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Big Ten Sets Schedule, Makes Changes

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Big Ten Sets Schedule, Makes Changes

Indiana vs Michigan State in the mud last fall. Andy Marsh photo.

The Big Ten Universities conference has released its schedule for the fall of 2022.

The Conference has a new commissioner in Joe Rasmus, and a slightly new format as the conference is looking to expand. University of Notre Dame, not technically a Big Ten University but certainly a school that has a long history with Big Ten schools, has joined the conference. Rasmus said he is looking to bring more Big Ten schools into the fold over time, and as a result the conference has been split into East and West divisions, making the prospect of travel for some of the colleges a little less daunting.

The conference in its current format was founded in 2012 with the advent of D1A Rugby. The Big Ten and D1A remain aligned in their mission.

While the COVID-19 pandemic presented severely dampened operations and momentum, the league will get back on the front foot in 2022.

Conference Expansion

After the successful inclusion of Notre Dame and Penn State in the Spring 2022 Big Ten Rugby 7s Series, Notre Dame will join the Big Ten Universities Rugby Conference as a full member starting this academic year.

Notre Dame joins Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Purdue, and Wisconsin as current full members of the Big Ten.

“I am thrilled to have the Fighting Irish in our league," said Rasmus. "The program has a track record of performance and professionalism. I am confident Notre Dame will challenge our seven other members to improve and grow on and off the field. At the league level, we’re excited to have participation and feedback from Director of Rugby and Head Coach, Justin Hickey. Justin has a tremendous wealth of experience and we are fortunate to have him join our ranks.”

“We're excited to join the Big Ten Rugby Conference,” added Hickey. “First, we'd like to thank the Big Ten rugby teams for welcoming us. We're looking forward to providing our students with a meaningful conference competition in 15s and 7s and doing so with like-minded teams and institutions.”

Joining the Big Ten is perhaps a chance to add weight to the matchups that already dominate the Notre Dame schedule.

“As a program, we have a long history and healthy rivalry with a number of Big Ten Rugby teams dating back to our early years as a club," said Hickey. Formalizing that relationship makes a lot of sense.”

Competition Format

While the conference has traditionally played a single round-robin season with a championship game (and placement games) at the end, this year the conference splits into geographic divisions:

Big Ten Universities West: Illinois, Indiana, Purdue, Wisconsin

Big Ten Universities East: Michigan, Michigan State, Notre Dame Ohio State

Teams will play a three-match season within their division between September 2 and October 29. Most of these games are scheduled for later in the fall to allow teams to build up to the season and schedule non-conference games for development.

There will then be a semifinal round on November 5, with the #1 team from the East playing the #2 team from the West, and the #1 team from the West playing the #2 team from the East. There will also be a similar crossover semifinal for the 3rd- and 4th-place teams.

Finals Day will be played on November 12 at Stinson Rugby Field at the University of Notre Dame. There will be the Championship match, plus placement games for 3rd through 8th. There will also be a B-side final.

The new format was motivated by three factors:

Logistics of Expansion—if conference gets Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, or Penn State to join (and don't forget Northwestern, Rutgers, or Maryland), then being in a geographic division makes the travel component less difficult. 

Allow Programs to Schedule More Growth-Driving Parity Matches—jumping right into conference play can be tough for any team. This also allows teams within the BTU to play each other even if they are in different divisions.

Reduce Consequences for Experimenting & Focusing on Development in Early Season Matches. As explained: testing players in a conference match can hurt your chances of the making the final. This format allows teams to find out where they are in September.

To achieve a long-term expansion strategy, the Big Ten must keep travel burden and costs down to a manageable level.

“If student-athletes spend more time in vehicles, their grades can suffer," said Rasmus. "If programs spend more on gas, that’s money they cannot invest in the future of their clubs. Those outcomes are unacceptable for us. We are mindful to avoid those outcomes in our decision-making processes.”

Several years ago, the league experimented with a format to provide teams more games against evenly matched opposition. This resulted in more parity within the league, and Rasmus said he wants to get back to that.

“The old structure heavily punished early season risk-taking which likely puts a ceiling on team performance," said Rasmus. "And some groups just need time to jell and build continuity. A couple early losses could be a de-motivator for them and then they never achieve their potential. Or we could end up in November with the best team in the league out of the Championship game. Neither of those are desirable outcomes.”

Big Ten teams start their season in August, with Michigan hosting a non-conference game with Cincinnati, and Michigan State hosting a non-conference game with Western Michigan. 

Below are the conference games on the slate:

9/3 U. Notre Dame at Ohio State Big 10
9/10 Michigan State at Illinois Big 10
9/10 Purdue at U. Notre Dame Big 10
9/17 Michigan at U. Notre Dame Big 10
9/17 Illinois at Ohio State Big 10
9/17 Wisconsin at Michigan State Big 10
9/24 Illinois at Wisconsin Big 10
9/24 Indiana at Michigan State Big 10
9/24 U. Notre Dame at Michigan Big 10
10/1 Indiana at Illinois Big 10
10/1 Wisconsin at U. Notre Dame Big 10
10/1 Michigan at Ohio State Big 10
10/8 Indiana at Ohio State Big 10
10/8 Purdue at Wisconsin Big 10
10/15 Michigan State at U. Notre Dame Big 10
10/22 Illinois at Purdue Big 10
10/22 Wisconsin at Indiana Big 10
10/22 Ohio State at Michigan State Big 10
10/29 Purdue at Indiana Big 10
10/29 Michigan State at Michigan Big 10
11/5 Big 10 Semifinals at Top Seed Big 10
11/5 Big 10 Championships at U. Notre Dame Stinson Field Big 10