Now that the Big Ten has added Nebraska to become the new Big 12, the conference has to avoid making the same mistake the old Big XII made: putting all the good teams into one side of the conference (the Big XII South) and having a totally irrelevant division full of leftovers (Big XII North). Find some one who thinks Nebraska, Colorado, Kansas, Kansas State, Missouri, and Iowa State are as good as Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Baylor. I dare you.
Thus, the Big Ten can’t have a similar situation happen to them if they’re going to stage a conference title game that means something. But that’s exactly what would happen if the divisions were created based solely on geography. Here’s what the Big Ten would look like with that scenario:
East Division: Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Indiana, Purdue, Penn State
West Division: Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Nebraska, Northwestern, Illinois
As you can see, the West Division is freaking awful and won’t have one interesting game all season. I’m sure the teams in the suggested West Division are huge fans of this setup since it virtually guarantees a shot at the big boys in a conference title game without having to have their season ruined by playing several of them within the division every year. I’m also pretty sure no one wants to be in Ohio State’s division, but that’s just impossible.
Obviously, this scenario doesn’t work. Especially since Indiana (my alma mater) would never win more than three division games in a year and it’s not impossible that they might never win a division game … ever … with this setup.
ESPN’s Adam Rittenberg offered his own suggestions for the new Big Ten:
Delany Division: Penn State, Nebraska, Iowa, Northwestern, Indiana, Purdue
Delaney Division: Ohio State, Michigan State, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Illinois
A definite improvement over the regionalized divisions, but still pretty heavily tilted toward one side. I also don’t understand the need to keep certain rivalries together (Ohio State/Michigan, Wisconsin/Minny) when these teams will play out-of-division games every year anyway.
Also, Penn State gets kind of screwed because they have to fly halfway across the country to play most of their division games. While that isn’t a huge deal, Ohio State gets the benefit of playing border states in half their games. Sure those are rivalries, but the idea also saves travel money. Let’s not make it too easy on the big guys.
Also, let’s not pretend Michigan is a power school in this setup. No way do they navigate those six teams every year, so the Delaney Division comes down to Ohio State and Wisconsin every year. Nice little gift for the Buckeyes, no? They need to be forced to play Penn State every year and have it mean more than just an out-of-division game (unless it’s in the conference championship game, obviously). Also, the schools are right next to each other.
Since I don’t care about keeping rivalries in the same division or about travel expenses, since the conference is going to make a ton of money, I’d break it down like this:
Campbell Division: Nebraska, Iowa, Indiana, Michigan, Illinois, Michigan State
Smythe Division: Ohio State, Penn State, Northwestern, Wisconsin, Purdue, Minnesota
This puts the regional big boys in the same division (Ohio State/Penn State and Nebraska/Iowa), has one wild card per division (Michigan in the Campbell and Wisconsin in the Smythe), has one plucky team in each division that’s good every so often (Michigan State/Northwestern), keeps some good teams separated so the Big Ten Championship Game isn’t pointless, and gives IU a shot at beating a couple of biggies without having to beat all of them to win the division 50 years from now.
The historical rivalries will stay together no matter what, so there’s really no point to all this hand-wringing about making sure Ohio State/Michigan and Wisconsin/Minnesota stay together somehow. And if Michigan wants to complain about having to play OSU out of division every year, then tell them to discontinue the rivalry, since the next decade of losing to the Buckeyes for Michigan at least won’t mean they’re out of their divisional race if the two teams are separated.
On the other hand, I love that my beloved Indiana Hoosiers are nowhere near the power schools in Rittenberg’s scenario, giving us a shot at maybe making some noise once in a while. So despite the flaws, I say, “Yes, please!” to Mr. Rittenberg’s suggestion for breaking down the Big Ten. Brilliant idea, perfect balance, couldn’t have said it better myself. Nevermind that rubbish above this paragraph.
Hear that, Jim Delandy/Delany?