The Big Ten’s decision to move to a conference-only schedule will send dominoes tumbling throughout college sports. There are many stories to focus on. In this specific article, we will deal with the fallout for Group of Five schools, especially the schools from the three smallest Group of Five conferences: Conference USA, the Mid-American Conference, and the Sun Belt.
Of the three conferences, none will be affected more by the Big Ten’s move than the MAC.
ESPN noted that as a result of the Big Ten’s conference-only schedule adjustment, 36 different schools will not be able to play nonconference games against Big Ten teams. Of those 36 schools, 28 are from the FBS. Most of them are from the MAC, the Group of Five conferences which shares the same basic geographical footprint as the Big Ten. The B1G and the MAC have frequently played nonconference games against each other over the larger run of time. This severely cuts into MAC schools’ athletic budgets, which were already crippled by the pandemic due to losses from basketball season and other sports seasons.
What’s worse is that four MAC schools were scheduled to play two nonconference games — not merely one — against Big Ten opponents this fall: Northern Illinois, Ball State, Central Michigan, and Bowling Green. That is simply devastating.
Now realize what will happen if the ACC, Big 12, and SEC move to a conference-game-only schedule… or if merely two of the three adopt a conference-game-only plan.
If a Big Ten schedule adjustment affected 36 schools — with many of them coming from the MAC — this means the C-USA and Sun Belt schools which schedule games against Power Five opponents will be left in the cold as well. The ACC and SEC are natural scheduling partners for C-USA and the Sun Belt, since they also share geographic areas in the United States.
We all know that football revenues keep smaller athletic programs going. We are seeing, in real time, football revenues vanish for Group of Five schools at the bottom of the FBS food chain.
This is an overwhelming bloodbath, and it’s hard to easily grasp how severe a problem this is.
The most responsible thing to tell you right now: It’s only going to get worse, at least in the short run. How much this will reshape the college sports industry is impossible to measure, but changes — forced changes, not desired ones — are coming.