Hello, Penn State fans!
The Big 10 has expanded to 12 teams. Instead of adding another team from the East and giving us an Eastern rival, we're left with a long plane ride halfway across the US. So there have been lots of discussion and rumors concerning divisions for the conference.
From a purely geographical standpoint, the obvious divisions would be Eastern and Central Time Zones ("West" just seems wrong for teams east of the Mississippi):
Eastern: Penn State, Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State, Indiana, Purdue
Central: Illinois, Northwestern, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska
Many interested parties are concerned with the competitive balance of the two divisions. Well, we know Michigan is down, so that shouldn't be the case. I would think Iowa, Wisconsin, and Nebraska kind of balance out the west.
Even if one division is stronger than the other, is that really a bad thing? Most of the power in the old Big 12 was in the South. But in the end, the Big 12 South champion has won the last six championship games, five by double digit margins.
Does it really matter if a lesser Western division champion makes the title game if they will most likely lose anyway? The best team wins in the end. Now, if a weaker divisional champ wins more than once in a while, then you have a competitive balance issue.
You can argue that the divisional balance broke up the Big 12 and hurt their conference. First, I can't see the geographical outliers Iowa or Nebraska leaving the conference (especially if the revenue is split evenly which it wasn't in the old Big 12) and if they do, we can easily replace them with Big East schools that would join our conference in a heartbeat.
Many proposals have our Lions in a division with Nebraska and away from Ohio State and Michigan. Being an alum of Penn State, these two games were the ones circled on our calendar. How would you like these two games off the schedule on a semi-regular basis?
Penn State supposedly joined the Big 10 for rivalries with Ohio State and Michigan (and to a lesser degree Michigan State). We didn't join the league to make rivalries with Iowa, Minnesota, and Nebraska.
Nebraska is over 1,000 miles away from Penn State. If Nebraska and Penn State are in the same division, Penn State would have to travel to Lincoln every other year. Do you want to make that trip every other year?
It may be fun for you to watch on TV, but I can't imagine it would be fun for Joe Pa, the assistants, and the players to make the trip.
Most of the proposals I have seen with Penn State and Nebraska in the division also include Iowa. So, take the team farthest east and put them in the same division with the two Big 10 teams west of the Mississippi River. I imagine many of them would put Minnesota in the same division (rivalry with Iowa) which will just add to the air miles for our Nittany Lions. That would put us at a pretty big geographical disadvantage.
Would a spot in the "Central" (moving one of the Central Time Zone teams to the other divsion) do Penn State a favor? Penn State is close to 50-50 with Ohio State recently and Iowa has dominated the Lions most of the years in recent memory (including costing us an undefeated regular season the year we won the Big 10).
If trading Ohio State and Michigan for Nebraska and Iowa would put Penn State in an "easier" division, the extra travel and lost rivalries may be worth it. I don't see the switch as any easier.
Obviously, taking Penn State away from Michigan and Ohio State isn't doing the Nittany Lions any favors. Are we doing Ohio State and Michigan a favor then? I would imagine Ohio State would rather play Penn State on a regular basis than any team in the Big 10 other than Michigan. Tell me I'm wrong, Buckeye fans.
Now if they swap Penn State for Wisconsin, that's not making the Eastern division much easier. If they swap Penn State for a bad team, then the Eastern would be pretty weak with the Central having four of the top six (Penn State, Wisconsin, Iowa, and Nebraska) - even weaker if Michigan stays down.
Honestly, I see nothing wrong with Penn State, Ohio State, and Michigan in one division and Nebraska, Iowa, and Wisconsin in the other. The rivalries between Penn State and Ohio State and Michigan would remain intact. It would lessen travel for the entire conference as it would save Nebraska and Iowa from having to travel to Penn State every other year.
In the Eastern/Central split, all of the true rivals (not the meaningless Penn State / Minnesota rivalry, just because they play for a stupid bell) remain intact. The only current "permanent rivals" that would be separated would be Illinois/Indiana and Northwestern/Purdue. Would any of these schools miss any of their "rivals" in football?
I love Illinois's rivalry with Indiana in basketball. The only reason Illinois gets excited about Indiana in football is because they may actually win a game.
They don't separate the Yankees and Red Sox (that's an Eastern thing for you people west of the river), they should not separate Penn State from its two biggest rivals.
If we have to be separated from both of them, Penn State shouldn't swap with a Central Time Zone team. Put three Central Time Zone teams in each division.
Assuming Ohio State, Michigan, and Michigan State have to be together, then put us with the Indiana schools, Nebraska, Iowa, and Illinois (I'd love to have my two alma maters in the same division) and have Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Northwestern in the other. Call them "North and South".
But my preference is keep us with Ohio State and Michigan and away from Nebraska and Iowa (Eastern and Central).