The Big Ten Conference announced its new football scheduling format Thursday, which involves a move away from the current two-division format and instead sees each team assigned a flexible number of permanent yearly opponents. The league will continue with a nine-game conference schedule, with the remaining league games on teams’ schedules comprised of a rotation of non-permanent opponents.
The new format, called the “Flex Protect Plus” model by the league, will kick in for the 2024 season, coinciding with the additions of UCLA and USC as the 15th and 16th members of the conference. It guarantees that every team will play every other conference opponent at least twice in a four-year period, once home and once away.
Under the new system, Maryland will play Rutgers every year as a protected opponent and will face Indiana and Michigan as “two-play opponents,” meaning they will play both home and away in 2024 and 2025. Each team’s two-play opponents will change every two years.
Penn State is the only team without an assigned permanent opponent, and Iowa is the only one to have three. The format, according to the conference, was designed to allow for “control and flexibility” and create better access for the league into the College Football Playoff. It also allows for traditional rivalries to continue, like Michigan-Ohio State, USC-UCLA and Wisconsin-Minnesota, among others.
The conference’s announcement also included each team’s opponents for the 2024 and 2025 seasons. In addition to a home game against Rutgers, Maryland will play Illinois, Indiana, Iowa and Michigan on the road in 2024, while hosting Michigan State, Purdue, Rutgers, USC and Wisconsin. In 2025, the Terps will host Indiana, Michigan, Nebraska and Penn State, and go on the road to take on Minnesota, Northwestern, Ohio State, Rutgers and UCLA.
The Big Ten is the final “Power Five” conference to make the decision to void divisions, and the move was considered by many to be an inevitability once other conferences began to do so and the addition of two West Coast schools was announced. The Big 12, ACC and Pac-12 have already implemented a format where the teams with the best two conference records compete in the championship game, and SEC will do so in 2024 when Texas and Oklahoma become league members.
The Big Ten first implemented divisions for the 2011 season, splitting its then-12 conference members into “Leaders” and “Legends.” When Maryland and Rutgers joined the conference in 2014, those divisions were replaced with the current geographically-based ones. The West Division is comprised of Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, Northwestern, Purdue and Wisconsin, with Purdue being the only team in the West Division not in the Central time zone. The East Division includes Indiana, Maryland, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Penn State and Rutgers.
The West Division’s representative in the Big Ten championship game has never defeated the top team from the East Division in the nine matchups since the two divisions were created. In that span, Ohio State has won five championships, Michigan has won two and both Penn State and Michigan State have a single conference title.
Additionally, Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State are the only teams from the conference to have qualified for the College Football Playoff, which also began in 2014 and will expand from four teams to 12 in 2024.
Maryland is considered by many to be one of the Big Ten programs with the most to gain from the abolition of divisions. Since joining the league, the Terps are 8-16 (.333 winning percentage) against West Division opponents and 15-36 (.294) against East Division opposition, with 10 of those wins coming against either Indiana or Rutgers. Against the quartet of Michigan, Michigan State, Penn State and Ohio State, Maryland has a combined record since of 5-28 since 2014.
Maryland’s splits against Big Ten opponents since joining the conference