As reported in many sources, the Big Ten has elected to extend the football season to 13 weeks. Beginning in 2009, the last Saturday of Big Ten games will be two days after Thanksgiving. Although I certainly support extending the season so that Big Ten teams are not forced to play 12 weeks in a row, I would have preferred that the Big Ten extend the season two weeks and schedule the Big Ten finales for the first weekend of December, the weekend when the ACC/Big 12/SEC play their championship games and the Big East and Pac-10 end their regular seasons.
I don't like this move for a couple of reasons. First, it puts students (including but not limited to football players) in a bad position. Most college students welcome the opportunity to get away from campus for a few days before the crush of final exams. Now, students will have to decide whether to cut Thanksgiving break two days short or whether to skip what for many Big Ten schools is the biggest game of the year. As some of the articles on this topic note, playing the rivalry games after Thanksgiving is not unprecedented (it happened most recently in 1995 and 2001), but under this new plan, it will happen every year. I'm not a fan of playing marquee home games, in football or basketball, when school is not in session. Essentially, school is out of session during Thanksgiving break.
The second reason, an issue that many Big Ten schools do not face, is attendance. The 1995 and 2001 Bucket games, both played in Bloomington, were poorly attended. Memorial Stadium, which opened in 1960, has hosted 24 Bucket games. Only four of those Bucket games drew fewer than 40,000 and all four were played after Thanksgiving: 1961, 1963 (delayed a week because of the assassination of President Kennedy), 1995, and 2001. I hope that IU's football fortunes continue to improve, but even if this isn't IU's problem it will be someone's problem. Schools like Michigan and Ohio State will have no problem selling unused season tickets. Other schools won't have much luck.
I realize that the conference's "broadcast partners" may not have liked this, but the Big Ten should have extended the season by two weeks, giving Big Ten schools 14 weeks to play 12 games. The nine week Big Ten season would start one week late, with the eighth week of the Big Ten season falling the Saturday before Thanksgiving. No conference games would be scheduled on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, but schools would be free either to give their players a few days off or to play a nonconference game that weekend. Then, with students back in town but before exams begin, play the Big Ten rivalry games. I agree that something had to be done, but I think the conference is making a mistake.