The Big Ten announced today that starting in 2017, nine conference games will be played. The bulletpoints, some of which will be obvious:
- Since the number of regular season games a team can play (barring going to Hawaii) is still 12, this means one less non-conference game per year.
- Playing nine conference games per year means some Big Ten teams will play five conference home games and others will play four. Michigan State (along with Iowa, Nebraska, Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio State) will have five conference home games in 2017 and odd-numbered years thereafter, while Northwestern, Minnesota, Michigan, Penn State, Wisconsin, and Purdue will have theirs in 2018 and every even-numbered year.
- Nothing will change regarding the cross-division protected match-ups. The Old Brass Spitoon will be contested every year, you can safely retreat from the ledge.
What you will very likely see is teams playing all their nonconference games at home during the years they have four conference home games to ensure they have seven games' worth of revenue. Michigan State, like other teams, will have to do some opponent juggling from 2017 on if they want to ensure seven games in East Lansing every year. Let's start when the nine-game conference schedule commences.
2017: Alabama, at Notre Dame, South Florida, Western Michigan
MSU only needs two home games this year to get to seven, so the game at Notre Dame is safe, as is Alabama. Western Michigan will most likely stick as the MACrifical lamb, so the South Florida game is going to get pushed somewhere else. It'll be tricky as to where the Spartans play though -- they have one away nonconference game every year until possibly 2019 at the earliest.
2018: Central Michigan, at Eastern Michigan, Notre Dame
MSU will play four conference home games in 2018. The issue here will be how much it'll take to buy EMU out of this game, or at the very least have it in Spartan Stadium to reach the magic number seven. The other solution is to move it to 2020, when the only conference game scheduled is against Miami (Hurricanes, not Hawks). The Notre Dame will have to be at home this season.
2019: Western Michigan, Notre Dame
The Spartans will likely travel to South Bend for this one. WMU won't have to move, and a MAC or 1-AA squad will probably fill the third spot.
2020: Miami (FL)
All's fine and dandy. Schedule two teams that need a payday here and this season's nonconference games are all set.
2021: @ Miami (FL)
2022: @ Boise State, Notre Dame 2023: Boise State, Notre Dame
2024, 2025: Notre Dame
Switch around the home and away order for Boise State and everything should work. EDIT: Scratch that previous sentence. It looks impossible for Michigan State to honor both its contracts with Boise and ND and still have seven home games per year. One of the Boise State games will have to move somewhere else or be cancelled entirely. Also, 2023 could be a possible date where MSU travels to Tampa to take on South Florida. EDIT: Or not. Every other year before then has the Spartans traveling for a nonconference game or has them needing to play all games in East Lansing to get to seven home contests.
This isn't the dearth of good nonconference opponents some fear (that could still happen though, as contracts). It will be harder to get to a bowl game and get to the national title game, but isn't that what a majority of the fan base wants in a way? I've heard many times here that Michigan State needs to improve its nonconference scheduling, and it happened...sort of. Yes, it will be harder to get to a good bowl game/national title game (especially in 2017 -- Alabama AND Notre Dame?). However, as fans we'll have less weeks where nine or ten Big teams play 1-AA squads, and as a spectator I'd count that as a victory.