Lucas at Large: Alvarez sees challenges, opportunities in 9-game schedule

FB_110805_Alvarez_Barry.jpgUW athletic director Barry Alvarez believes that schools will have to get "creative'' with their non-conference scheduling when the Big Ten expands to nine league games in 2017.

During the odd-numbered years, beginning in '17, the Badgers will be one of six teams (three from each division) that will play only four Big Ten games at home and five on the road.

That will reverse on even years for those same six teams: five games at home, four on the road.

Wisconsin will be in a scheduling rotation with Penn State and Purdue from the Leaders Division and Michigan, Minnesota and Northwestern from the Legends Division.

"What you have to do is figure out how to get all three of your non-conference games at home during those odd-numbered years,'' Alvarez said. "You may have to buy somebody to come in.

"You'll still want to play at least one BCS school among those three. And then you may have to get whatever you can get. To be honest, I don't know if scheduling is going to get better or worse.

"But everyone is in the same situation.''

Alvarez does know that the nine-game league schedule has spawned plenty of discussion among the Big Ten's athletic directors and commissioner Jim Delany.

"There were arguments both ways,'' Alvarez said. "Everyone could live with eight or nine. But the commissioner, I thought, gave some really strong arguments for nine. And I agreed with him.

"For one thing, in our situation, it allows us to play Iowa and Nebraska six times in 10 years instead of four times in 10 years under the current format. I think that's what our fans would want.

"The TV inventory will also be upgraded; there will be more quality matchups between conference teams. That's also good for the fans, the league and our TV partners.

"In addition to all of that, by playing nine league games, instead of eight, we will be identifying a truer Big Ten champion. I just think it will be healthier for our league. I'm very pleased with it.''

Alvarez was an original proponent of the nine-game league schedule. But the more he thought about it, the more he thought about the SEC and the BCS, the more he pondered the ramifications.

"I looked at the SEC which has stayed with eight games,'' he said.

And maybe he couldn't help but look at the bottomline: an SEC team has won each of the last five BCS championships (Auburn, Alabama, Florida, LSU and Florida).

That has been the counter-argument to expanding to nine games -- the success of the SEC model -- a sentiment expressed by the Big Ten head coaches, including Wisconsin's Bret Bielema.

But an eight game league schedule has become the exception not the rule among BCS conferences. The Pac-10 has expanded to a Pac-12 and will play nine league games.

The Big 12 will also play nine league games among its 10 schools but will drop the title game.

All of that aside, how much tougher will it be to get Big Ten teams in BCS bowls? That was one of the things on Alvarez' radar when he considered the pros and cons of the expanded league schedule.

Will it cost the Big Ten a lucrative BCS bowl slot?

"I thought maybe it would have a bearing on that,'' he said.

In each of the last six seasons, the Big Ten has had at least two teams in BCS bowls. Since 1999, in fact, there have been only three times when that hasn't happened; the last time was 2005.

In the end, the advent of a Big Ten championship game may have a greater impact on BCS numbers. In general, one fewer league team may be bowling every season; the death knell of 6-6 teams.

The more Alvarez thought about the nine-game schedule, the more he liked it.

"Our fans deserve nine conference games,'' he said. "In the long run, it's good for the league.''
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