As the Big Ten expands to 14 teams with the addition of Rutgers and Maryland, Gene Smith thinks improvement across the conference will come down to individual schools making changes.
The Ohio State vice president and athletic director said in a July 7 interview with The Lantern the Big Ten is already doing its part to boost competition levels.
“The conferences is doing its job with the national exposure that we get to the Big Ten Network and all the other contracts,” Smith said.
He added this income gives the coaches and programs at Big Ten schools the resources to recruit highly-rated athletes and improve their own teams. Smith also said improving the conference’s national standing has to go beyond recruiting.
One step towards improving schedules could be eliminating games against Football Championship Subdivision opponents –– a practice OSU has steered away from over the past few years. Last year marked the first time the Buckeyes played an FCS opponent since they took on Youngstown State in 2008. That game ended with a 43-0 OSU victory, while the Buckeyes defeated Florida A&M 76-0 in September.
According to a February 2013 article by ESPN, Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez said the Big Ten agreed to stop scheduling FCS opponents across the board.
“The non-conference schedule in our league is ridiculous,” Alvaraz said on a Madison, Wis., radio show, according to the article. “It’s not very appealing.”
The article said the ban could start by the 2016 season.
Smith said the Big Ten’s new scheduling guidelines are hard to commit to for schools, but it is important to play major opponents.
“It’s very difficult to do, to say that you’re not going to play a (FCS) team,” he said. “That you’re going to play one major, at least, in your non-conferences schedule.”
Smith added the drive to schedule opponents who are easier on paper stems from the system of needing just six wins to qualify for a bowl game. He said he has never been a fan of that system and thinks it leads to teams trying to pad their schedules with less challenging non-conference games.
At the end of the day, Smith said it is still up to the individual schools to figure out how they can put their best product on the field year in and year out.
“As an institution, what do you do with your football coach to help him recruit the best talent to where you are so that you can get better?” he asked.
While there have been knocks on OSU’s strength of schedule throughout the years, it has been rare to see the Buckeyes not schedule at least one major non-conference opponent. Since the beginning of the decade, OSU has taken on the University of Miami (Fla.) and the University of California twice, and the team is set to take on Virginia Tech this season and in 2015.
While Miami and California were not at their peak performance levels during those seasons, Smith said OSU’s non-conference schedule is set to ramp up beyond the next two seasons. Between 2016 and 2023, the Buckeyes are currently scheduled for home-and-home matchups with Oklahoma, North Carolina, Texas Christian University, Oregon and Texas.
Scheduling better teams is a start, but Smith said there is still one more ingredient in the recipe for improving the conference’s reputation.
“I think our problem in the Big Ten is we need to go beat people,” Smith said. “At the end of the day, you’ve got to go beat non-conference people, so that’s something we have to do better.”
Beyond scheduling high-powered opponents, OSU has made changes to Ohio Stadium to boost recruiting as well as the fan experience at Buckeye games. Those changes include a new turf field, additional seats in the south stands and permanent lights to help the scheduling of night games.
Smith said these additions are part of a plan for the future but can help recruiting off the bat, especially as OSU’s schedule begins to include more prime-time starts.
“Recruiting is off the chain, we know that,” Smith said of the atmosphere at night games. “Because it’s a cool environment.”
He also said there is a novelty to night games, so the school has to be sure not to schedule too many or too few.
In a May interview, associate athletic director for facilities operations Don Patko said the stadium project had a deadline set for Aug. 14. As of July 7, Smith said the project was still on schedule and within the initial budget of $8.9 million.
The OSU football team is scheduled to begin its season Aug. 30 against Navy in Baltimore, Md., at noon. The first game of 2014 at Ohio Stadium is scheduled for Sept. 6, when OSU takes on Virginia Tech at 8 p.m.