Big 10 Media Days Offer Clues to Conference Alignment

Big Red NetworkSenior Writer IAugust 4, 2010

By Brandon Vogel from Big Red Network

Jim Delaney said on Monday that the Big 10 is likely a month away from settling on a divisional structure for the 2011 season, but he did offer some further hints as to how that division will eventually take place.

Earlier this summer, Delaney said that the primary factors for determining the divisions would be (in order of importance):

1. Competitive balance
2. Preserving rivalries
3. Geography

The biggest news of the day for Nebraska fans involved the parameters for determining competitive balance. To do that Delaney said the conference would likely look a period starting in 1993. Below is what the future Big 10 looks like ranked by winning percentage from '93 to '09 according to Stassen:

There are a lot of theories out there regarding the eventual division alignment but almost everyone operates under the assumption that Ohio State and Michigan will stay together. Based on winning percentage, that makes Nebraska and Penn State playing in the same division almost a foregone conclusion.

But what's truly interesting is what will happen with Wisconsin and Iowa. Both seem like good, natural rivals for Nebraska, both have a number of their own rivalry games to hopefully uphold and both come in just below that first tier of teams based on winning percentage. Throw in their own trophy game that's been played 84 times since 1906 and splitting up the Badgers and Hawkeyes seems like something the conference would hope to avoid if possible.

If that's the case, Nebraska is looking at the tougher of the two potential divisions with, using the table above, the third, fourth and fifth best teams in the new conference in the same division. The Big 12 North it ain't.

But it seems like Delaney knows that. He also said that, while OSU and Michigan need to play a yearly game, that doesn't necessarily mean they have to be in the same division. So maybe there's a designated rival set up in the works. That would mesh with the third big thing Delaney intimated yesterday: a nine game conference schedule.

This is perhaps more interesting for what it might mean for non-conference scheduling but we'll save that for another post. For now let's just go back to the divisions.

BRN reader, the Ketch, sent us just about the best division setup I've seen a while back. Under his Big 10 designated rival plan the divisions broke down like this (each team is placed directly across from their rival):

Division 1............Division 2
Michigan.............Ohio State
Nebraska............Penn State
Michigan St........Minnesota

Under his plan, based on an eight game conference schedule, each school would play a) their division, b) their rival and c) two teams from the other division. With this setup each of the top six schools plays three of the other presumed heavyweights each year and each school preserves at least their top rivalry. (Michigan State-Minnesota isn't a trophy game, but the Gophers would keep their game with Wisconsin for Paul Bunyan's Axe.) Add a ninth conference game, something that's at least a few years off according to the commish, and you have even more rivalry saving options.

That's a truly balanced way to do it and, based on some of Delaney's comments, something that's at least on the table as the Big 10 considers its divisional setup.

Regardless of how it falls out, it seems like out of necessity the Huskers and Nittany Lions are headed for "rival" status whether they like it or not. I can buy it.

The school have only played 13 times but both feel like the other may have cost them a national title. That's a pretty good starting point. Beats what Penn State got when they joined with a forced rivalry against Michigan State.

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