Big Ten Divisional Realignment, Rivalries and More

Matt BarkerContributor IAugust 6, 2010

PASADENA, CA - JANUARY 01:  Quarterback Terrelle Pryor #2 of the Ohio State Buckeyes drops back to pass against the Oregon Ducks during the 96th Rose Bowl game on January 1, 2010 in Pasadena, California.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

During the Big Ten media day in Chicago on Monday, the most informative speaker to walk up to the podium that afternoon was not one of the 11 head coaches who spoke to reporters, but rather it was the last one to step up to the microphone, Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany, who spoke on several topics.

Back in December, it was announced that the Big Ten was looking into expansion. On Monday, Delany discussed the topic. 

"We'll pause but we are not necessarily turning our back on expansion. We said we wanted to study it for 12 to 18 months. And we're only about six months into that study."

When you look at other potential expansion candidates, there really isn't one that stands out. The assumed list at this time figures to include Big 12 member Missouri, along with other possible candidates from the Big East like Rutgers, Syracuse, and Pittsburgh, plus ACC member Maryland. 

One school that doesn't seem to be in the expansion talk is Notre Dame.

"I don't see them as a player, really," Delany said. "I think (Notre Dame athletic director) Jack Swarbrick has been consistent from the beginning about their commitment to the Big East and their commitment to independence. And so I see Notre Dame playing in the Big East for many years to come. And I see Notre Dame playing as an independent in football for many years to come. So I take at face value Jack's statements in that regard."

Another tidbit that was learned on Monday is that the Big Ten hopes to eventually go to a nine-game conference schedule in the near future. Several coaches are opposed to this, including Ohio State's Jim Tressel.

"Probably the thing in my mind I thought wasn't a great idea for a nine-game was that we may have one of our Big Ten teams, they could be one of those special teams that year, and maybe make a run at winning the whole thing and then it just so happens they've got that five away games in-conference play schedule, and they end up dropping maybe one of those that hurts them and keeps them from the national spotlight," Tressel said. "So I've never been sure that it was the best thing for the conference.

"I understand from a scheduling standpoint and all that, I know us with 36 sports, and we need to raise quite a bit of money to fund an athletic program like we have, it's really important to have home games. If you're assigned to five away games from the get-go, you're in the midst of a home-and-home with somebody, like we like to do, all of a sudden now you've got six away games and that might be difficult for us to do our 36 sports."

Personally, I am on the fence on the subject of a nine-game conference schedule. While it could hurt a team like Ohio State, it would also be better watching the Buckeyes play a Big Ten opponent rather than an Ohio or an Eastern Michigan. 

Also on Monday, it was learned that in the next 30 to 45 days we will know how the Big Ten plans to split the 12 schools into two six-team divisions for football.

"If you're going to have two divisions and the divisional champions are going to get a chance to play for the championship, that divisions need to be as balanced as they can possibly be made," Delany said. "And I think competitive fairness from the perspective of the coach, the player, the fan, media, it's got to be seen in those divisions."

"But they also have to be constructed in a wise way that does everything we can within that first principle or consistent with that first principle to preserve traditional rivals."

There has been much debate on whether Ohio State and Michigan should be in the same division or not. Most fans who I have talked with over the last month or so have stated that the Buckeyes and Wolverines absolutely have to be in the same division, but I am not so sure that needs to be the case.    

Let's look at the two scenarios:

1. Ohio State and Michigan in the same division

This seems to be the most logical scenario, as the Buckeyes and the Wolverines can keep their end of November date.

The only problem is, if Ohio State and Michigan are in the same divisions, "The Game" will mean nothing more than the opportunity to play for a Big Ten title. Since 1935, on 22 occasions, the end-of-the-year tilt between the Buckeyes and Wolverines resulted in a winner-take-all for the conference crown, and 25 other times it's direct result determined a conference champion. 

2. Ohio State and Michigan in different divisions

This could be possible as well, but I'm not sure how likely. Granted, the Buckeyes and Wolverines could still meet on the gridiron every year, but I doubt that the game will be played at the end of November. If the two schools are in different divisions, in all likelihood the game will take place at the end of September or early October.

Talk on the internet seems to think that if OSU and UM are not in the same division that the rivalry will be lost, but I don't see it that way. What would be better for a rivalry than to play a school twice a year? which could be possible if Ohio State and Michigan were to advance to the Big Ten championship game.

When it comes to divisional realignment, though, one key phrase you have to remember is what Delany stated: "Competitive balance."

Most people that I have talked to have stated that the easiest way to split the conference is by doing it geographically, putting six teams in the East (Penn State, Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State, Indiana, and Purdue), with the other six in the West (Illinois, Northwestern, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, and Nebraska).

But that would put three out of the top four teams in the East. That really doesn't support the "competitive balance" theory.

Now, if you would split the Big Ten geographically, then it makes more sense to do it with North and South divisions, with Michigan, Michigan State, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, and Nebraska in the North, then Penn State, Ohio State, Indiana, Purdue, Illinois, and Northwestern in the South.

This way, you still keep most of the traditional rivals in the same division except for one glaring omission, Ohio State and Michigan, the biggest rivalry in all of college football. But as I stated above, the rivalry could still continue.

"I don't want to prejudge it," Delany said. "That's why our athletic directors are going to be meeting. I think you could do—you could conceive of a divisional setup that had them in the same division. I think you could equally conceive of a divisional setup that had them in different divisions. I think the important thing is that they play."

The best way to go about divisional alignments is to factor in both geography while adding the "competitive balance," and there are several ways you could split the conference into two divisions.


1. Based On A Playoff-Style Seed Pairing

Red Division: Ohio State, Michigan, Indiana, Purdue, Northwestern, and Wisconsin.

Blue Division: Penn State, Michigan State, Illinois, Minnesota, Iowa, and Nebraska. 

For this one, I first split the 12 teams into three parts based on seeding from the table above. In he first group, it was No. 1 Ohio State, No. 2 Nebraska, No. 3 Penn State, and No. 4 Michigan. Then I paired No. 1 with No. 4 and No. 2 with No. 3, much like how tournaments are seeded. I did the same for the next two groups.


Another Possibility: All 12 Teams Seeded in Half

Red: Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan State, Indiana, Northwestern, and Iowa.

Blue: Michigan, Purdue, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Nebraska.


3. A Straight Seed of All 12

Red: Ohio State, Penn State, Indiana, Michigan State, Wisconsin and Minnesota.

Blue: Michigan, Purdue, Illinois, Northwestern, Iowa and Nebraska.

As you can see from my examples, there are many ways to can go about setting up two divisions in the Big Ten. It will be exciting to see how the conference decides to go about doing it. 

Stay tuned.


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