural changes to it's 2024 and 2025 seasons.

The Big Ten announced some big changes Thursday to the way the conference will handle its football schedules starting in 2024. That’s when two new members from California — USC and UCLA — will start playing in the conference.

The biggest change is the end of the two-division format. The Big Ten East and West divisions will go away after this season.

Michigan Radio sports commentator John U. Bacon joined Morning Edition host Doug Tribou to talk about the changes.

Doug Tribou: In the current format, the top football team in the Big Ten East Division plays the top team in the Big Ten West in the conference championship game. How will that change next season when the divisions go away?

John U Bacon: To back up, the reason they're going away is because they've added USC - and that is University of Southern California, of course, not South Carolina, and UCLA, both in L.A.. And [with current member] Rutgers in New York, basically, it is a spanning-the-entire-nation conference. Now, you've got 16 teams. You can't play them all or even come close in a given season [with 9 conference games]. In the old Big Ten, thus the name, you could.

In 2024, Big Ten football will eliminate its East and West divisions. Instead, the top two teams overall will play in the conference championship game.

So, now you have all kinds of complications and issues. And it's all for TV money, let's not kid ourselves. And the TV money is gigantic. But that's why they're doing this. So now, instead of two similar divisions, which they still could have, Doug! All they had to do was [put] USC and UCLA in the West, which ... kind of makes sense. You put Purdue in the East, you've got eight teams in both divisions, and it still works. So instead of that, now they have this weird smorgasbord schedule where at the end of it they're simply going to take the top two teams and play each other in Indianapolis.

Last year, Michigan and Ohio State [who played in the final week of the regular season] would be playing again a week later, if that was the [new 2024] format. So you have the prospect of possibly the two best teams playing together twice in a week, which is ridiculous.

DT: John, the conference is calling the new scheduling system that it created "Flex Protect Plus," which sounds a bit like a second-rate bodyguard service. Each school will play every other one at least twice in a four-year period, but the league is still protecting some rivalry games. Will we still get to see the annual matchups between Michigan and Ohio State and Michigan State and Michigan?

JUB: Yes, you will. How it works is each team can protect [up to] 3 rivalry games and in the case of Iowa, they protected all three — Minnesota, Nebraska, and Wisconsin. In the case of Penn State, none. That's very weird because they've got a rivalry with Michigan State. They play for the [Land Grant] Trophy at the end of each season. That's not protected. In Michigan's case, Michigan State and Ohio State are both protected, and so you'll see both those games every year.

 A grid show the teams Big Ten teams will play twice in 2024 and 2025
Big Ten Conference

DT: The Big Ten has announced all the games for 2024 and 2025. Michigan will face both USC and UCLA in 2024. MSU will play the California teams in 2025, but the Spartans will not face Ohio State in 2024 or 2025. They've played every year since 2011 and played off and on for decades. How much of a loss is that for MSU?

JUB: It depends on how you look at it. From a revenue standpoint, from filling the stands, from TV ratings, it's a huge loss because that's probably the biggest grab in the Big Ten.

From a competitive standpoint, if I'm [MSU's] Mel Tucker, I think, "Oh, hallelujah! I have just avoided, arguably the best team, certainly the best team in the Big Ten this century." So I guess if you're a fan, it's one thing. And if you're Mel Tucker, the head coach, it's quite another.

DT: John, what else stands out to you about the changes coming next year? And do you like what you see so far?

JUB: Well, to the Big Ten's credit, I guess, they never claim this is for the student athletes. They never claimed it was for the universities or parity, adding USC and UCLA, that is. It was for simply cash money, man. TV money. And once you do that and you get a 16-team conference, you've really got two conferences and you've got to figure out a way to do it.

I don't know why they didn't just keep two divisions. That would have been very simple and I think far more straightforward. But nonetheless, they'll get their TV money and people will get the matchups they want.

DT: I'm just going to propose a new slogan for the conference. "The Big Ten: Now closer to 20 than 10."

John, thanks a lot.

JUB: [Laughs]. Doug, thank you.

Editor's note: Some quotes in this article have been edited for length and clarity. You can listen to the full interview near the top of this page.

Doug Tribou joined the Michigan Public staff as the host of Morning Edition in 2016. Doug first moved to Michigan in 2015 when he was awarded a Knight-Wallace journalism fellowship at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.
John U. Bacon has worked nearly three decades as a writer, a public speaker, and a college instructor, winning awards for all three.
Katheryne Friske is the weekend morning host and producer for All Things Considered.
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