Penn State Nittany Lions: Gene Smith
ESPN/ABC has made its six prime-time picks for the upcoming season. One game already had been announced: Notre Dame at Michigan on Sept. 7.
Here's the full Big Ten prime-time schedule on ESPN/ABC:
Sept. 7: Notre Dame at Michigan, 8 p.m. ET, ABC or ESPN or ESPN2
Sept. 14: Notre Dame at Purdue, 8 p.m. ET, ABC or ESPN or ESPN2
Sept. 28: Wisconsin at Ohio State, 8 p.m. ET, ABC or ESPN or ESPN2
Oct. 5: Ohio State at Northwestern, 8 p.m. ET, ABC or ESPN or ESPN2
Oct. 12: Michigan at Penn State, 5 p.m. ET, ESPN or ESPN2
Oct. 26: Penn State at Ohio State, 8 p.m. ET, ABC or ESPN or ESPN2
The Big Ten Network soon will announce its prime-time schedule for the fall, most likely next Monday. The Big Ten had 14 prime-time games last season, and you can expect about the same total this year.
Some thoughts on the list:
- Although the Big Ten is now open to night games in November, none appear on this list. ESPN/ABC was able to fill its six-game allotment before the end of October, featuring two games involving Notre Dame and four Big Ten matchups. An ESPN platform will televise a Big Ten matchup in prime time five of six straight Saturdays from Sept. 7 to Oct. 12. There are certainly some appealing games in November that could be played at night, but the networks chose to pass this time around. So if you're upset, blame TV.
- Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith has been vocal about the fact the Buckeyes typically play two road games at night and just one at home. Smith wants more night games at The Shoe -- so does coach Urban Meyer -- and he gets his wish as Leaders Division foes Wisconsin and Penn State both visit Ohio Stadium at night. Not surprisingly, the Buckeyes make more ABC/ESPN prime-time appearances (3) than any other Big Ten team, as they also visit Northwestern.
- Speaking of Northwestern, the Wildcats have to be thrilled with an ABC/ESPN prime-time game at Ryan Field. Pat Fitzgerald's crew could/should be 4-0 and coming off of a open week when Ohio State comes to town for Northwestern's Big Ten opener. It will be the most anticipated Northwestern home game in recent memory.
- I really liked the late-afternoon/early evening kickoff for Ohio State-Penn State last year at Beaver Stadium. Penn State gets another of these as Michigan comes to town on Oct. 12. Could a whiteout be on tap? Let's hope so.
- The ABC/ESPN prime-time slate features most of the Big Ten teams projected to contend for a championship -- except one. Nebraska has to be a little disappointed to be left out, although the Huskers' schedule in September and October -- when Big Ten prime-time games are typically played -- is very dull. A Week 3 matchup against UCLA likely will be a late-afternoon kickoff.
- Love 'em or hate 'em, Notre Dame remains a major national TV draw. The Irish will play a night game at a Big Ten stadium for the fifth consecutive season and two road night games against the Big Ten for the second time in three years.
What do you think of the ABC/ESPN prime-time schedule?
Delany told ESPN.com on Monday that the Big Ten continues to explore possible affiliations with other leagues, both for bowl games and non-league scheduling. The Big Ten will be increasing its conference schedules to nine or 10 games, reducing the number of nonconference games by one or two per season.
"We would like to discuss [partnerships]," Delany said. "We were disappointed that the [Pac-12] collaboration didn’t work. Whether we're at nine or 10, there will be fewer nonconference games, but we hope the fewer are better improved in quality. We would be very energized to sit down with others who were interested in also upgrading their schedules to see how we could do that."
Delany points out that different Big Ten programs have different goals, whether it's competing for national championships or making bowl games on a regular basis. But the message from the league office to its members is to push themselves more in non-league scheduling.
"What we've got to do is upgrade," Delany said. "It doesn't make any sense to be playing people from different divisions with fewer scholarships [FCS]. It doesn't make sense for everyone to be playing Southern Cal and Texas, but there's comparability there that we could seek out. We're trying to find out ways that we can create fair schedules, good schedules, healthy schedules for our teams, our players, our coaches and our fans."
Creating healthier bowl matchups also is an objective for the Big Ten. One idea gaining steam is to increase the flexibility of the selection process by sharing tie-ins with other conferences.
The Big Ten continues to have conversations with other leagues and bowl games as it prepares for its next lineup -- beginning in 2014 -- one built around " keeping things fresh for the fans and for the players and for the bowls," Delany said.
"If you have someone who goes to the same bowl three years in a row, that’s problematic," Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith said. "Even two years in a row is problematic. So how do we change that model?"
The Big Ten has valued its alliances with the Rose Bowl in football and with the ACC in basketball. Other leagues like the Big 12 also are motivated to form similar partnerships.
