With the forthcoming addition of Nebraska to the Big Ten as its 12th member, divisions must be established in order to determine who will play for the Conference Championship Game. This is no easy feat, as you want to do everything you can to avoid splitting fierce rivals into separate divisions where they no longer play every year, ala Nebraska-Oklahoma once the Big 12 formed. Geography, according to Big Ten Commisioner Jim Delaney, will take a back seat to competitive fairness and preservation of rivalries.
To be as objective as possible, I will refer to ESPN's prestige rankings for the edge on competitive fairness.
3. Ohio State, 1655 points
5. Nebraska, 1553 points
8. Michigan, 1332
11. Penn State, 1088
26. Michigan State, 454
30. Iowa, 368
33. Minnesota, 341
34. Wisconsin, 317
49. Illinois, 219
50. Purdue, 210
80. Northwestern, 60
102. Indiana, -8
Using these points, I broke down the conference into rivalry "blocks", or groups of teams that need to stay in the same division to preserve traditional rivalries. As a Nebraska fan who is admittedly not overly familiar with Big Ten rivalries outside of the obvious, I used Adam Rittenberg's Big Ten blog as a guide .
-Michigan/Ohio State, Michigan/Michigan State, Minnesota/Wisconsin, Indiana/Purdue, Minnesota/Iowa, Wisconsin/Iowa
Handle With Care:
-Ohio State/Penn State, Illinois/Ohio State, Michigan/Minnesota, Iowa/Penn State
-Michigan State/Penn State, Illinois/Northwestern, Indiana/Illinois, Penn State/Michigan, Minnesota/Penn State, Wisconsin/Michigan, Purdue/Illinois, Northwestern/Iowa, Purdue/Northwestern, Michigan State/Indiana
Thus, the blocks I created, with corresponding prestige points following, were:
Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State - 3441 (Illinois preferable for total of 3660)
Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin - 1026
Purdue, Indiana - 202
Penn State - 1088 (left out of a block as existing rivalries with Iowa and Ohio State cannot BOTH be maintained in the same division)
Northwestern - 60
Nebraska - 1553
Using these blocks, it is fairly easy to see what needs to be done. The Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State, and Illinois block, at 3660, is almost the size of the other eight school combined, so the smallest block of two schools, Purdue and Indiana, is added, while the other six schools form the second division. Or, to make it more explicit:
Division A: Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State, Illinois, Purdue, Indiana
Division B: Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Penn State, Northwestern, Nebraska
Division A totals 3862 prestige points, while Division B totals 3727, a difference of only 3.5%, which is pretty good. It preserves 13 out of 20 official rivalries, and of the 7 not saved, 3 are Penn State rivalries which are still relatively young in the scope of the rest of the Big Ten.
One solution to these "lost" rivalries is to have a designated rival in the opposite division who you maintan play with every year. That way, rivalries such as Ohio State/Penn State, Michigan/Minnesota, and Illinois/Northwestern are preserved, making it 16 out of 20 official rivalries that are continued on an annual basis.
Official rivalries which will lose their annual basis with these division plus the one week "other division rivalry" plan: Penn State/Michigan, Penn State/Michigan State, Wisconsin/Michigan, Purdue/Northwestern.
Geographically, these divisions are classic East/West with the exception of Penn State. To which I say, "Sorry you have such a high prestige rating, Penn State, or I could have swapped you out with Illinois. In the end, you are too big of a school to stay in the east division with Michigan and Ohio State."
As far as scheduling goes, 6 of the 8 "in-conference" games are already decided, as each team plays the other 5 within their division every year, as well as their one designated rival from the other division every year. For the remaining 2 games, assuming that league competitiveness is truly the ultimate goal (as it should be since money is what is behind all of this, and rivalries and highly ranked teams playing each other every week will keep the TV cash a-flowing), the best option is the schedule them based on team record from the previous year.
The top teams in Division A and B from the previous year would face each other in the current year. There would have to be some sort of a tie-breaker in case a teams designated rival finished in a spot where the teams would ahve to play again based on their record. Or in simpler terms: if Penn State and Ohio State won their divisions the previous year, they would only play once, despite the fact that they are "out of division rivals" and finished in the same spot in their respective divisions the previous year. In that case, each first place team (Penn State and Ohio State) would play the second and third place teams from the other division, instead of the first and second place teams.
With the top teams in the conference playing the top teams in the other division, it all but guarantees a superior strength of schedule, which increases the odds of the Big Ten champion playing for the National Championship Game year in and year out.
New Big Ten Divisions
Posted on: June 15, 2010 5:20 pm
Edited on: June 15, 2010 5:21 pm