Wisconsin worked mighty hard for the better part of two decades to solidify its place near the top of the Big Ten. Although not the cornerstone of the conference, the Badgers have been a fixture in the title race and a player on the national stage..
Now, with expansion in 2014 and the resulting new divisions, Wisconsin is looking at the fallout and wondering how it drew this hand. Sure, the Badgers end up in the West division where the path to a title is quite clear, but they also miss out on yearly dates with the three biggest draws in the conference: Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State.
After the home game against Penn State this season, the Badgers will not be seeing any of the three until 2016 at the earliest. And they have to hope it is a home game. If not, the fans in Madison can tack on another year without seeing the Wolverines, Buckeyes or Nittany Lions.
Throw in Michigan State, a school with which the Badgers recently have had a rivalry, and four of the Big Ten's six most appealing properties will be on at least a two-year break from visiting Madison.
For Wisconsin fans, that means the games against Nebraska—for 2014 and 2015—will be the most appealing in conference play, and only one of those will be at home. Northwestern's been a solid team under Pat Fitzgerald, but the Wildcats are not the same draw as the conference's upper-echelon teams.
In other words, the Badgers have a lot of Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota and Purdue to contend with in Camp Randall in the near future.
So, while the East division teams yearly dates with Rutgers and Maryland will not excite their fans, having Michigan, Michigan State, Penn State and Ohio State playing yearly makes it all worthwhile.
Meanwhile, Wisconsin has to patiently wait on the other side for the rotation to turn in its favor down the road and for the nine-game conference schedule to provide relief.
Badgers fans have to savor 2013 while they can. Bask in the home date with the Nittany Lions to wrap up the regular season. That is the last time you'll see them for a while. Expansion's been tough on smaller conferences, and while the Badgers will ultimately be all right, they certainly lose from an opponent standpoint for a couple of seasons.
Unlike the small conferences, at least Wisconsin will see relief in 2016 when the conference expands the schedule and rotates new opponents into Camp Randall.