"The problem with partnerships beyond two or three or four is everybody has different objectives," Delany said. "Simple partnerships are easier than multilateral partnerships, but we'll explore both."
The entire bowl business could soon have a dramatically different look.
Several conference commissioners, including the Big Ten's Jim Delany, publicly discussed the need to change the bowl business model earlier this month during the week of the national title game. Declining bowl attendance is a concern, as are issues such as ticket distribution and the selection of teams. The Big Ten's athletic directors will discuss the future of the bowls when they meet next month at league headquarters in Park Ridge, Ill. -- they'll tackle not just the who, what, where and when, but the how and the why.
Several Big Ten athletic directors we contacted talked about having a more "national" bowl lineup beginning in 2014. They might as well have substituted the word "flexible."
Right now, the Big Ten's bowl lineup contains heavy doses of SEC, Big 12, Florida, Texas and Jan. 1. The selection order is fairly rigid. As a result, we've seen teams go to the same bowl in consecutive seasons (i.e. Nebraska at the Capital One in 2012 and 2013) or to the same state for a number of years. Wisconsin played in six consecutive bowls in Florida from 2004-2009, including back-to-back appearances in both the Capital One and Champs Sports Bowls.
The repetition problem exists even outside conference bowl tie-ins. Ohio State went to Arizona four times in a five-year stretch, three times for Fiesta Bowls (one of which was the national championship) and once for the BCS title game.
"I used the term bowl fatigue," Ohio State AD Gene Smith told ESPN.com. "When you go back to the same place multiple times the novelty is lost."
The key to preventing bowl fatigue, several ADs say, is eliminating the rigidity of selections.
"We're going to try to get toward more looking at how do you put together a slate where you get good matchups, but at the same time avoid repeats the bowls don't want that either," Purdue's Morgan Burke said. "I don't know that we can unteach what people have learned over the years -- 'We have the next pick, and the next pick.' Maybe you don't do that this round. Maybe we say, 'You're going to get a Big Ten team, and it will be part of a selection process.'"
Delany has mentioned the possibility of collaborating with other leagues on bowl tie-ins, essentially sharing the spots depending on the year and the attractiveness of the matchup.
"This is about the fans and the fans' experience and us really listening to what they're saying," Northwestern athletic director Jim Phillips said. "It's been documented that repeat institutions and repeat bowls and repeat matchups is not a recipe for success. People want fresh and new and exciting matchups. Any way we can do that with those bowl tie-ins, I would be in complete favor of that."
The Big Ten hosted officials from 10-12 bowls last fall and will discuss possible tie-ins with the athletic directors throughout the spring. It's likely the Big Ten adds at least one new bowl on the East Coast -- the New Era Pinstripe Bowl at New York's Yankee Stadium certainly is in the mix -- and possibly another in California, where it currently makes only one postseason appearance (Rose Bowl).
Another huge component is ticket distribution. Many Big Ten schools struggled to sell their ticket allotments from the bowls this past year, as fans could spend much less for tickets -- often better seats -- in the secondary market.
"What we have to do is work with the bowls to take that impact off of the institutions but work closely together on a sales strategy," Smith said. "Let's forget about the institution being responsible for X, and the bowl being responsible for X and the local organizing committee being responsible for X. Look at your aggregator sales plan, then come up with a cooperative strategy to make sure we're selling the bowl out. We've just got to think differently than we have in the past, and think about pricing, and [tiers] of pricing and the venues and things of that nature."
The ADs are mindful of the upcoming playoff. Although they'll be tackling several important items in the coming months, the Big Ten's bowl lineup and the bowl system as a whole will merit close attention.
"The landscape is shifting with the 2014 playoff introduction," Barta said. "I want to make sure we keep the bowls relevant."
Oh, Gene Smith. If only Ohio State had self-imposed a bowl ban in 2011 before the NCAA did (for 2012), there's a good chance the unbeaten Buckeyes would be headed to some BCS game, perhaps the big one Jan. 7 in Miami.
As it stands, Ohio State is out of the mix (along with Penn State), and Michigan, despite two losses to top-10 teams, looks like the Big Ten's best bet to reach the Rose Bowl. The Wolverines have been dominant in their first two Big Ten games, and enter a crucial Legends stretch against Michigan State and Nebraska. Right now, Brady Hoke's squad clearly is the team to beat.
Wisconsin makes a nice move in the projections after dismantling Purdue at Ross-Ade Stadium. Following back-to-back trips to Pasadena, the Badgers are pegged for a familiar bowl site -- Orlando, Fla. -- in the Capital One Bowl. Nebraska drops a spot in the projections, partly because of its struggles and partly because it visited the Capital One Bowl last season. Iowa, meanwhile, moves up after its road upset of Michigan State. Although Iowa and Northwestern could finish with similar records, Iowa's larger fan base gets it the nod to the Gator Bowl.