Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany announced a new scheduling system for the league at Big Ten Media Days last week, which will go into effect in 2016. This new system prohibits league teams from scheduling FCS squads (although, since eight B1G teams have FCS games on the books for 2016, that might take an extra year to go into effect), and requires them to schedule at least one Power Five program. I asked Delany if this included BYU, and he said that it did. The conference also will move to a nine game conference slate in 2016, giving each B1G team three open slots to work with.
There was some speculation on social media that the new policy opens the doors for more BYU/B1G future schedules, but the truth may be a little more complicated. Let's break everything down.
Who considers BYU a P5 program right now?
All three conferences with a P5 scheduling requirement, the SEC, the ACC, and the Big Ten, all consider BYU a Power Five program, at least for scheduling purposes. The Big 12 and the Pac-12 do not having scheduling requirements, but given that Pac-12 schools are a mainstay on BYU's schedule, it's fair to assume that BYU's status as an independent isn't hurting them as far as schedules are concerned.
Does this mean Big Ten schools are more likely to schedule BYU?
That's unclear. Multiple Big Ten schools didn't have a problem scheduling BYU before this ruling, after all. The Cougars have already played Wisconsin, face Nebraska and Michigan this season, and have future games scheduled with Michigan State and Wisconsin, with both currently scheduled to make trips to Provo. It is probable that Michigan State scheduled their home and home with BYU before they knew about the requirement, since they have another P5 team (Notre Dame, Miami FL) on the slate both times. I asked the school about this earlier in the week, and they couldn't confirm one way or the other though.
In practice, these new guidelines may not mean too much. Virtually every single one of the Big Ten's better teams is already in the practice of scheduling a P5 team a season (only this year's Penn State team, and the 2017 Wisconsin schedule lacks a P5 team, out of the top six B1G programs), and it's a little unlikely that FCS games will all be replaced with power teams. After all, a Northwestern or a Rutgers doesn't care that much about strength of schedule, since they're not competing for playoff bids. They care about making bowls and competing for conference or division titles.
Could any Big Ten teams schedule BYU in the near future?
This is by no means an exhaustive list, but there are two teams that seem like they could be a good candidate for games with BYU. One is Illinois. The Fightin' Illini aren't really in the position to be concerned about schedule strength, and will probably have a new coach by the time they could potentially play BYU, but they will be in the market for games. Illinois doesn't have a P5 game scheduled from 2017-2020, and they don't have the budget for any guarantee games, meaning they will likely be looking for home and homes.
A road trip to Illinois could be attractive to BYU on many levels. Not only is there is a decently sized LDS population in Chicago's western and southern suburbs that could make the drive to the game, but it's also a reasonable bus trip to Nauvoo, in case BYU wanted to take some extra time to show players some church historical sites. The Illini made a trip out west to Arizona State in 2012, perhaps they could be persuaded to take another one in the near future.
Okay, but Illinois isn't very good or particularly exciting. Anybody more interesting make sense?
I'm not saying this is happening, but a 2017 game between BYU and Ohio State makes a lot of sense. The Buckeyes are looking for a home game on September 16, which BYU has open, and after already having Oklahoma and UNLV on the schedule, Ohio State would ideally like a squad in between those two to give a complete schedule. Ohio State won't be able to make a return trip , but a team of BYU's caliber would make perfect sense in that slot.
Plus, Ohio State and BYU have discussed games before (BYU discussed making a trip to Columbus in 2013 to replace Vanderbilt, a game that eventually went to San Diego State), Mendenhall has said he'd like to play Ohio State, and BYU is missing some elite games in the 2017 slate. BYU would need to move some 2017 road games to make it work, but that's all certainly possible.
Wait, why wouldn't Ohio State come to Provo? Are they too good for us?
Well, not exactly. When projecting future schedules, it's important to understand a little about how the financials of these decisions work.
Most huge football programs, especially huge public school programs, need to play at least seven home games a season. This is because of political pressure from local governments (home games = spending on food, hotels, bars, that goes into the city economy), and because they need the game income to run other sports. Most Big Ten schools are in that category. It isn't just a competitive issue, it's one of budgetary necessity.
With a move to nine conference games, that essentially robs each school of a home game. In order to make sure that you get seven home games a season, many Big Ten teams can only schedule one out of conference road game every other season. That forces you to be very strategic about where you go. Are you playing your road games against elite competition, to get them to come to your house? Are you playing in areas where you recruit?
Ohio State does recruit in Utah, but they also have their road games scheduled out until 2024, featuring teams like Texas, Oregon, Oklahoma and Notre Dame. Its hard to argue the Buckeyes should move any of those to go to Provo. Instead, Ohio State can pay BYU around $1.3 Million dollars for a one off game, like Michigan and Nebraska are doing.
You need to have a huge stadium for the math to allow that big of a guarantee (Utah can't do it, for example), so few teams can buy guarantee games against good teams. The top end of the B1G can do this, but Illinois, or Maryland, or Rutgers, could not. Those are teams that could potentially go to Provo.
Even if this doesn't cause major schedule shifts, any formal recognition is a good thing for BYU football, and with the Cougar braintrust working on making future slates even more exciting, don't be surprised if another Big Ten team or two pops up.