Big Ten Divisions: How Do They Work?

↵Now that the Big 12 is stable—for now, anyway—attention turns to how the reconfigured Pac-10, Big 12, and Big 10 will go about their business. Since the Big 12 is apparently going with the Pac-10's previous model of a full round-robin and Utah isn't officially in the Pac-10 yet, most of the chatter has surrounded the Big Ten's impending realignment into divisions and subsequent addition of a championship game. ↵

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↵Virtually every Big Ten blog has weighed in at this point with all manner of proposals. A survey: ↵

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Straight Geography

↵ ↵⇥ ↵⇥⇥ ↵⇥⇥⇥ ↵⇥⇥⇥ ↵⇥⇥ ↵⇥⇥ ↵⇥⇥⇥ ↵⇥⇥⇥ ↵⇥⇥ ↵⇥⇥ ↵⇥⇥⇥ ↵⇥⇥⇥ ↵⇥⇥ ↵⇥⇥ ↵⇥⇥⇥ ↵⇥⇥⇥ ↵⇥⇥ ↵⇥⇥ ↵⇥⇥⇥ ↵⇥⇥⇥ ↵⇥⇥ ↵⇥⇥ ↵⇥⇥⇥ ↵⇥⇥⇥ ↵⇥⇥ ↵⇥⇥ ↵⇥⇥⇥ ↵⇥⇥⇥ ↵⇥⇥ ↵⇥ ↵
WestEast
IowaOhio State
WisconsinMichigan
NebraskaPenn State
MinnesotaMichigan State
NorthwesternIndiana
IllinoisPurdue
↵

↵Advocated by The Only Colors (Michigan State) and Black Shoe Diaries (Penn State). The former uses math, the latter the usual complaints about how the conference places too much emphasis on Michigan-Ohio State. Minnesota blog I'm In Love With A Fringe Bowl Team also basically endorses this with one pointless swap: Illinois for Indiana. ↵

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↵PROS: Simple. Kind of balanced. Maintains every serious rivalry in the league without any need for crossover games. ↵

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↵CONS: No offense intended to Iowa and Wisconsin, but shoving Ohio State, Michigan, and Penn State in the same half of the conference is a recipe for conference championship games not so much different than those of the Big 12, where one division is highly likely to spit out an elite and the other has a fair chance of anointing a good, but not great, team that is a decided underdog. in the last ten years, Michigan, Ohio State, and Penn State have had probably 90% of the conference's elite teams, with the Brad Banks Iowa squad about the only outlier. ↵

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↵Jim Delany seems to know and fear this possibility: ↵

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↵⇥

↵⇥“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?” ↵⇥

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↵That latter bit indicates that geography will be the absolute last consideration. Many have argued that the ACC tried to set up their division to guarantee a Miami-FSU championship game and that worked out terribly, but the Big Ten is not the ACC. With double the glamour programs—all of whom have the revenue streams to remain glamour programs, unlike Miami—and two additional schools (Iowa and Wisconsin) that have established themselves better than anything the ACC offers up on a consistent basis, the Big Ten has a better shot at getting an attempt at competitive equity right. ↵

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Guaranteed #1 Sexy Championship Game

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↵(Changes from pure geography in bold.) ↵

↵ ↵⇥ ↵⇥⇥ ↵⇥⇥⇥ ↵⇥⇥⇥ ↵⇥⇥ ↵⇥⇥ ↵⇥⇥⇥ ↵⇥⇥⇥ ↵⇥⇥ ↵⇥⇥ ↵⇥⇥⇥ ↵⇥⇥⇥ ↵⇥⇥ ↵⇥⇥ ↵⇥⇥⇥ ↵⇥⇥⇥ ↵⇥⇥ ↵⇥⇥ ↵⇥⇥⇥ ↵⇥⇥⇥ ↵⇥⇥ ↵⇥⇥ ↵⇥⇥⇥ ↵⇥⇥⇥ ↵⇥⇥ ↵⇥⇥ ↵⇥⇥⇥ ↵⇥⇥⇥ ↵⇥⇥ ↵⇥ ↵
West-ishEast-ish
IowaOhio State
WisconsinMichigan
NebraskaNorthwestern
MinnesotaMichigan State
Penn StateIndiana
IllinoisPurdue
↵

