Will The Big Ten Ever Have a True Champion Without a Title Game?

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Will The Big Ten Ever Have a True Champion Without a Title Game?

Critics of the Big Ten, and there are many, argue that the conference cannot really ever have a champion because, unlike the SEC, there is no conference title game.

But as the oldest Division I conference in the nation it's as if, at least before the BCS, the conference actually reached for something greater.

The conference does have a championship tournament for baseball.  In basketball, the league has crowned its champion after a playoff tournament since 1998. The Big Ten has tournaments to decide who wins the conference title in wrestling, field hockey and 16 other sports.

Of course in Football, the overall conference record decides the champion.  There is no Big Ten title game.

How can you have a champion without a playoff?  Easy, the NFL does it every year.  In each division in the NFL there is a champion.

The Pittsburgh Steelers last year claimed the AFC North title, even though they had the same overall record as the Cleveland Browns (10-6).  There was no playoff to determine the division championship, it was decided on wins and losses. 

The Steelers beat the Browns both times they played, so they claimed the championship. It's not a mythical championship. You can buy the T-shirt. But they didn't have to play a "title game" to earn it.

But in the NFL, the ultimate prize is the Super Bowl. 

The top prize for the Big Ten has not been a conference title.  Its Super Bowl is the game that has become known as the "granddaddy of them all," the Rose Bowl.

Since 1947, the Rose Bowl has had an exclusive agreement to host a representative (the champion) of the Big Ten and a representative (champion) of the PAC 10.  The PAC Ten champion is decided in the same way as is the Big Ten. 

It's an age-old match up of two conferences to determine a "Rose Bowl Champion."  But with the BCS, things have changed.

Last year, Ohio State claimed the Big Ten Title and by rights should have represented the Big Ten in the Rose Bowl.   PAC Ten Champion USC ended up playing Illinois instead, so that the Buckeyes could go to the BCS Title game in New Orleans.

The Rose Bowl has now hosted a BCS game in 2002 between Miami and Nebraska, in 2006 between Texas and USC and will host a BCS game again in 2010 that may have nothing whatsoever to do with the Big Ten or PAC Ten. 

In 1992, the SEC got permission from the NCAA to have its first championship game, having re-aligned itself into eastern and western divisions. 

But with 11 teams (since the addition of Penn State in 1990) the Big Ten could not divide itself into two divisions. Another team would have to be added and the conference that was the first ever created in the country would have to completely realign.  

Until that happens, No. 1 would have to play No. 2, and in most years that happens in the last week of the regular season anyway, when Ohio State and Michigan play.

I believe that for now there's nothing wrong with settling the Big Ten and PAC Ten conference champions the way it has been done for generations.  The time to make changes will be when the NCAA actually has college football playoffs, as it does in basketball.

But that's a subject for a different column. 

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