Photo provided by Big Ten conference
The Big Ten conference is set to introduce an innovative football schedule model, “Flex Protect Plus,” in 2024. This model will include 11 protected matchups within the conference and eliminate divisions while promoting a robust overall rotation as the league expands to 16 members with the addition of USC and UCLA.
Maintaining a nine-game league schedule, the Flex Protect Plus model will ensure both guaranteed annual matchups and rotating ones. From 2024, every conference pairing will occur at least twice in a four-year span, with each game taking place once at each member school’s home stadium.
Annual protected matchups will feature a mix of historic rivalries and trophy games. However, the number of such matchups will vary among Big Ten teams. The list of protected games consists of Michigan-Ohio State, UCLA-USC, Minnesota-Wisconsin, Indiana-Purdue, Michigan State-Michigan, Iowa-Minnesota, Illinois-Northwestern, Iowa-Nebraska, Maryland-Rutgers, Iowa-Wisconsin, and Illinois-Purdue.
On Thursday, the Big Ten went on to announce all opponents for the 2024 and 2025 seasons. Specific dates for these matchups, however, will be finalized at a later time. The Flex Protect Plus model promises to add excitement to the Big Ten conference and enhance longstanding rivalries, providing fans with a thrilling and engaging football experience.
The Big Ten’s division-less model will showcase the top two teams battling it out in the championship game. Tiebreaker details are yet to be unveiled. Ever since the inception of the East and West divisions in 2014, the title has always been won by the champions of the East division. According to Kenny, despite their merits, divisions curtailed the occurrence of engaging matchups.
Presently, the Indiana-Purdue rivalry is the sole safeguarded yearly cross-division encounter. The Nebraska-Michigan series, where Michigan played at Nebraska in 2012, only to return in 2021, has been a topic of conversation too. Traditionally, home-and-home series operate on a two-year cycle, but under the new model, it is expected to span four to six years.
The Big Ten’s nine game conference schedule is anticipated to persist, while each team will scrimmage with one opponent from the other group of seven every year. This ensures that in a seven-year period, teams will have battled against all the conference opponents at least once.
The expansion of annual matchups, in turn, creates a renewed interest in cross-division games, benefiting both fans and television stakeholders. This format is expected to maintain the regular-season significance and add late-season intrigue to the competition.
Moreover, removing divisions opens the path to forge additional long-term rivalries. The new format provides flexibility for potential future expansion, while ensuring the sustenance of important rivalries, be it traditional or historical.
Hinging on approval from university leaders, this revolutionary structural change could commence from 2023 and will be the first instance of such a shift in the Power 5 conferences. Such a pioneering move by the Big Ten conference is likely to leave a mark on the college football landscape.