Expansion fever has slowly cooled off around college sports (for now) and the realities of a 12-team Big Ten are set. The real work begins now.
With a bevy of issues to solve, the conference must start with the basics. Before even determining divisions the Big Ten should establish two main components.
The amount of conference games played per year should be first on the list.
Should the conference stick with eight games or add an additional ninth? The choice is an easy one, and adding that extra game is a must. It may only leave three out-of-conference games, but it will help maintain and build new rivalries.
It will also improve many of the teams' strength of schedules around the conference. Having less opportunities for teams to fill open dates with Football Championship Subdivision teams is better for all of college football.
Next, figure out the Big Ten yearly matchups that will never go away.
Michigan vs. Ohio State, Iowa vs. Wisconsin, Illinois vs. Northwestern, Indiana vs. Purdue, Michigan vs. Michigan State...and so on.
From there, add in the Nebraska games that would make sense.
Nebraska vs. Iowa is first and foremost a must, then Nebraska vs. Ohio State and Nebraska vs. Wisconsin. Most Big Ten schools have multiple rivalries, and these three would be a good foundation to start.
With the must see matchups set, let us make up the divisions within the Big Ten. The name debate is a whole issue on it's own, so we'll just stick with the teams.
Division 1: Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Northwestern, Penn State, Wisconsin
Division 2: Ohio State, Iowa, Purdue, Indiana, Illinois, Nebraska
These divisions are split up with a North vs. South style, but it also allows rivalries to be maintained. Each team generally has one rival from the other division and is able to maintain other rivalries within.
Big Ten Football Scheduling
After previously setting the Big Ten schedule for the next three years, Jim Delaney and crew must rearrange some dates to fit Nebraska in.
If Delaney really wanted to make a statement he would demand all Big Ten teams play other FBS squads in their three open games. But that won't happen.
With the above outline set, creating a schedule should not be difficult. Nine Big Ten games would be played, leaving three open spots.
First, five of the games would be played within their division. Next, the remaining four would be played out of division. With only one true rival in opposing divisions the remaining three squads would be on a home and away rotation.
For schedule changes the next few years, the Big Ten should set up a system where the furthest a team travels occurs early in the season. If Nebraska must play Penn State or vice versa, that should be an October game or following a bye week.
The only games that would be trouble to move are homecoming days for the next few years. It would not be difficult to keep all of those the same.
Finally, the Big Ten must add a championship game. With two divisions it's simply the two winners. Tiebreakers would be handled within the division first, followed by out-of- division records.
A championship game will help keep the Big Ten relevant an extra week and could see some great battles. The game should happen at a rotating neutral field. Supposedly inquiries have been made by Ford Field, Lucas Oil Field, and some others as to the prospect of the game.
Big Ten Basketball Scheduling
As the football season winds down, another starts up. Basketball should be easier to manage for the conference in terms of scheduling, but one move must be made.
A few years ago, the Big Ten changed from a 16-game schedule to 18. At the time discussions for a 20-game season also existed. It is time to make the move up to 20.
There is no need to use divisions, but college basketball rivalries should be put at the forefront. For some reason the Big Ten does not take advantage of their best basketball teams. There have been years where Michigan State plays Wisconsin only once, or other top games. This can happen no more.
When teams are at the top, give them two games against each other at the top. While it may be difficult to perfect every year, certain teams have become basketball rivals. The unbalanced schedules are frustrating for coaches and fans. By adding another lackluster basketball team in Nebraska, the schedule may become more unbalanced.
If in 2011 a team gets to play Penn State, Nebraska, and Michigan all twice instead of MSU, Wisconsin, and Purdue, that would be unfair. Especially when another may get Purdue, Michigan State, and Ohio State twice instead.
A 20-game season will help prevent that.
No doubt it would be a grind, but the Big Ten season already is. And it should be about balance.
From there the Big Ten tournament can remain in Chicago or Indianapolis. The new tournament seeding is simple.
Teams 1-4 get a bye. Then 5 vs. 12, 6 vs. 11, 7 vs. 10, 8 vs. 9 all play out.
And then who knows, maybe two Big Ten teams will get top seeds come March.
Of course, when the Big Ten jumps up to 14 in another two years we'll have even more changes then.
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