Q&A: Big Ten COO Kerry Kenny on football scheduling strategy and what comes next
The conference released opponents from 2024-28 for all 18 teams. How did it get there?
The Big Ten released its future football scheduling format and home and away opponents for all 18 teams from 2024-28. The format, dubbed the “Flex Protect XVIII” model, was a mad dash from the time Oregon and Washington were admitted to the Big Ten on Aug. 4 until now, two months and one day later.
The format builds off the “Flex Protect Plus” model that had been unveiled for 2024 and ‘25 back in June, when it looked as though only UCLA and USC would be conference newcomers for next season. In the new model, each of the conference’s 18 teams will face each other at least twice — once home, once away — across this five-year period, and rotating opponents will face off no more than three times. There are 12 protected annual rivalries as well.
The Inside Zone chatted with Big Ten chief operating officer Kerry Kenny to dive further into the schedule-making process, and to see what comes next for other sports as well.
Obviously this isn't your first rodeo. But I'm curious, in your role, knowing that what's true today in college athletics won't necessarily be true tomorrow, how nimble do you have to be with your job in relation to schedules? Once you released this model in June, did you mentally exhale a little bit, thinking the hard work’s done, at least in this department?
Kerry Kenny: Yeah, I think it's a fair way to characterize it. Scheduling in today's world, it's an every-day consideration. Certainly in the sports that have such a significant TV element to them, like football, men's and women's basketball, but even on the Olympic sports side of things, because our TV network partners have become so strategic in how they want to place games in windows and how our schools need to be so far on the forefront of the budgeting and planning process, whether it's due to the state of the airline industry with charters or just understanding how to promote future season-ticket sales, all those different types of things, it is absolutely a full-time, day-to-day position and conversation in our office at this level. And so, to get back to your question about June and when we announced Flex Protect Plus, I think there was obviously a sense of accomplishment, collectively for the office and for the schools, to get through that process. Because it was a 14-month process to really evaluate every possible angle, look at different models, different pathways, divisions vs. no divisions at that time. So you walk out of that thinking that you would put something into place that was at least going to be sustainable and celebrated once those games actually kicked off.
And then fast forward to August 4, and we announced that Oregon and Washington are joining the conference, got right back to work that weekend, working with Kevin Pauga, our scheduling consultant who's worked with us on multiple sports for many years. And the good part was that we weren't starting from scratch. We built something last time around with a 16-team format that had enough flexibility built into it where really all you had to do was open up a few new parameters, take a couple more travel considerations into effect because now you have four West Coast schools instead of two. But ultimately at the end of the day, the foundational principles that our athletic directors asked us to achieve with the 16-team format were the starting point and contributed to the eight-week really accelerated process to get this set of opponents out in that compressed timeframe.
I don't know if there was a hardcore spoken firm date deadline, but next season is next season. It's soon. I'm sure you felt under the gun while doing this just from a mental standpoint, but what was kind of the drop-dead timeline you guys gave yourselves internally to have at least these opponents ready for next year?