Dienhart: 13 thoughts on new divisions
The announcement of the new divisions created a buzz across the Big Ten landscape. Leaders and Legends are gone. East and West are in. And a nine-game Big Ten schedule is coming in 2016. Here are 13 observations about the new arrangements.
1. It is good to have Michigan and Ohio State in the same division. Really. The specter of having them play twice in the same season (in the regular season and then possibly in the Big Ten title game) would have lessened the importance of the iconic meeting in the final regular-season game in late November. And, if Alabama and Auburn, Oklahoma-Texas, USC-UCLA and Georgia-Florida can be in the same division, why can’t the Wolverines and Buckeyes? Geography must be obeyed.
2. The Iowa-Wisconsin series will be renewed. This was a casualty when the Big Ten made its original division splits for the 2011 season, as the Hawkeyes were put in the Legends Division and the Badgers were dropped into the Leaders. Now, they each will play in the West. These border foes have played some doozies over the years, with the series tied 42-42-2. That’s the definition of rivalry.
3. I don’t like the idea of not seeing Nebraska—in the West–get to clash on a regular basis with fellow traditional powers Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State—all in the East. No offense to others, but the Cornhuskers didn’t sign up for a steady diet of games vs. Purdue, Illinois, Minnesota and Northwestern. Let’s hope Nebraska gets regular crossover games vs. the East powers.
4. Purdue and Indiana will meet each season, despite playing in opposite divisions. This is good. It will be the only cross-division game that is guaranteed to happen each season. Yes, this rivalry on the football field pales compared to, say, Michigan and Ohio State. Still, the battle for the Old Oaken Bucket dates back years and means a lot to state residents.
5. I know the league wanted as much scheduling flexibility as possible, but why couldn’t the Big Ten have preserved the Little Brown Jug rivalry between Michigan and Minnesota like it did the Indiana-Purdue tilt? Yes, it’s a one-sided rivalry that the Wolverines lead, 72-24-3, with Golden Gophers winning just two times (1986 and 2005) since 1977. But the Little Brown Jug is a classic college football trophy. Yes, I know the Illibuck trophy also won’t be waged for too often with Illinois and Ohio State in opposite divisions, but that bauble lacks the romance of the Little Brown Jug.
6. The arrival of a nine-game league schedule and three “tougher” non-conference games (with no FCS foes) in 2016 could mean fewer Big Ten bowl-eligible teams. Tougher games, tougher schedules, fewer postseason teams. It could happen—and probably will.
7. I am all for having no FCS foes in the non-conference. But that will shrink the pool of prospective schools that Big Ten teams can choose from for non-conference games. Won’t that drive up the cost of guarantees that Big Ten schools have to pay out for non-con home games?
8. I think too many people are discounting the value and strength of the West Division, which I think is better 1-7 than the top-heavy East Division. Six of the seven schools in the West have been to the Rose Bowl since 1990. And Minnesota is on the rise under Jerry Kill.
9. More on Big Ten East power: The SEC had the same issues when it went to divisions in 1992 with the additions of South Carolina and Arkansas, with the East being decidedly stronger than the West. That balance of power has shifted over time. No, the Big Ten West never consistently will be stronger than the Big Ten East, but it will have its mini-runs.
10. And while the East figures to be the stronger division most years, that doesn’t mean it usually will win the Big Ten title game. We all know any team can be beaten on any given Saturday, as conference title games have produced some killer upsets over the years: Big 12 Texas A&M over Kansas State in 1998; Big 12 Kansas State over Oklahoma in 2003; SEC LSU over Tennessee in 2001 are just a few.
11. Playing in the West has to make schools that don’t often win the league championship like Northwestern, Illinois, Purdue, Iowa and Minnesota happy. They won’t have too many daunting obstacles to climb over in their quest to reach the Big Ten championship game, with Nebraska and Wisconsin looking most formidable. Fueling hope of championships is good for campus spirit.
12. Drawing up divisions based on geography is great because fans can drive to road games. And nothing builds rivalries better than proximity. The more rival fans encounter each other, the better the chance to build up hate.
13. Michigan State may have drawn the shortest stick of all the schools. The Spartans must crawl over Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State in their own division each season. This is the last thing a program that’s searching for its first Rose Bowl trip since the 1987 season needed. But the Spartans could benefit from playing glamour schools in more marquee games that draw national attention, getting good exposure and thus helping recruiting. Bottom line: There’s lots of opportunity for MSU to impress.
|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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