Big Ten Announces Divisions: Who Are The Winners and Losers Of Expansion?
After a great deal of anticipation, the Big Ten divisional alignments were finally announced.
It will break down officially as an East and a West division. However, geography only seems to play a small part.
The East will consist of: Ohio State, Penn State, Wisconsin, Purdue, Illinois, and Indiana.
The West will be: Michigan, Nebraska, Iowa, Northwestern, Michigan State, and Minnesota.
The guaranteed cross-divisional rivalries start with Michigan and OSU.
On top of that, Wisconsin and Minnesota, and Illinois and Northwestern preserve their annual rivalries.
That leaves Penn State, Purdue, and Indiana from the East, and Nebraska, Iowa, and Michigan State from the West.
Penn State will lose that terribly important Land Grant game in favor of a new rivalry with Nebraska. Meanwhile, it's a little known fact, but the Spartans and Hoosiers do have a rivalry, in which they play for the Old Brass Spittoon.
That leaves the final protected rivalry as Iowa against their newly hated rival, Purdue.
All things considered, I think the Big Ten did a pretty good job. At first glance, it certainly did a much better job than the ACC in 2004 or the Big 12 in 1994.
Nevertheless, in any move like this there are going to be some toes that get stepped on, and some institutions coming away with a sweeter deal than others.
Some rivalry games will no longer be an annual event. Some fans' and teams' travel expenditures will get much pricier.
The following slideshow breaks down who are the winners and losers of the divisional alignment and ultimately, Big Ten Expansion.
Winner: Penn State
Since Penn State started playing Big Ten football in 1993, they have been treated like the red-headed stepchild.
I won't go into all the history, as it is substantial and readily available at any worthwhile Penn State blog. For your convenience, Blackshoediaries.com has a very detailed and thorough write up on it.
Even now, almost 20 years after the fact, it's still difficult for some of the old guard to fully accept Penn State.
Nevertheless, this expansion might be just what the doctor ordered.
First of all, there is the obvious element of shifting the burden of newness onto a brand new red-headed stepchild, who, conveniently, happens to call their home field "a sea of red."
Secondly, there is the fact that Penn State really has not had any genuine rivalries in the conference. Certainly, they've got those contrived games with Minnesota and Michigan State, but do the PSU faithful really get amped up for that?
I wonder if most college football fans are even aware that those are "rivalry" games.
However, with the new divisions, it goes without saying that the in-division foil to Ohio State will be Penn State. It makes sense, given that they are border rivals. Moreover, even before the expansion, they have had a fairly tight series, marked by some very close games. Two of those games—2005 and 2008—have gone on to determine the conference champion.
Give it a few decades, and it is entirely possible that the OSU-PSU rivalry could become just as fierce as the OSU-Michigan contest.
As a further bonus, Penn State will get that Iowa monkey off its regular schedule. Also, they get a rivalry with Nebraska that has built-in drama, and geographically, this is about as convenient as PSU could ask.
Perhaps out of every winner in this expansion, nobody comes out smelling better than the Nittany Lions.
If Penn State got the sweetest deal, Iowa got a close second.
Yes, they lose the Heartland Trophy game against Wisconsin. On one hand, that is a shame, as over the years, that game has great parity. Iowa's all-time record against the Badgers is 43-41-2.
However, speaking as an Iowa fan that lives in Madison, I can safely say there is no real major heat between the two teams.
It is true that Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez, and Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema have a history with Iowa. Bielema has a tigerhawk tattooed on his calf. It is also true that they are border-state rivals, both of who boast a lot of dairy farms.
Still, in Madison, there is only slightly more heat when the Iowa game approaches than when the Michigan State game approaches. And, as a Hawk fan, the Wisconsin game doesn't compare to Iowa State or Minnesota.
In the end, this is almost a "nice" rivalry where the two teams in question have a mutual respect for each other.
In exchange for this game, Iowa gets an end-of-the-year game against their border state school to the southwest, Nebraska.
Unlike Wisconsin, there is a lot of heat against the Huskers. In fact, in the southwestern corner of the state, the Huskers may be the Hawk fanbases' most hated team.
My guess is if you ask your average Des Moines Hawk fan, which team he despises the most, he will say Iowa State followed very closely by Nebraska.
It is true that Iowa has a decidedly non-competitive all-time record of 8-22-1 against the Huskers. Nevertheless, over the last 10 years, Nebraska has the 20th most wins in FBS football, while Iowa is tied for the 24th.
Also working in the Hawks' favor is the fact that OSU is not in their division. Certainly, losing Penn State is unfortunate, as Iowa has been fairly successful against the Nits.
Still, that is a small trade-off for not having the Bucks in their division, as Iowa's historical and recent record against Ohio State has been fairly abominable.
They also get a protected "rivalry" with Purdue. Yes, Purdue, along with Indiana, is probably the least interesting team in the Big Ten to Iowa fans, but the fact is, it's a game the Hawks can win with some regularity.
