The Big Ten is talking tough

Jim Delany
"We demand the not-quite-weakest of your weakest…" (Photo: USA Today Sports.)

In conjunction with the beginning of Lent, the Big Ten is giving up cupcakes.

Yet, while a sugar fiend would only have to sweat out 40 days of abstinence, the country's most prestigious athletic conference apparently plans to go cold turkey on scheduling games against resume-fattening FCS teams for good.

Some pundits have praised the B1G for its willpower. Meanwhile, advocates of lower-division athletics are lamenting that the league's crash diet could start a chain reaction that would starve out smaller football programs and athletic departments.

(And so ends the food theme, mercifully.)

The issue of the de facto subsidizing of lower-division programs with paycheck match-ups definitely deserves consideration as a matter of policy, but I’m more interested in what Sith-like overlord Jim Delany is really up to.

In the decade between the 2003 and 2012 seasons, B1G teams played a total of 68 contests against FCS squads, running up a combined record of 62-6 (.912), according to During that same period, B1G teams had a combined record of 182-39 (.824) against FBS teams from outside of the major conferences. Assuming B1G teams kept beating non-AQs at the same clip, switching in non-AQs for FCS opponents would have cost the conference a grand total of six wins in 10 years.

In other words, recent history suggests that a date with a non-AQ presents just slightly more of a test for a B1G squad than an FCS body bag game. It’s akin to bypassing the wimpiest kid in the schoolyard to pick on the slightly taller one who plays the oboe.

Maybe the league intends to ramp up its non-conference scheduling with more contests against major conference teams? The rhetoric coming from the conference’s athletics directors last month about wanting to keep seven home games every year indicates that they don’t plan on setting up many home-and-home series outside the league. As such, I wouldn’t count on many of them filling up the slate with Texas or USC over Bowling Green and New Mexico.

The headline effect of the move is to send the message that unlike some of the other conferences – looking at you, SEC – the badasses in the B1G won’t stoop so low as to just buy easy wins by pounding on weaklings. When the selection committee members are trying to figure out who gets in the new postseason mix and who gets left out, you can bet that will be high up on Delany’s list of talking points. In practice, though, I suspect we’re really just talking about wrapping up marginally less crappy gift games in prettier packaging.