When Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany officially welcomed Nebraska to the conference, many fans were excited about the addition of another well-renowned athletic program - particularly from a football standpoint. The move also created a 12-team conference, allowing for a conference championship game (which of course showcased a phenomenal Wisconsin/Michigan State rematch in its inaugural game). But a major downside of the move is beginning to come more apparent.
Yesterday the Big Ten released the conference schedules for the 2015 and 2016 football seasons. Under the new format, teams play everyone in their division once a season and three of the six teams from the other division. For Wisconsin, it faces Minnesota in an annual crossover game, leaving the Badgers to play two of the remaining five teams in the Legends division each year. The system also works on a two-year cycle for those other crossover games. For example, the Badgers hosted Nebraska from the Legends division last season, so this year they will travel to Lincoln to take on the Cornhuskers.
Translation: the Badgers will only face Legends opponents (besides Minnesota) twice every four years, and endure a four-year hiatus with the last opponent from that division.
Go figure, the team Wisconsin will not see during the 2013-2016 seasons is Michigan State. The Badgers recent meetings with the Spartans have made it a budding rivalry and one of the most exciting series in college football. The two teams could still potentially meet in the Big Ten championship game but the chances of that happening are unlikely, and the resurgence of Michigan and Ohio State does not help.
ESPN.com's Brian Bennett does not see the matchup occurring much in the near future.
"It definitely hurts the budding rivalry. An awful lot has to go right for both schools to make the Big Ten title game in the same year. While I'm picking that rematch in '12 (for now), I'd be surprised if we saw it happen again in the next few years simply because of parity. It's a shame the two won't play for an extended period because those games have been really fun."
Unfortunately, the disappointment does not end with the absence of Michigan State matchups. UW, who last played Michigan in 2010, will not see the Wolverines again until the 2015 season. And although Wisconsin will play Iowa in the 2013 and 2014 seasons, that will add up to just two matchups in a six-year span for the battle of the Heartland trophy.
Wisconsin fans surely will not complain about facing Indiana and Purdue every season, but I am sure many would not mind seeing more classic Big Ten opponents like Iowa and Michigan. It is impossible to please everyone in these scheduling dilemmas, but it would be nice if there were not two and four year gaps in a series, because it is detrimental to some of the Big Ten's greatest matchups.
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Brian Bennett also offered his insight on the lack of games between Wisconsin and Iowa.
"It is a shame those teams aren't playing more frequently, because it's a good rivalry. This is the drawback of having a 12-team league. I would love to see the Big Ten adopt a nine-game schedule, but with the Pac-12 agreement that's extremely difficult."
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