In June, the Big Ten released its slates for the 2024 and 2025 seasons, announcing a Flex Protect Plus plan that allowed it to maintain most of its biggest rivalries with the promise that every team would play in every stadium at least once in four years.

Then the conference poached Oregon and Washington two months later, and all that hard work went to waste. Now the league had to figure out a way to include the Ducks and Huskies in an 18-team scheme.

The Big Ten recently announced that the Flex Protect Plus is here to stay – essentially, what was already announced is still happening, but with Oregon and Washington somehow injected. How that looks is unknown.

I have my theories on what the conference should do now that it has two more mouths to feed, and they don’t all align with the direction the league is taking, at least not currently. But I won’t let that stop me.

There are multiple decisions within this decision. The first is: divisions or not? There are reasons to keep divisions, or at least some kind of pod system, to balance schedules among teams competing directly for championship game berths. Without divisions, you will have teams vying for the top two spots in the standings that have not played one another, and determining the tiebreakers will be chaotic and controversial.

This would continue – and worsen, as the league gets larger – the disconnect among many programs within the same conference. It’s tough to feel anything about a team that comes to your stadium once per decade. Eighteen is pushing it but can be worked with.

Next up: the number of conference games. The Big Ten has played nine games since 2016, but four more teams enter the rotation in 2024. An increase would allow the bloated bunch to meet one another more often, plus simplify protecting rivalries, but at what cost? Cash payouts for canceling already-scheduled non-conference contests, hampering series like Iowa-Iowa State and other out-of-league rivalries that Big Ten teams occasionally dabble in, and less flexibility in general with scheduling. We know they’re expansionists – soon we’ll know if the Big Ten are globalists or isolationists.

The Big Ten Schedule Should Be…

Ten games long. I don’t like it any more than you do, Iowa and Iowa State fans, but the league has to value the rivalries and marquee matchups within its ranks first. The Hawkeyes and Cyclones would likely still play each other, but nowhere near on the annual basis they’ve upheld since 1977, excluding the pandemic-induced cancellation in 2020.

But it means more of a chance that Iowa and Minnesota, Iowa and Wisconsin, and Iowa and Nebraska can all meet each season. It’s simple math really: three is greater than one. Plus, that’s three under its umbrella and not a shared space, from the league’s perspective.

There are now 18 teams to look after. If you want any semblance of familiarity among your members, they have to play each other, and it can’t be once a decade. It’s a tough pill to swallow, but this is the reality of mega-conferences.

With that in mind, the scheduling model the Big Ten should use is…

Flex Protect Plus

This is the same system the conference is already using. With this model, not much has to change from what the Big Ten put out in June, but I don’t see exactly eye-to-eye on everything the league has decreed.

In the Flex Protect Plus the Big Ten has said it will utilize, teams are given up to three protected rivalries that don’t change, ensuring the regularity of the league’s most vital series. Each team is given three “two-plays,” which are matchups that occur as home-and-homes in back-to-back seasons. Permanently protected rivalries are included in the trio.

With this system, the league can let Iowa have all three of its essential rivalries that must remain annual while Penn State isn’t locked down with teams it doesn’t view as serious rivals. It’s a goofy name, but Flex Protect Plus offers what it implies – flexibility.

In my world, the schedule balloons to 10, and those “two-plays” are “four-plays.” That leaves seven unassigned conference contests each campaign. Splitting the other 14 teams in half, everyone can play everyone at least once every two years and make a trip to each stadium in the league at least once every four years.

Here is how the Big Ten could set up its protected partnerships for the first four years of the transition, taking into account crucial rivalries, secondary rivalries, geography, and competitive balance (italicized teams are permanent):

Maryland: Rutgers, Penn State, Indiana

Rutgers: Maryland, Purdue, Illinois

Penn State: Maryland, Ohio State, Wisconsin

Ohio State: Michigan, Penn State, Illinois

Michigan: Ohio State, Michigan State, Minnesota

Michigan State: Michigan, Nebraska, Indiana

Indiana: Purdue, Maryland, Michigan State

Purdue: Indiana, Northwestern, Rutgers

Illinois: Northwestern, Ohio State, Rutgers

Northwestern: Illinois, Purdue, Nebraska

Iowa: Wisconsin, Minnesota, Nebraska

Wisconsin: Minnesota, Iowa, Penn State

Minnesota: Wisconsin, Iowa, Michigan

Nebraska: Iowa, Northwestern, Michigan State

Washington: Oregon, USC, UCLA

Oregon: Washington, USC, UCLA

USC: UCLA, Oregon, Washington

UCLA: USC, Oregon, Washington

I’ve chosen to copy the exact protected series the Big Ten designated earlier, plus I made sure Oregon and Washington met each season. I did not protect all the series among the former Pac-12 collection. It’s in the league’s best interest to get those teams playing others more often to make it feel less weird that they’re around. Plus, the Big Ten added these teams to get them up against Ohio State, Michigan, and so on. I’d love it if those games were secured, but I don’t think it will happen, nor do I think it would help the bottom line, and what else is this for?

