Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema has an innovative idea that could alleviate the problem of nobody having played anybody: an SEC-Big Ten Challenge.
Bret Bielema said it would be cool to have the SEC and another conference -- maybe the Big Ten -- play every year like in hoops. YES, please— Edward Aschoff (@AschoffESPN) November 18, 2015
Such an arrangement isn't uncommon for basketball. The ACC-Big Ten Challenge has been very successful, and has spawned others, like the SEC-Big 12 and the Mountain West-Missouri Valley. The Big Ten and the Pac-12 even briefly tried to create a scheduling partnership for football.
To save athletic directors from themselves, and guarantee that every fan base gets a good game, codifying a formal SEC-Big Ten challenge just makes sense. The SEC will be mandating anyway that all of its schools play at least one Power 5 team (or BYU, or, uh, Army) next season, and the Big Ten is doing about the same.
SEC and Big Ten schools boast some of the biggest fan bases in the country, and these games would all be financial successes. Like, let's close our eyes for a second, and pretend that we actually had these games to look forward to:
Ohio State vs. Alabama: This would be a prime "root for the meteor" kind of game for the rest of the country, so everybody would want to watch.
Indiana vs. Kentucky: Two programs that are evenly matched in football, and not-so-secretly really dislike each other, thanks to basketball and geographic proximity.
Nebraska vs. Texas A&M: A trophy game between two teams that used to be in the same conference and that seemed really excited to be in new conferences.
Northwestern vs. Missouri: The "actually, it's about ethics in sports journalism" bowl.
Maryla---OK, never mind. You get the picture.
How should this actually get off the ground?
The annual SEC/Big Ten Challenge should alternate between the second week of September and the second week of November.
If there is one thing Big Ten fans clamor for, it's for southern schools to visit, especially in the winter. Almost all of the bowl games are played in the South or other warm climates, and non-conference games against real teams that late in the season are rare.
With a little rejiggering of conference schedules, we can give Big Ten fans what they want and stave off SEC criticism of late-season Charleston Southern games in one swoop.
So we'll just use all that TV money to buy out any necessary game contracts, free up those weekends across the board in future years, and set up a system.
The SEC/Big Ten Challenge should use conference standings as a starting point to determine future matchups.
Part of the fun is that the matchups wouldn't be set seven years in advance, so the odds of getting competitive games would be higher. Using the previous year's conference standings is a good place to start (slotting last-place teams against each other, third vs. third and so forth, like the NFL does for cross-division matchups).
But like the Big Ten/ACC basketball challenge, we don't need to be married to the standings. Adjustments could be made to accommodate for geographic proximity, coaching or roster changes, what would be hilarious, etc. A team that punches over its head only to see its entire team graduate before facing Alabama might not make for the best television.
If we did that for next season, using this year's current conference standings (with Playoff rankings as tiebreakers, and with Bama ahead of Florida because, well, you know), we'd end up with the following games:
Or, how about ...
Or, how about ...
I dunno, most of those sound pretty fun! Maryland and South Carolina even have Under Armour's affections to fight over!
Sure, there are future games to get out of, but perhaps the TV rights could help smooth some of those buyout concerns. The other tiny details can be hashed out by ESPN people.
Let teams alternate between hosting and traveling each year, put the games on campus, and let the suits figure out the rest.