For the past decade or so, Ohio State’s nonconference scheduling philosophy was often the same – play a number of mid-major schools, preferably those from Ohio, while sprinkling in one big game against a name opponent each year.
There was a good reason for that ethos. The one big intersectional game each year allowed the Buckeyes to be in the national spotlight, tested the team early in the campaign and occasionally served as the springboard to a championship season.
Meanwhile, the games against smaller conference opposition – almost always at Ohio Stadium – allowed the athletic department to pocket the millions of dollars of revenue that come with each home game, and playing fellow Buckeye State opposition allowed the money going back the other way to stay in-state.
It was a winning formula for the athletic department in a variety of ways, but it wasn’t always the most popular among fans who wanted the Buckeyes to play a nonleague slate of BCS-level opponents. Remember, OSU didn’t play an Ohio school from 1934 until playing Bowling Green in 1992, and an intrastate team didn’t venture back to Ohio Stadium after that until the Falcons returned five years later.
For those fans, then, there is some good news: Expect to see fewer so-called “guarantee games” in the future and more name programs on the Ohio State schedule.
The reason? The upcoming college football playoff that has college administrators scrambling to figure out what they’re going to do with their nonleague slates, and Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith has his answer.
“Our plan is going to change a little bit,” Smith told BSB. “We’ll shift a little bit and still try to schedule one top-10 team. We’re moving toward trying to schedule one top-10 and two top-40 opponents and somebody else.
“In a playoff, the nonconference schedule will have some weight. We don’t know how much yet, but we anticipate it being some factor in the formula, so we can’t do what we’ve been doing.”
The whole philosophy is shared by Smith’s fellow Big Ten athletic directors. After the ADs met a few months ago, they agreed their schools should step up the nonconference schedules in an effort to be competitive when the playoff begins in 2014.
“It’s the same thing, the same philosophy,” he said. “We didn’t get a directive from the commissioner. We talked about it as Ads in the context of the playoff and what we need to do differently."
Of course, the whole thing is easier said than done. One concern for the Big Ten would have to be the league’s struggles to compete in the national sphere, as the conference has only one winning postseason since 2003 and is only 4-8 this season against BCS-level opponents.
In addition, the logistics of football scheduling are difficult to say the least, as anyone who has watched the Big Ten/Pac-10 scheduling agreement fall apart or seen conference realignment derail any number of agreed upon matchups.
For Ohio State, the scheduling picture is pretty full for the coming years. Next year the Buckeyes will play Vanderbilt (as part of a one-time deal that does not include a trip to Nashville), host Florida A&M, return to California to complete the home-and-home and host Buffalo. The Buckeyes do not face an Ohio team for the first time since 1996.
The first year of the playoff in 2014, OSU has Navy (in Baltimore), Kent State, Virginia Tech and Cincinnati on tap. The 2015 schedule is not set but includes North Carolina, Northern Illinois and VT, while Oklahoma is the marquee team in 2016. That slate has Bowling Green, Tulsa and an open slot, while OSU has Oklahoma and North Carolina on tap for 2017 and Cincinnati on the ’18 docket.
Even that isn’t set in stone, though, as North Carolina wants to move one of the game days set for Columbus in 2015 and Chapel Hill in ’17. Even when a team is on the docket, it’s not always locked in, which is one reason why game buyouts have exploded over the years.
Smith said he hopes to announce a few things in the upcoming weeks, but he’s excited to see exactly who will end up playing OSU in coming seasons. His choosing of “top 10” and “top 40” teams is somewhat arbitrary at this point, but the AD is hopeful the Buckeyes will get to play in games fans will want to see.
“It is a little change and actually a good one,” he said. “There will be a lot of different teams we have not historically played. We’ll go to places we historically have not gone to because now you have to do a home and home with people, so you’re not going to find as many of the Vanderbilt or the Colorado deals we’ve been able to put together.
“Obviously for our fans, it’ll be new brand names that are coming into our environment.”