Here are a few examples of what the 2024 through 2031 opponents and locations could look like, including teams with one, two, and three permanent protected rivalries:

Maryland

2024202520262027
Ohio Stateat Ohio StatePurdueat Purdue
at OregonOregonat IowaIowa
Northwesternat NorthwesternWisconsinat Wisconsin
at MinnesotaMinnesotaat MichiganMichigan
USCat USCWashingtonat Washington
at IllinoisIllinoisat NebraskaNebraska
Michigan Stateat Michigan StateUCLAat UCLA
at Penn StatePenn Stateat Penn StatePenn State
Indianaat IndianaIndianaat Indiana
at RutgersRutgersat RutgersRutgers
2028202920302031
Indianaat IndianaOregonat Oregon
at IowaIowaat NebraskaNebraska
Washingtonat WashingtonMichiganat Michigan
at Penn StatePenn Stateat MinnesotaMinnesota
Illinoisat IllinoisPurdueat Purdue
at Ohio StateOhio Stateat USCUSC
UCLAat UCLAWisconsinat Wisconsin
at NorthwesternNorthwesternat NorthwesternNorthwestern
Michigan Stateat Michigan StateMichigan Stateat Michigan State
at RutgersRutgersat RutgersRutgers

Wisconsin

2024202520262027
Marylandat MarylandRutgersat Rutgers
at Michigan StateMichigan Stateat WashingtonWashington
Michiganat MichiganPurdueat Purdue
at OregonOregonat IllinoisIllinois
Northwesternat NorthwesternUCLAat UCLA
at USCUSCat IndianaIndiana
Nebraskaat NebraskaOhio Stateat Ohio State
at Penn StatePenn Stateat Penn StatePenn State
Iowaat IowaIowaat Iowa
at MinnesotaMinnesotaat MinnesotaMinnesota
2028202920302031
Washingtonat WashingtonPurdueat Purdue
at IllinoisIllinoisat OregonOregon
Michiganat MichiganOhio Stateat Ohio State
at RutgersRutgersat USCUSC
Nebraskaat NebraskaMarylandat Maryland
at UCLAUCLAat Michigan StateMichigan State
Northwesternat NorthwesternPenn Stateat Penn State
at IndianaIndianaat IndianaIndiana
Iowaat IowaIowaat Iowa
at MinnesotaMinnesotaat MinnesotaMinnesota

USC

2024202520262027
Nebraskaat NebraskaPenn Stateat Penn State
at MarylandMarylandat IowaIowa
Ohio Stateat Ohio StateIndianaat Indiana
at IllinoisIllinoisat PurduePurdue
Minnesotaat MinnesotaWisconsinat Wisconsin
at NorthwesternNorthwesternat Michigan StateMichigan State
Michiganat MichiganRutgersat Rutgers
at WashingtonWashingtonat WashingtonWashington
Oregonat OregonOregonat Oregon
at UCLAUCLAat UCLAUCLA
2028202920302031
Oregonat OregonIndianaat Indiana
at Michigan StateMichigan Stateat PurduePurdue
Marylandat MarylandWashingtonat Washington
at Penn StatePenn Stateat NorthwesternNorthwestern
Michiganat MichiganNebraskaat Nebraska
at IowaIowaat WisconsinWisconsin
Minnesotaat MinnesotaIllinoisat Illinois
at RutgersRutgersat RutgersRutgers
Ohio Stateat Ohio StateOhio Stateat Ohio State
at UCLAUCLAat UCLAUCLA

Like with every conference, the Big Ten has some crucial rivalries that cannot be lost in the mix. It would not only be a travesty for the sport but also harm viewership, and thus the bottom line – the only thing that matters, as we’ve established. The league needs Michigan to play Ohio State and Michigan State every year, and it needs Iowa to play Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Nebraska as well. This model not only keeps those critical pairings together, but it also increases the frequency of secondary rivalries, like Ohio State-Illinois and Michigan State-Wisconsin, to twice every four years, a better pace than promised in the dated divisional setup.

