With the release of the divisional alignments, and 2011 and 2012 schedules, Commissioner Jim Delaney prided himself on being able to protect the majority of the trophy games, traditional rivalries, and appeared to seem confident that the conference had the best possible alignment to balance both power and geography. Personally, I would have to agree with that; however, I couldn't help but notice that neither of Penn State's trophy games were protected by the new divisional alignment. Penn State will no longer annually take on Minnesota for the Governor's Victory Bell, nor will they meet Michigan State every year on the last week of the season for the Land Grant Trophy, and you know what? ... I could care less. Does this show disrespect to Penn State in anyway? Probably not. Penn State didn't really have a real rivalry with either of those teams in the traditional sense anyway. Sure one could argue the Minnesota upset and near upset from the late 90's may have started some sort of rivalry, or that the Michigan State games have been competitive the majority of the time, but really since Nick Saban left Michigan State has been largely mediocre save a few good seasons. Really, as a Penn State fan I'm very indifferent about the cycling of these two teams. It is nice to play for hardware and the Michigan State game is usually entertaining, but I think that those annual games are a small price to pay for annual matchups with Ohio State, Wisconsin, and especially Nebraska.
Penn State, as I have mentioned, will take on Indiana, Illinois, Purdue, Wisconsin, and Ohio State every year, as they are in their yet to be named division, while Nebraska was tabbed as Penn State's protected crossover game. As a lifelong Penn State fan, to put it lightly, I am ecstatic! Am I at all disappointed by the Big Ten's lack of acknowledging the importance of Penn State's trophy games? Minimally. I will admit that I will slightly miss the year end game against Michigan State, but I am only 22 and it has been the norm for the overwhelming majority of my Penn State fanhood. With Nebraska being a yearly opponent on the schedule, I'm pretty sure that I'll come to terms. Also the fact that Penn State will close out the 2011 season against Wisconsin doesn't hurt either.
Generally I am pleased with the divisions. I welcome the protected rivalries with Ohio State and Nebraska, and am also excited to see Wisconsin in the Penn State/Ohio State division. I am excited to see how the 2011 season will shake down.
Is this going to be moot in a few years? Possibly. Further Big Ten expansion might make this all academic anyway. Quick speculation on who should join the conference, if anyone? Syracuse, UConn, Pittsburgh, West Virginia, and/or Notre Dame. Missouri and Maryland would be possibilities but they appear to be committed to staying in the Big XII and ACC respectively. One name that you may notice is not on this list is Rutgers. Financially, Rutgers doesn't make sense to me. Due to revenue sharing it just doesn't seem that they are relevent enough in any sport to warrant a conference invite. Also, it doesn't really seem like they would entice too many viewers in the New York City metro to really be relevent either.
I would like to see (in order) Pittsburgh and West Virginia; Notre Dame; and UConn join the Big Ten. Pitt and WVU both have at least respectable basketball and football programs of late. The Backyard Brawl, geography, and academics of Pittsburgh are definitely within the Big Ten reputation, and one could make a case for West Virginia having similar academics to Nebraska. Also, both would financially make sense and allow the conference to strengthen their grip in the east. Notre Dame would make tons of sense. They would bring in the largest national viewing audience in the country. They typically have at least a good football team, have been good in basketball of late, have great academics, and are located smack-dab in the middle of the conference geographically. The problem has and will be, Jack Swarbrick and their stubbornness to remain independent. To get them to join, Swarbrick needs to retire, and Brian Kelly needs to fall on his face enough for NBC to drop their TV contract and leave Notre Dame as the odd man out as the conference alignment dominoes fall. UConn doesn't really have a traditionally powerful football program, however they have been progressing very nicely since they joined the FBS a handful of years ago if I do say so myself. What they bring is a massive college basketball program that would definitely bring in revenue. Academically, they would make sense, and would help the conference expand further eastward.