Big Ten debates divisional alignments in expansion
Big Ten football will have a different look when Nebraska begins play in 2011.
There’ll be a championship game, one that generates lots of money and keeps the league relevant into early December. And the conference will split into two six-team divisions, with the potential for those divisions to grow should the Big Ten decide to expand again.
Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany said the league will adhere to three principles when it sets its divisions, likely sometime later this summer.
“First priority’s competitive fairness to me,” Delany said last week. “Second priority is maintenance of rivalries, some of them are very important. They’re part of who we are and they’re not treated lightly. And then I think the third is what factor, if any, does geography play?”
While university presidents will ultimately decide how the Big Ten aligns, Delany said associate commissioner Mark Rudner will outline a handful of divisional options for school athletic directors in the coming weeks.
During the Big Ten Network’s expansion coverage on Friday, analyst Gerry DiNardo laid out three possibilities. Two involved splitting the conference geographically (along north-south and east-west lines), while the third sought to split up traditional football powers Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State and Nebraska into “Bo” and “Woody” divisions.
â€¢ Using the state of Indiana as a dividing line, Michigan would play in the East Division along with Penn State, Ohio State, Michigan State, Indiana and Purdue. The West would be: Nebraska, Iowa, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Illinois and Northwestern.
â€¢ In a north-south split, the North Division would feature Michigan, Nebraska, Wisconsin, Michigan State, Minnesota and Northwestern. The South: Ohio State, Penn State, Iowa, Indiana, Illinois and Purdue.
â€¢ Under the Bo and Woody plan, Michigan headlines the “Bo” Division, named after former Wolverines coach Bo Schembechler, along with Nebraska, Michigan State, Minnesota, Iowa and Illinois. The “Woody” Division (after former Buckeyes coach Woody Hayes) includes Ohio State, Penn State, Wisconsin, Purdue, Indiana and Northwestern.
“I would say forget about geography, make it as equal as possible, keep your rivalries, take your four historic powers” and split them into two divisions, DiNardo said.
Delany, appearing a few minutes later, said, “I sort of agree with Coach. I think it’s really important to work on the competitive fairness. That’s a great initial principle.”
There are issues to debate with each plan, but all three appear viable.
With an east-west alignment, the Big Ten risks being too unbalanced, like the old Big 12, with its traditional football and basketball powers consolidated mostly in the East. In the north-south and Bo-Woody plans, travel is more cumbersome, especially for non-revenue sports, and rivals like Michigan and Ohio State are in opposite divisions.
Delany said most rivalries (i.e., Michigan-Ohio State and Michigan-Michigan State) will be protected, though he admitted on the Big Ten Network “not all rivalries are equal.”
He also said he expects to have a 2011 schedule in place sometime later this summer.
“This is not going to the moon, this is creating some football and basketball schedules and some championship formats and selling some media rights,” he said. “I think it’s a challenge, but eminently doable."
Dave Birkett covers University of Michigan football for AnnArbor.com. He can be reached by phone at 734-623-2552 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett.