Questions on Early Season Scheduling
With times set for Nebraska's first two games, I figured it was time to break down some of the factors in Big 10 scheduling and TV early in the season. The Huskers are in an unique position in that they are going to get on TV regularly enough that they shouldn't bend over backwards for the networks, but they aren't Notre Dame or Michigan and should make some accommodations. This year, there's going to be a lot of debate over whether or not Nebraska gets a fair shake from ABC/ESPN, given how poor their schedule is. But enough talk.
Are night slots for Nebraska's first two games of the year enough of a makeup for not getitng the UCLA game in ABC primetime? It's not bad, but if Nebraska was to receive two BTN slots, one of them should have been a conference game. The bigger problem with BTN's primetime schedule is that the Big 10 bragged at its announcement about how it will broadcast the most night games it ever has, but last year there were more BTN night games after week four. Instead, by the time the third weekend of the season is over, there will only be two BTN night games, Missouri at Indiana on September 21 and Wisconsin at Illinois on October 19.
In addition, BTN's schedule seems to be trying to sell BTN in as many markets as possible. After playing on the Longhorn Network last year, Wyoming fans are once again being sold an out-of-region network. Syracuse is on BTN for the second year in a row. (Jim Delany, you'll be on in New York next year.) The greatest offenses are picking up the Washington-Illinois game in Chicago, dividing BTN's coverage that night between three games, and spiting the Missouri Tigers for not being patient enough to wait for the Big 10's timetable for membership.
Such blatant BTN-hogging of quality non-conference games is similar to what the Big 12 did when it let Nebraska's watchable games slip to pay-per-view so that bad games get some TV. In this case, it's not hurting league members, but it could hurt future non-conference scheduling. For example, if Nebraska calls Arizona about a home-and-home series, do you think the Wildcats will be amenable if they think there is a chance their marquee non-conference game will end up on a network most of their fans can't get?
Should the Huskers play their season opener on the Thursday or Friday? An area where the Big 10 has been progressive, this year Michigan State, Minnesota, and Indiana will all be playing before the Saturday of Labor Day weekend. This will be the third year in a row that the Spartans open on a Friday night, and Wisconsin opened on a Thursday night in 2011. Nebraska should, under the right circumstances, consider it.
AD emeritus Tom Osborne has stated in the past that college football shouldn't be played on Friday nights so as not to compete with high school football. Please Coach: college football is the big boys, and look how many great moments Friday nights have given us, from the beginning of Robert Griffin III's Heisman run in 2011 to Iowa State's upset of 10-0 Oklahoma State later that year.
Osborne also never wanted to upset fans' travel plans by playing on Thursdays. While the Huskers have played in many Thursday night road games, Lincoln has only hosted one Thursday home, a game against Rice that was rescheduled due to 9/11. But given how much traveling occurs on Labor Day weekend, a Thursday or Friday night game may only require minor travel adjustments. (Although with the Nebraska State Fair moved to Grand Island, there is less incentive for a weekday game.)
But Nebraska shouldn't agree to such a game unless they are guaranteed a slot on ESPN or ESPN 2. These two days are crowded by mediocre programs, like Iowa State, Indiana, and Minnesota, who play here because they have to. On Labor Day weekend last year, Nebraska received a national window against C-USA's Southern Miss, so they don't need to move a game just for the sake of moving a game. But if next year, ESPN offers its 8 P.M. EST slot to Nebraska's opener against Florida Atlantic (given the Pelini brothers-subplot, would be a reasonable request), they should take it.
Should the Huskers play a conference game in the first three weeks of September? After ABC passed on Nebraska's soft schedule when picking primetime games, the answer is a resounding “Yes!” Not only for the exposure, but it's ideal for teams trying to make good bowl games.
The Big 10 made a mistake in backloading its schedules with too many tough games in a row. The SEC has figured out the formula to get into more BCS games and the Title Game: play a challenging game early and save a cupcake for November. As bad as Alabama's loss to Texas A&M was, how much worse could it have been if the Tide would have had to play improving Ole Miss the week after ? Saban and crew probably would have won, but why take the chance?
With too many tough games in November, the Big 10 risks having a top teams fall out of a BCS bowl (or in a year, another top tier bowl game). Instead, have everyone play a semi-tough conference game in weeks two or three to set up the conference races. If were going to propose a Nebraska conference game for this September, I'd pick Penn State. It would be a September road game, which Nebraska doesn't have this year. Penn State may not be as strong in November as well know they will be in September, and it could introduce top quarterback recruit Christian Hackenberg to the naion.
Other candidates I'd consider for Big 10 September conference games this year: Michigan at Iowa, Michigan State at Northwestern, Ohio State at Illinois, Purdue at Penn State.
Derek Johnson is a Seward Nebraska native who works for his family's organic farm seed company, Blue River Hybrids, and is a freelance writer and commission photographer. He has been a contributor to Husker Max since 2013, and is a former contributor to the website Husker Locker. Visit his blog, derekjohnsonmuses.com, and follow him on twitter @derekjohnson05 for regular updates.