Kevin Warren’s departure won’t delay Big Ten’s plans to change the football schedule, says Gary Barta, AD of Iowa

The departure of Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren will not delay the conference’s plans to change the direction of football scheduling for the 2024 season, Iowa athletic director Gary Barta said Thursday.

For several years, conference and school officials have debated partially changing or ending the east-west alignment in order to achieve a fairer championship game. There was momentum to enact changes for the 2023 season, coinciding with a new media rights agreement, until USC and UCLA accepted Big Ten invitations beginning August 2, 2024. Conference officials decided in October to delay any structural football changes until USC and UCLA participate in league play.

Warren, who was hired as the Chicago Bears’ team president and chief executive officer earlier this month, still attends conference meetings, but school officials have no interest in waiting for a new Big Ten commissioner before finalizing the structure.

“We’ve talked enough,” Barta said. “I think we’ve progressed far enough with the concept. And really, we can’t wait much longer. It’s really important to dock in ’24 and beyond. We’ve talked about different versions of it. We also talked about a range from 24 to some other away games so we can all plan. Maybe it’s a four or five, six year window that we hold on to so we can put our schedules together outside of conferences.”

Big Ten officials have scheduled their winter meetings for February 20-21 in Rosemont, Illinois.

“It could be completed this month,” Barta said. “We’ll definitely talk about it. That is on the agenda.”

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How it could look like

The conference will continue to play nine conference games, especially after signing new television and streaming deals with CBS and NBC and extending its contract with Fox through 2029. A competitive imbalance between the East and West divisions — particularly in the conference title game — has drawn criticism. East Division teams have won all nine conference championships between geographic divisions since the structure went into effect in 2014, and lead 90-77 in cross-division games.

The second-best team in the conference has resided in the East Division on several occasions, particularly in the last two seasons. But the problem is how to secure key rivalry games while maintaining consistent scheduling. Some schools would prefer to protect three rivals annually, while others have no preference.

Established priorities are to maximize participation in the College Football Playoffs and ensure that every player plays at least once at each venue over a four-year period.

“We talked about divisions/no divisions,” Barta said. “We’ve talked about protected rivals and either they all have the same thing or the concept that some schools have more, some have less.”

The simplest planning model is for each team to protect three opponents annually and cycle through the others twice in a four-year period. The protected opponents could rotate after a four-year ban or remain permanent. The Big Ten now have that with Indiana-Purdue as a protected rivalry while the other East-West games rotate every six years.

“All this will be decided here soon, maybe at the next meeting,” said Barta. “Those are the creative conversations we’ve had.”

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(Photo: Scott Dochterman / the athlete) Kevin Warren’s departure won’t delay Big Ten’s plans to change the football schedule, says Gary Barta, AD of Iowa

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