Finally, if Iowa keeps up the relative level of success they've had with coaches Fry and Ferentz, this is a division that they could have—and would have—won with some consistency over the past 30 years.
Before the divisions were announced, I figured either Iowa or Wisconsin was going to be the one real loser out of all the 12 teams.
I am kind of surprised that loser turned out to be the Badgers, given the back room power Barry Alvarez seems to wield.
To begin with, UW loses the Iowa rivalry. As previously mentioned, that is not a huge deal, but in return, Iowa gains a better rivalry game with Nebraska. Wisconsin gains absolutely nothing.
They keep their rivalry with Minnesota, but they are in separate divisions. Ultimately, isn't it more fun when the two teams are together, and have the chance of ruining their rivals' title hopes?
Making things worse is the fact that they won't get a regular game against Nebraska, which is something that both Bielema and Alvarez started fighting for as soon as the expansion became a reality.
Last, but certainly not least to Wisconsin fans, the only teams in their division that are within reasonable driving distance are Illinois and Purdue. And even those schools are over four hours away.
Moreover, Champaign and West Lafayette are arguably two of the least attractive towns in the Big Ten, and those are hardly games that raise the Badgers' ire.
Loser: OSU/Michigan Rivalry
Yes, the game will remain intact. Yes, it will still be played at the end of the year. Yes, Buckeye and Wolverine fans will still be free to absolutely hate each other.
However, there is no getting around the fact that due to a number of circumstances, the importance of this game is no longer what it once was.
First of all, Jim Delany, who is a North Carolina graduate, recently compared the Michigan-OSU rivalry to the basketball rivalry between UNC and Duke.
He quipped, "If Duke and North Carolina were historically the two strongest programs and only one could play for the right to be in the NCAA tournament, would you want them playing in the season-ending game so one is in and one is out? Or would you want them to play and have it count in the standings and then they possibly could meet for the right to be in the NCAA or the Rose Bowl?"
What he is failing to realize is that there is a huge difference between football and basketball. I don't even think the Buckeyes or Wolverines would want to replay the game, and I can say with some certainly non-Buck/Wolverine fans don't want to see a replay of it.
I think that was proven in 2006, when OSU and Michigan were both 11-0, ranked No. 1 and No. 2, heading into the game. OSU won, thereby winning the Big Ten and securing a spot in the National Championship game.
On the other hand, Michigan, even with the loss, still found themselves ranked No. 2. In effect, as things stood, the National Championship would be a replay of the Big Ten's final game.
Nevertheless, it turned out that Florida supplanted Michigan on voters' ballots, despite the Wolverines not actually doing anything to lose themselves points.
The reason was because nobody wanted to see a replay of the game.
In the end, if the last 10-20 years are any indication, Ohio State and Michigan will rarely meet in the Big Ten Championship anyway. Yet, just the fact that it can happen, does diminish the impact of the big game.
Do you hear that?
That sound is Woody Hayes and Bo Schembechler rolling over in their graves.
Actually, it might be a good thing that Bo died in 2006, as this probably would have killed him.
In truth, there is probably nothing the Big Ten could have done to please the purists and traditionalists. I suspect that group is still sore over the 1993 inclusion of Penn State.
In the end, that is what makes them purists and traditionalists. Of course, one has to appreciate their point-of-view the same way one has to appreciate any point-of-view.
The aforementioned watering down of the OSU-Michigan rivalry is certain to upset them.
Then you add Tom Osborne's Cornhuskers into the mix? Ugh.
Winners: Illinois and Northwestern
It seems pointless to mention this being that Illinois barely has a football following, but all their rivalries remain intact.
First of all, their Land of Lincoln rivalry with Northwestern will be protected. Furthermore, the Purdue Cannon rivalry, and the all-important Illibuck game will be annual intradivisional contests.
When you step back and consider what their annual schedule will be, you have to figure even the Illini can make a bowl on a yearly basis.
Moreover, outside of Penn State, every team in their division is a realistic road trip.
If only the Illini had any fans.
Meanwhile, Northwestern keeps their rivalry with the Illini, and gets to play Iowa annually. It is true that, that fact probably means very little to the Hawkeyes, but Pat Fitzgerald apparently needs these little things to keep his Cats motivated.
NU doesn't have quite as favorable a traveling situation as Illinois, but all things considered, it's not terrible. Besides, Northwestern doesn't have enough fans to fill one large bus.
Losers: Purdue and Indiana
It is true that both Indiana teams keep all of their rivalries intact, even the minor ones such as Michigan State vs. Indiana and Illinois vs. Purdue.
However, that's about the only good thing you can say.
Purdue not only has to regularly play Penn State, Ohio State, and Wisconsin, but they will also get Iowa on a regular basis.
That means they will play four of the six winningest Big Ten teams over the last 10 years. Outside of the conference's upper-tier teams—OSU, Michigan, PSU, and Nebraska—no other team can say that.
