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.

[ RELATED: No more "Legends & Leaders" | Dienhart: It's the right move | Sound off on BTN Connect ]

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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10 Comments

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ryan eaton on 4/29/2013 @ 7:47pm EDT Said:

i just hope there are not blowouts on a regular basis.

Chad Pio on 4/30/2013 @ 11:36am EDT Said:

Re #3 and #11 : As a fan of one of the other West teams you call out in your article, we’re all looking to improve and consistently become a threat to win the division and be considered “formidable” and “daunting” powers as well. Let’s not crown the Huskers and/or Badgers as champs year-in and year-out just yet.

But, that being said … love the new East/West divisions. Let’s play some football!

Blake Jorgensen™ (@Blake_Jorgensen) on 4/30/2013 @ 3:20pm EDT Said:

Crazy how things change so fast. Two or three years ago, it would be Iowa, Nebraska, and then everyone else in the West. Now it’s Wisconsin, Nebraska, kinda Northwestern, and everyone else. Just a reminder that things change fast. Now I’ll cry about my Hawks. :'(

OldBigEightFan on 4/30/2013 @ 4:30pm EDT Said:

Has Nebraska even made a new Big Ten rival yet? sure it could be Iowa solely on the basis of it being a border state but Cornhusker fans determine rivals by competitiveness and since Wisconsin and Nebraska will be the only two strong teams in the West those matchups could intensify into close rivalry games. of course, now that the Iowa-Wisconsin is back, will those schools consider themselves their own rivals again and ignore Nebraska? Seems like Nebraska needs a new rival more than those other traditional Big Ten schools do since they already have established rivalries

Hank Moody on 4/30/2013 @ 5:52pm EDT Said:

When you cater to a few, or in Delaney’s case UM and OSU, you minimize the brand of the conference. You shorten the bench so to speak. Delaney is nothing more than a puppet.

Gary A. Thomas on 4/30/2013 @ 7:57pm EDT Said:

Something Dienhart failed to understand: Having Indiana – Purdue as the only protected cross-over strengthens the schedules for all of the other teams since those teams are usually in the bottom tier of the B1G. With 9 conference games (6 vs division foes, 3 vs cross-division) Indiana and Purdue will only face two cross-division foes other than each other in each season. That allows the tougher teams to face each other more often. Also, he is clueless about the Brown Jug game. It is meaningless, and is even a notch below the Illibuck which has a richer history tied to B1G championships. (Some history: Illinois used to be the final game for OSU each year before UM; and the Illini were always contenders. The Illini have also contended much tougher in the modern area than Minnesota.) And finally, protecting the Brown Jug rivalry would have weakened schedules for the West since UM would have fewer cross-division opportunities; and unevenly strengthened schedules for East division teams other than UM, who would lose both Purdue and Minnesota from schedules. THINK Tom, THINK!

Nicholas Push on 5/1/2013 @ 2:43pm EDT Said:

Tom,
Do you think we will see NU vs. Whisky moved to the Friday after thanksgiving? It seems the Badgers would be a better “rivalry” game for the Huskers as it doesn’t appear that Iowa will be relevant any time soon. I also think this would boost ratings for the B1G – NU vs. Wisconsin on Friday and OSU vs. Michigan on Saturday.

Aaron on 5/21/2013 @ 5:59pm EDT Said:

I am SOOOOOO glad that the Big Ten committee had the sense to put Ohio State and Michigan in the same division! Thank you Jim Delany for making the right decision to do this.

Aaron on 5/21/2013 @ 6:52pm EDT Said:

BTW, it is a sigh of relief to know that the Big Ten committee did not listen to the idiotic reasonings of people like Gerry Dinardo. I can’t believe this dude actually thinks that it would be good to have Ohio State and Michigan in the same division! That is ridiculous! And Tom Dienhart makes a completely valid point about how the SEC East was stacked when the SEC went to divisions and look at them now. People need to stop overrating and overhyping competitive balance. It will even itself out eventually, but having Ohio State and Michigan in the same division so that they only play each other once a year is a no brainer.

Aaron on 5/21/2013 @ 6:57pm EDT Said:

Correction on my last comment. I meant to say I can’t believe that Gerry Dinardo thinks that it would be a good thing to have Ohio State and Michigan in SEPARATE divisions! No Mr. Dinardo! That would be a terrible idea.

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