Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Almost Perfect: Big Ten Divisional Alignment

A good rivalry is a beautiful thing.
A few quick thoughts on the now official Big Ten divisions:

- First and foremost, The Game will stay the same.  You could have put UM in a division with anyone and as long as the OSU game came in the final week I would be satisfied.  Too much tradition, too much hate, too much national significance.  The rivalry may have lost some luster with the introduction of a championship game, but it would have been a huge letdown to play OSU sometime in late October.  It benefits the Big Ten to keep this game where it is, even if a rematch happens the next week (unlikely).

- Competitive balance was reached (Expect that to shift in five years.  Then shift again in five more.  College football is no monolith) but Jim Delany and his cronies need to do a better job thinking outside the box.  I don't think I have heard more than three different proposed divisional splits.  I understand the need to split up the three eastern powers for revenue/relevancy reasons, but it seems from day one any time someone mentioned competitive balance it automatically implied putting Penn State and OSU together and shipping Michigan out west.  Why couldn't you have a division of PSU, MSU, Wisc, Nebraska, IU, Ill and another of UM, OSU, Iowa, Minn, NW, Purdue?  Protect the UM/MSU, PSU/OSU, Iowa/Nebraska, Wisc/Minn, Purdue/IU, NW/Ill.  You still give up the same amount of rivalries, but you come up with an impressive set of protected cross divisional rivalries that are actually, you know, rivalries.  This certainly beats Iowa/Purdue, MSU/Indiana matchups we ended up with.  (Speaking of forced rivalries, how bad does this suck for MSU and Iowa.  Instead of a cross divisional rival you can get excited about, you have to play a school from Indiana).

- MSU just won the basketball lottery if these divisions translate to the hardwood.  Iowa and Nebraska as four of your games?  Can we just agree to let those two awful programs combine to make a middle of the road Big Ten team?  Minnesota and Northwestern are no threat to the Spartans, and UM is at least three years away from being a legitimate challenge for the conference crown.  Are we sure Izzo wasn't on the divisional committee?

- The Big Ten at least made things fair across the top of the divison by making PSU/Nebraska a crossover rivalry.  This means the best four programs will play at least two of the other three every year.  However, it could set up a brutal schedule for Nebraska or UM down the line.  Take for example a Michigan division lineup of Nebraska, MSU, Iowa, NW, and Minnesota; a protected rivalry against OSU; an unlucky draw of PSU and Wisconsin as the other cross divisional games in a year; and then the Big Ten championship game.  Ouch.  At least OSU and PSU get the Zooker, the corpse of Indiana's football team, and whatever team Danny Hope can put together at Purdue on a yearly basis.  For the time being it looks much easier to go undefeated in the second division than the first, and that is factoring in the current state of Michigan's program.

Ed. Note:  I wrote this before I checked out the schedules.  It seems my worst case scenario for a division one team happened, but to Nebraska, not Michigan.  In 2011 Nebraska plays at Wisconsin, Minnesota, Penn State, and Michigan, with home dates coming against Iowa, OSU, Northwestern, and MSU.  2012 reverses the home and away schedule.  Welcome to the Big Ten Cornhuskers.

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