Big Ten Mailbag: You ask, Dienhart answers

It’s that time of the week, time to reach into my mailbag and answer your questions. Basketball season is in full swing, but football always is on the mind of readers. I like that. So, let’s begin.

Is scratching the protected cross-division rivalry game being considered by the league when it comes to realignment? Seems that if the Big Ten opts to go the East-West route, that’s doable and would ensure the cross-divisional games to be spread between the teams more. – A.J.

According to this fine article by Scott Dochterman of the Cedar Rapids Gazette, the Big Ten will favor geography when it comes to divisional alignment. And the split likely will be East-West. Not sure about protecting a cross-division rival, but seemingly everything is on the table—including division names.

Can competitive balance be maintained if a geographic split for divisions is used? Maybe. But, it may be a challenge. How about this?

East

  • Rutgers
  • Maryland
  • Ohio State
  • Penn State
  • Purdue
  • Indiana
  • Michigan State

West

  • Minnesota
  • Iowa
  • Nebraska
  • Wisconsin
  • Illinois
  • Northwestern
  • Michigan

What do you think?

I saw your ranking of the top seven Big Ten big men. Where was Michigan State’s Derrick Nix? He will eat up Michigan freshman Mitch McGary when they play. Nix kept the kid from Iowa (Adam Woodbury) out of the lane. Adreian Payne is good, but Nix has a better touch than most of the guys on your list. – Steve Shevick

I love Nix. Believe me. But the criteria for this list was that players had to be at least 6-10. At 6-9, Nix just misses the cut. But the 270-pounder has a game that really has developed since he dedicated himself to getting into shape and staying in shape. He is just a massive man who is a mismatch for almost every big man in the league. And he runs the floor well, too.

***

Didn’t Ohio State lose its entire defensive line? But, they still can compete for the national title? But yet Michigan is losing key personnel in the trenches on both side of the ball and has no chance? Nothing like jumping on the Buckeye band wagon. Ohio State will not go unbeaten. – Scott

Yes, Ohio State lost it starting defensive line, but there still are some mega studs from the 2012 recruiting class to step up. I’m talking about guys like Noah Spence, Tommy Schutt, Adolphus Washington. The back seven of the defense should be excellent, especially the secondary. The offense? It’s is absolutely loaded with every key component back, including quarterback Braxton Miller and a line with four starters returning.

And the 2013 schedule? It’s very user-friendly: Buffalo, San Diego State, at Cal, Florida A&M is the non-conference slate. Home Big Ten games: Wisconsin, Iowa, Penn State, Indiana. Road Big Ten games: Northwestern, Purdue, Illinois, Michigan. Bottom line: There is a lot to like about this team.

***

Do you see a name change for the Big Ten anytime soon, or do you think Jim Delany will wait a few years, once the league expands to 16, before making a change? Do you think Rutgers and Maryland will have any impact on the football field in the near future? – Nick

If the Big Ten didn’t change its name when it went from 10 to 11 to 12 teams, why would it at any time in the future? I just don’t think it will happen. Delany and other league officials know the brand that has been developed with the “Big Ten” moniker and aren’t willing to discard the value built up in that. As for the impact of Rutgers and Maryland in football, I think it will be minimal initially on the football field. But, over time, and with increased resources and exposure, each program figures to improve.

One advantage for both schools is that they sit in dense population areas that are fertile recruiting grounds. Each school is an undervalued asset with lots of potential for growth.

***

Heard you on 1620 The Zone’s Sharp and Benning Show (in Nebraska) this morning and I really like the idea of going with four divisions if the league goes to 16 teams, as expected. Good idea for cutting travel times and costs, with other interesting benefits possible. Is this really an idea that is being tossed around? – Bob Jones

I don’t know what ideas are officially being discussed for divisional alignment/structure if/when the Big Ten grows to 16 schools. The four-division concept is one I have heard discussed by peers and others. And, it makes a lot of sense. Two, eight-team divisions is unwieldy. Four, four-team divisions is a nice structure for scheduling and would help maintain rivalries.

You even could have two conferences, with the conference winners meeting for the title. It is a nice idea. We will see if it comes to fruition one day if the Big Ten does grow to 16 teams.

Why not simplify the division names to “Big” and “Ten”? Each division would have its own trophy: Big and Ten. These individual trophies would be crafted to fit together to form the Big Ten Championship Trophy. This Big Ten Championship Trophy would be kept for a year at the championship team’s school. Each division winning school would be scribed on the individual trophy with their record. The championship team for the conference would be highlighted with the year and score of each team in the championship game and year they won. It’s simple and respects the Big Ten’s traditions. – Kevin Blazejewski

I think this is a nice idea—and a bit unique–that is worth considering. I like having a trophy that fits together and is inscribe with the winners, much like Stanley Cup.

About Tom Dienhart BTN.com senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men’s basketball for BTN.com and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, read all of his work at btn.com/tomdienhart, and subscribe to his posts via RSS. Also, send questions to his weekly mailbag using the form below and read all of his previous answers in his reader mailbag section.

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Mike Cember on 1/19/2013 @ 2:26pm EDT Said:

Why not go straight up geographical, and divide the conference into B1G East and B1G West at west longitude 86 degrees 45 minutes (between Bloomington and West Lafayette, IN)? That would leave UM and MSU in the same division, and put Purdue in the B1G West, maintaining approximate long-term parity between the divisions.