It’s not ideal to limit the non-conference to 10 games, but it’s not ideal to have a league with 18 teams, either. There will be casualties of college football’s new world order, and cross-conference competition is one of them. 

When it’s every conference for itself, you might as well go all in.

CFB FAQs

How are college football bowl games determined?

Only bowl-eligible teams are selected for College Football Bowls. At the NCAA Division I FBS level, the standard by which teams become available for selection in bowl games varies. For example, in 2018-19 season, the team had to have at least as many wins as overall losses. Wins against non-Division I teams do not count toward the number of wins.

How do you play college football pick'em pools?

Simply pick winners from the games each week selected by the Pool Commissioner, either straight up or against the spread. Whichever member has the most points at the end of the season wins

What is a football pool?

"Football Pool" is a broad term for a group of people competitively guessing the outcome of one or more football games. There are many types of formats, each assigning winners differently. They can be played informally between friends or through a more formalized system. They are often considered a great alternative to fantasy football given the ease of playing, although there are fantasy football pools as well.

How to run a football pool?

How you decide to run a football pool varies greatly depending on the game type. In each case, however, you'll want to determine the rules and settings before you begin inviting members to join you. You'll want to clearly establish how score will be kept, how tiebreakers work, and how winners are decided before anything else.

How to play squares football pools?

Football squares are played by creating a grid, in which Team 1 takes the column and Team 2 the rows. In some cases, participants may claim as many squares as they like. In others, commissioners limit them to one. At the quarter times and end of the game, the winner is decided at the point the scores final digit intersect.

How do you setup a college football bowl pool?

To set up a college football bowl pool, you'll need to first choose if you will include all the games or specific ones. Then, you'll need to set the ground rules. As commissioner, you'll implement rules to ensure everything runs smoothly during the bowl games. Many use pool sites like RunYourPool to make the process easier.

What is a college football squares pool?

In a college football squares pool, a commissioner starts with a 10x10 grid of 100 squares (though commissioners decide to use smaller 5x5 pools). Members pick one or more squares in that grid. Winners are determined based on the score of each team after each quarter and at the end of the game.

How many squares in a football pool?

In a traditional football squares pool, a grid is sectioned off into 100 squares with 10 columns and 10 rows. This accounts for a direct relationship between each possible digit from 0 to 9 on both the X and Y axis. For smaller square grids like 5x5, multiple numbers can be assigned to each column and row.

How to read a football squares pool sheet?

In Squares formats, football pool sheets include a grid, where one team is the column and one is the row. Winners are determined at the end of each quarter when the last number in the team’s score (on each side) is matched to the numbers on the grid, and the intersecting square wins.

How do you setup a college football bowl pool?

To set up a college football bowl pool, you'll need to first choose if you will include all the games or specific ones. Then, you'll need to set the ground rules. As commissioner, you'll implement rules to ensure everything runs smoothly during the bowl games. Many use pool sites like RunYourPool to make the process easier.

How do you win college football confidence bowl pool?

The winner of a college bowl confidence pool is the member with the most points after all games have ended. Members rank each game based on how confident they are in their pick (44 points = most confident, 1 point = least confident). For each game picked correctly, members receive the number of points they assigned.

What is a college football bowl confidence pool?

Players try to pick the winner of every bowl game, assigning a point value to each game. Picks are made "straight up," not using a point spread system. Members rank each game based on how confident they are (44 points = most confident, 1 point = least confident). A winner is determined by totalling the point values assigned to correctly picked games.

How do you setup a college football bowl pool?

To set up a college football bowl pool, you'll need to first choose if you will include all the games or specific ones. Then, you'll need to set the ground rules. As commissioner, you'll implement rules to ensure everything runs smoothly during the bowl games. Many use pool sites like RunYourPool to make the process easier.

How do you win college football bowl pick'em pool?

As you might expect, the player who selects the most bowl winners will win their pick'em pool. You can win your college football bowl pick'em pool by choosing winners wisely, based on past performance, player starting status and other "intangibles."

What is a college football bowl pick'em pool?

In a College Bowl Pick'em pool members attempt to pick the winner of every College Bowl game (or a subset of games determined by the Pool Commissioner). Picks are made using the point spread system or "straight up", as assigned by the Pool Commissioner.

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