As for Indiana, they could do worse than a preserved rivalry with Michigan State, but with a 13-41-2 record against the Spartans, that is hardly a gift. Of course, Indiana's record against almost every Big Ten team is hardly spectacular.
Also, within their division, the only teams less than four hours away are Illinois and Ohio State. Of course, probability is the only time IU and PU fans will be making any trips will be basketball season.
Maybe all of this was a concession by the state of Indiana, due to the Big Ten Championship game being played at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.
Winner And Loser: Nebraska
In the 2008-2009 school year, Nebraska's football program was the eighth highest money generating program in the country. This was despite the fact that they shared the Big 12 with a team in Texas that, quite frankly, did their share of monopolizing the conference coffers.
That will not be an issue in the Big Ten, where all schools split conference money evenly. For example, when two Big Ten schools make BCS bowls, that BCS money is placed into a pool. The money is then divided up evenly, and is distributed to every Big Ten institution.
Consequently, in 2009, Indiana made as much off the BCS bowls as Iowa and OSU.
Nebraska will now see a share of that.
On top of that, Big Ten member schools project to receive $6.5 million dollars each from the Big Ten Network. That will be easy money in the Huskers' already substantial pockets.
Even more importantly, the research facilities in Lincoln will receive a huge windfall, and see their academic prestige skyrocket.
It is detailed at length here, but basically, Big Ten universities made $17.2 billion in federal academic research expenditures in 2007. That made up 57 percent of all federally funded research provided to colleges and universities.
For that reason, in the early 90s, even the independent-minded Notre Dame faculty wanted to join the Big Ten. They were simply spurned by other Irish interests.
On top of that, Nebraska gains a very good rivalry with Iowa, and inclusion in a much more stable conference.
On the downside, they may lose their rivalry with Missouri. They will lose their rivalries with Iowa State and Colorado, and their once fierce rivalry with Oklahoma will finally be dead and buried.
On top of that, the Huskers have a long tradition with the Big 12, and formerly the Big Eight.
Still, some might argue that it is a small price to pay.
Winner: Michigan State
Let's face it. When Michigan State athletic director, Mark Hollis, walked into the Big Ten offices to discuss the new divisions, he had one primary demand: That Michigan State get put in the same division as Michigan.
Well, he got his wish. Therefore, I guess it's safe to say that the Spartans are indeed winners out of this deal.
On top of that, they lose their protected rivalry with Penn State. As has been hinted at a number of times, that was hardly a "rivalry" that generated any heat from either side. Moreover, it was a rivalry that wasn't doing MSU any favors.
If they had wound up keeping the Land Grant Rivalry, and kept their out-of-conference Notre Dame contest, that would have meant the Spartans would have faced off against four of the 10 winningest programs in college football. Every year.
Instead, they get their Old Brass Spittoon rivalry against Indiana; a team over who they boast a 41-13-2 record.
Loser: Potentially, Out Of Conference Opponents
Michigan vs. Notre Dame
Michigan State vs. Notre Dame
Purdue vs. Notre Dame
Iowa vs. Iowa State
Nebraska vs. Missouri
As of now, these out-of-conference rivalry games are safe, but what happens if the Big Ten goes through with its plans for a nine-game conference slate?
In these times of huge stadiums and huge overheads, athletic departments depend upon at least seven home games a year in order to make budget.
In a nine-game conference slate, that will leave four and five conference home games in alternating years.
In the four-game years, athletic directors will not sacrifice a home game in order to put together a home-and-home series with an out-of-conference rival.
As it is, the ADs are doing everything in their power to try and maintain these rivalries, as they know the fans are passionate about them. However, if this expansion proves one thing, it is that money is king.
Winner: Big Ten's Collective Bank Account
In the end, this expansion came down to money.
As previously stated, the Big Ten is an egalitarian conference. In effect, the programs have to contribute a certain portion of their proceeds to the conference pool. The conference then takes its cut, and divides the rest evenly among the 11—now 12—member institutions.
Nebraska was the eighth-most lucrative program in college football in the 2008-09 school year. In effect, much of that money will further go into the Big Ten pot.
On top of that, Kansas City is the 31st most lucrative television market in the United States. St. Louis is the 21st.
KC falls under the Nebraska footprint, and word is that Tom Osborne guaranteed to Jim Delany that UN would deliver St. Louis to the conference.
Adding these to the Big Ten Network's footprint was no small part in this deal.
According to CBS Sports, "BTN should be able to increase the value per customer in states that do not have Big TEN teams nationwide from 10 cents per customer to something higher like 20 cents per customer due to the addition of Nebraska and its national appeal alone."
On top of that, there will be even more money from the conference championship game. By comparison, the SEC championship game drew in $14.5 last year.
In closing, some teams and fans did alright, while others, not-so-much. However, the real winner here is the Big Ten bank account.