After failing to post a winning record in bowl season over the last six years – including last winter's dismal 1-6 showing – the Big Ten may follow the lead of Illinois coach Ron Zook and Wisconsin's Bret Bielema, who have scheduled non-conference games in December. The idea is that by reducing the number of days between the end of the regular season and a bowl game, Big Ten teams might lose less timing and stay sharper.

Maybe playing football in December can help the Big Ten Conference in January.

What does the conference have to lose?

After failing to post a winning record in bowl season over the last six years – including last winter's dismal 1-6 showing – the Big Ten may follow the lead of Illinois coach Ron Zook and Wisconsin's Bret Bielema, who have scheduled non-conference games in December. The idea is that by reducing the number of days between the end of the regular season and a bowl game, Big Ten teams might lose less timing and stay sharper.

Normally, the Big Ten schedule is completed the weekend before Thanksgiving, creating as much as a six-week window before the bowls. But Illinois lengthened the season with two bye weeks and non-conference games to end the regular season with games against Cincinnati on Nov. 27 and Fresno State on Dec. 5. Wisconsin plays at Hawaii on Dec. 5.

"I maybe wouldn't have scheduled the teams that we're playing, but it's a great opportunity for our guys to prolong the season,'' Zook said. "Northwestern is traditionally our last game, and we're still going to have a couple games after that. That's one way we feel we can help ourselves.''

While Illinois runs the risk of playing its first-ever regular season game in December, when the turnstiles could be chilled by the weather and/or the Illini's record, Zook prefers the bye weeks that give the Illini a breather during the grind of the college season.

Illinois gets an off date on Sept. 19, the weekend before opening Big Ten play at Ohio State. Illinois also takes off Nov. 21, the final day of conference play.

Among the six power conferences, the Big Ten and Pac-10 are the only leagues that don't hold championship games. But the Pac-10 also doesn't end its regular season until Dec 5 – the same weekend conference championship games are played.

Most other leagues don't battle the elements in December like they do in the Big Ten. But Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany is ready to listen.

"The issue of playing games that late, it's probably worth a discussion because we've never had that before,'' Delany said. "Some coaches and athletic directors feel strongly about playing games later in the year to stay sharp.

"I'm not disturbed by it at all, but it is a trend. You are noticing something that hasn't been there before.''

Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez understands the dilemma. While coaching at West Virginia, the Mountaineers played Big East Conference games in early December. Reducing the number of days between the end of the regular season and a bowl appearance helps a team avoid losing its momentum, he said.

"Having six weeks as opposed to four weeks before you play makes a difference, because there is a difference in execution and rhythm and just playing the game,'' he said.

Penn State coach Joe Paterno agreed.

"Illinois and Wisconsin are doing a smart thing because we are at a disadvantage,'' Paterno said. "I felt that way when we played Southern Cal in the Rose Bowl. They had two games after we played. It's a tough deal for a Big Ten team to go out and play a team that's had two good, tough games after we've finished and we're sitting around.''

Ohio State coach Jim Tressel wasn't so quick to promote change.

"Part of me is an old traditionalist that I always enjoyed Thanksgiving weekend because my dad was a football coach and typically his season had just ended,'' Tressel said. "Our players really train all year round in our conference setup, and they have a chance to be home for an extended Thanksgiving weekend.''

John Supinie can be reached at Johnsupinie@aol.com.