Last March, the Pac-12 approached the Big Ten with an exciting proposition for a non-conference slate of games between the two conference, much like the Big Ten/ACC Challenge in college basketball. The proposal would pair up a team from each conference to play early in the season, generating major national attention for both conferences, boosting the relevance of both conference networks, and giving fans an exciting set of early games that would go a long way in settling bragging rights between these two major conferences. However, having a good idea is one thing…getting it implemented is another entirely, and yesterday it was reported that this crossover event had been called off. So what killed it?
Officially, the Pac-12 and Big Ten are saying that there were just too many logistical issues to work out with scheduling. The Pac-12 has a nine game conference schedule while the Big Ten plays only eight, which is an IMPOSSIBLE hurdle to clear…apparently. Despite not happening until 2017, the Pac-12 had trouble getting all of its members to sign on to idea, who bristled at the thought of “mandatory scheduling,” especially when the schools already had previous non-conference commitments to work around. USC and Stanford, for example, annually square off with Notre Dame and reportedly wouldn’t want to add a Big Ten opponent to an already “taxing” schedule.
That, in a nutshell, is the real issue at play; fear. Teams are afraid to play a schedule that’s “too hard” because they might lose a game. And if you lose a game in September, how on earth could you hope to make it into a big BCS payday in January? Oh, right. That’s what the rest of the season is for. Just ask Oregon, who lost their season opener against LSU in 2011 before going on to win their third straight conference title and first Rose Bowl victory since 1917 over a strong Wisconsin squad.
Teams are reluctant to schedule games they might lose because of the possible ramifications on their bowl payout at the end of the season. We’ve seen it already with the Utah Utes cancelling their rivalry game with BYU in 2014-2015 because they’ve scheduled a home-and-home with Michigan. Playing both teams was deemed “unfair” and too “taxing” for the Utes. Especially early in the season, coaches never know what kind of team they’re going to have, which is why the early slate of games is often so dull. Big schools trying to make a major bowl and score a major financial bonus want to play cupcake schools from the FCS to work out the kinks and figure out how to best use their team in the games that actually matter. This proposal died because it threatened the schools’ ability to play that game, and the thought of jumping into a big game blind scared them.
But what many of these school don’t take into consideration is that maybe a tougher schedule would make their teams better. Looking at the SEC, which has won eight BCS Championships, including the last six, the team that comes out of that conference is battle tested better than anybody else in the country. Their conference schedule is a gauntlet of top-25 teams which makes every Saturday a “big game” and gets them ready for elite competition by demanding their best every single week. Other conferences don’t have the depth of the SEC, so they need to start making up for it by testing their squads out of conference. The strongest steel is forged from the hottest fire.
Pac-12 and Big Ten commissioners Larry Scott and Jim Delany did their due diligence to try and make this football partnership happen. They offered up compromises, rotating schedules, partial participation, among other things but couldn’t overcome the one major obstacle: fear. Teams are scared to play too difficult a schedule because they may not be up to the task and will lose some games, shattering the mirage that they are better than they might actually be. However, if you want to be the best, you have to play the best, and by backing out of this deal, everyone loses…especially the fans.
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