Big Ten COO talks football scheduling strategy, Friday games, 7:30 p.m. kickoffs, placement of non-conference games and more

Kerry Kenny said there will be parameters for teams playing on Friday nights

The Big Ten is open to playing non-conference games in November as the conference expands to 18 schools next year and the College Football Playoff to 12 teams.

“It’s a conversation we’re open to,” Big Ten chief operating officer Kerry Kenny said on Thursday, following the release of the conference schedule rotation for the next five years.

“We haven’t had any in-depth discussions, but we want to be thoughtful.”

Rearranging the Big Ten schedule to accommodate a non-conference game in November would be a complex process that could take years to complete due to non-conference matchups under contract for the first weeks of future seasons.

Before the conference office can begin modeling scenarios, Big Ten schools and media partners must demonstrate sufficient interest to justify the process.

To date, the focus has been on determining the multi-year schedule rotation once the four West Coast schools join the conference next summer, according to Kenny.

By establishing a late-season Saturday for non-conference games, Washington and Washington State may be able to play the Apple Cup in a more traditional window once the schools are in different leagues. The same is true of Oregon and Oregon State. (The future of both rivalries is unknown after this season.)

But, according to Kenny, there is one strategic consideration that would affect every school: putting as many teams as possible in position to make the playoffs — and be fresh enough to thrive in the postseason.

Another factor to consider is the SEC.

The new playoff format includes four rounds. Teams that compete in conference championship games and then compete in the CFP’s first round must endure a grueling schedule in November and early December, with one week off before the CFP.

In the 2024-25 seasons, the playoffs begin in the third week of December. Details for 2026 and beyond, when a new media contract takes effect, have yet to be determined. However, if the format is similar to the 2024-25 schedule, a non-conference game in early or mid-November could provide much-needed relief.

For years, the SEC has set aside the first Saturday in November for non-conference cupcakes in order to keep its teams fresh for stretch-run matchups — all while playing only eight league games.

With the additions of USC, UCLA, Oregon, and Washington, as well as the requirement that teams play nine conference games, the Big Ten grind could become far more difficult.

Of course, the media partners would object to any plan that left them with no high-level matchups on a particular Saturday. As a result, the conference couldn’t allow everyone to leave league play on the same day. (Not even the Securities and Exchange Commission does this.)

To even the field with its rival, the Big Ten should consider hitting the refresh button in some way — late-season byes are another option.

The changes in conference composition, combined with the difference in league games and the SEC’s November cupcakes, could put the Big Ten at a significant competitive disadvantage, affecting CFP participation, seeding, and success.

Making the first or second Saturday of November available for non-conference games could be a viable mitigation strategy.

Kenny also discussed several other scheduling-related topics:

“Our athletic directors have charged us with getting them a draft for review this month,” he said of the 2024 football schedule. There could be several revisions at that point before the final version is approved.

— On ground rules for teams playing on Friday nights, specifically what was expected of the team the previous Saturday. “We’re working with our network partners to nail down what all those parameters would look like.”

Kenny added that the Big Ten would first and foremost apply the “common sense test” to ensure that the schedule “doesn’t undermine, on paper, a team’s ability to compete for the championship.”

— West Coast teams playing at home at 7:30 p.m.: “That’s a topic of conversation not just with the schools on the East Coast but our 14 members in the Eastern and Central Time Zones,” he went on to say. “We need to be strategic.”

— On whether the Oregon-Washington game would be played on the final weekend of the regular season because it is a protected rivalry game under Big Ten rules: “We haven’t in earnest put pen to paper,” he told me. “We’re still discussing the model with both institutions.”

— Regarding the release of men’s and women’s basketball home-and-away opponents for the 2024-25 season: “There is no definitive timeline,” he went on to say, “but for the non-football sports, our goal is to have the schedule formats pinned down by the end of the calendar year.”

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