Big Ten buzzing over reports of new divisions

In a move that had been speculated for months with Rutgers and Maryland poised to join the Big Ten and make it a 14-team league in 2014, the conference is apparently set to announce divisional realignment based on geography. Conference presidents and chancellors will reportedly vote on the divisions, new division names, and an expanded league schedule format on Sunday.

Indiana and Purdue would be the lone protected cross-division rivalry, guaranteeing the in-state foes to meet each season for the hallowed Old Oaken Bucket. Earlier this week Purdue president Mitch Daniels told The (Lafayette) Journal and Courier that everything should be approved. “The BTN Football Report” airs at 7:30 p.m. Sunday as Dave Revsine, Gerry DiNardo and Howard Griffith examine the results of Sunday’s vote. The show will also include an interview with Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany.

The divisions reportedly will be:

EAST: Indiana, Maryland, Rutgers, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Penn State

WEST: Illinois, Iowa, Purdue, Northwestern, Wisconsin, Nebraska, Minnesota

Also of note: It looks like “Legends” and “Leaders” are out as division names. New names: “East” and “West.”

It’s also been widely reported that the Big Ten will move to a nine-game league schedule in 2016. This would be a good move that will enhance Big Ten schedules from a strength standpoint while also making the league more attractive to its TV partners. That means TV networks will have a better overall quality of games to show, which should help raise the rights fees for the Big Ten.

But a nine-game league slate could pose issues for schools from a revenue standpoint. Schools prefer to have seven home games from a revenue standpoint. But in some years, schools will have just four Big Ten home games–and maybe as few as two non-conference home games–in a season. Still, a more lucrative TV deal could balance out any lost revenue suffered by schools who find themselves in such a quandary.

I applaud moving away from the stuffy, pretentious and down-right confusing “Legends” and “Leaders” names. They weren’t embraced from the start – in fact, they’ve been roundly mocked – and they never really have caught on since the Big Ten became a 12-team, two-division conference with Nebraska’s arrival in 2011. To this day, I doubt most fans know which teams are in what divisions. Now, if you know geography, you know where your school plays. Simple.

And the divisions as outlined also maintain many traditional rivalries–Minnesota-Iowa; Minnesota-Wisconsin; Iowa-Wisconsin; Ohio State-Michigan; Michigan-Michigan State; Penn State-Ohio State; Illinois-Northwestern; Purdue-Illinois.

It’s difficult not to conclude that the East is loaded, but power between divisions figures to go in cycles as it has in the SEC between the East and West. Still, check out the traditional powers in Penn State, Ohio State and Michigan. And Michigan State also is formidable. Winning the Big Ten just got a lot more difficult for Indiana, which hasn’t won the league since 1967. And newcomers Rutgers and Maryland will have their work cut out for them.

We also have Ohio State and Michigan in the same division. So, those dreams of having the long-time powers and rivals play in the last game of the regular season and then in the league title game are over. Now, they often may be playing a de facto “East Division title game” in late November in many seasons.

The West isn’t as loaded, with only Nebraska being a traditional power. That means Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota, Purdue, Illinois and Northwestern seemingly would have infinitely better chances to win this division and get to the league title game. In fact, Purdue has to feel like it hit the jack pot, as apparently either the Boilermakers or Indiana could have gone East or West.

And Purdue got to go West, presumably because its West Lafayette campus is a bit further west of Bloomington, Ind., home of the Hoosiers. The other 12 schools fit more logically in either the East or West, making those divisional designations easier.

But how will playing in what looks like the weaker of the two divisions impact the strength-of-schedule for teams in the West? That’s an important consideration, as schedule strength figures to be a component in selecting teams for a coming four-team college football playoff in 2014.

Still, playing in a weaker West likely would give West clubs a clearly path to the Big Ten title game each season, rendering any worries about strength of schedule moot. And West Division schedule strengths should get a boost from cross-division foes, non-conference opponents–and the league title game (for the division champ).

Still, bottom line: If you win the Big Ten title game, then you will probably be in the playoffs whether you have a weak schedule or not.

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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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3 Comments

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Show Comments (3 Comments)
Scott on 4/27/2013 @ 6:35pm EDT Said:

Say hello to the former Big 12 North and South (the West is equivalent to the Big 12 North).

If you look at the last 20 seasons, No. 1, 3 and 4 are in the East (in terms of win pct.).

Paul Brunell on 4/27/2013 @ 9:21pm EDT Said:

This is fine. The Big 10, along with the rest of college football, is experiencing the result of parity and the reduction in scholarships allowed for each institution, this is great for the game and for the conference.

Ian on 4/28/2013 @ 5:06pm EDT Said:

I’m not a fan of this articles’s love affair with the word “and,” or consecutive paragraphs starting with “And; But; Still; Still.” Writer/editor needs to spend just a little more time on this one.