With Nebraska expected to announce its decision to join the Big Ten set for Friday, our Big Ten bloggers at The Rivalry, Esquire have begun to speculate about one of the next questions confronting the league: how will the beefed-up conference split itself into divisions?
Of course, before figuring out how division re-alignment will shake out, you first need to know how many teams will be in the conference: will the (inaccurately-named) Big Ten stop at 12 teams or go to
infinity and beyond or 14 or 16 teams? With that in mind, the folks over at The Rivalry, Esquire lay out a few different scenarios, involving a 12-team and 14-league conference. Check out the full breakdown here.
Through all the scenarios there are three main issues: geography, competitive balance and the Michigan-Ohio State game. Organizing the two divisions along strict geographical lines preserves the Michigan-Ohio State rivalry as the last game of the season for both teams (since they would share a division), but it would produce a top-heavy eastern division, with the aforementioned pair and Penn State battling it out for a spot in the conference title game, against a bevy of non-traditional powers. Call this the "Big 12 problem" (after the fact that the Big 12 South boasted the preponderance of the conference's football powers, yielding some decidedly anti-climatic title games the past few years).
Dividing the conference into two more competitively balanced divisions solves this problem, although the resulting divisions wouldn't make strict geographic sense. More importantly for the Big Ten faithful, it would create the possibility of Michigan and Ohio State meeting in consecutive weeks (assuming they maintain their year-end game despite playing in different divisions...and that they remain the preeminent football powers in the conference).
Of course, the Big Ten could solve all of these problems if they just expanded a bit more...to say 150 or so. Then they could split into six "BCS" divisions.