↵Advocated by… well, I said it was a possibility the league would consider but I stopped short of endorsing it. Same for Ohio State blog Eleven Warriors. ↵

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↵PROS: Swapping Penn State into the West generates better championship games overall and turns the Ohio State-Michigan game into a default division championship game. If the Big Ten's number one priority is avoiding the lopsided affair the Big 12 championship game turned into, this is the best bet. ↵

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↵CONS: It does that because the East-ish division is Michigan, Ohio State, and four teams that think "Alamo Bowl? Awesome!" Four of the six teams in the league who have established themselves as at least periodic BCS contenders are in the West. Penn State's actual rivalry with Ohio State and fake rivalry with Michigan State would go by the boards, as would the Northwestern-Illinois trophy game—but no one really cares about that. ↵

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Balance Over Wisconsin

↵ ↵⇥ ↵⇥⇥ ↵⇥⇥⇥ ↵⇥⇥⇥ ↵⇥⇥ ↵⇥⇥ ↵⇥⇥⇥ ↵⇥⇥⇥ ↵⇥⇥ ↵⇥⇥ ↵⇥⇥⇥ ↵⇥⇥⇥ ↵⇥⇥ ↵⇥⇥ ↵⇥⇥⇥ ↵⇥⇥⇥ ↵⇥⇥ ↵⇥⇥ ↵⇥⇥⇥ ↵⇥⇥⇥ ↵⇥⇥ ↵⇥⇥ ↵⇥⇥⇥ ↵⇥⇥⇥ ↵⇥⇥ ↵⇥⇥ ↵⇥⇥⇥ ↵⇥⇥⇥ ↵⇥⇥ ↵⇥ ↵
WestEast
IowaOhio State
Penn StateMichigan
NebraskaWisconsin
MinnesotaMichigan State
NorthwesternIndiana
IllinoisPurdue
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↵Advocated by Doctor Saturday, the Cleveland Plain-Dealer. ↵

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↵PROS: Essentially the same benefits of the previous setup plus more competitive equity, with both divisions sporting three of the league's upper-tier programs and three lower-tier ones. ↵

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↵CONS: Sticking Wisconsin in the East seriously hurts the Iowa-Wisconsin-Minnesota trio I've taken to calling the "triumvirate of hate," and not even a protected intra-conference rival—something I'm not personally a fan of because it introduces schedule imbalances—can fix it since Wisconsin has two serious rivals in the opposite division. Adding a protected rivals would actually reduce the opportunity to play the other. ↵

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↵In addition, Wisconsin's so excited about having Nebraska around that they've already petitioned the league for a rivalry game on the last week of the season. The end result is basically "screw you, Wisconsin." ↵

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Contemplating The Blasphemous

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↵We dispose of East and West entirely: ↵

↵ ↵⇥ ↵⇥⇥ ↵⇥⇥⇥ ↵⇥⇥⇥ ↵⇥⇥ ↵⇥⇥ ↵⇥⇥⇥ ↵⇥⇥⇥ ↵⇥⇥ ↵⇥⇥ ↵⇥⇥⇥ ↵⇥⇥⇥ ↵⇥⇥ ↵⇥⇥ ↵⇥⇥⇥ ↵⇥⇥⇥ ↵⇥⇥ ↵⇥⇥ ↵⇥⇥⇥ ↵⇥⇥⇥ ↵⇥⇥ ↵⇥⇥ ↵⇥⇥⇥ ↵⇥⇥⇥ ↵⇥⇥ ↵⇥⇥ ↵⇥⇥⇥ ↵⇥⇥⇥ ↵⇥⇥ ↵⇥ ↵
NorthSouth
MichiganOhio State
IowaPenn State
NebraskaPurdue
MinnesotaIndiana
Michigan State Illinois
WisconsinNorthwestern
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↵Advocated by the Rivalry Esquire. ↵

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↵PROS: None. ↵

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↵CONS: If you're looking for competitive equity, this is the exact opposite of it. You've got the #1 Sexy Championship division except you've flipped Michigan and Illinois for Penn State and Michigan State, making the top heavy division even more top heavy. And since you've split Michigan and Ohio State you're forcing the addition of cross-division guaranteed rivalries, one of which will be OSU-Michigan. The end result is Michigan and Ohio State get considerably tougher schedules than anyone else in the league year-in and year-out. ↵

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So… What Now?

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↵Unfortunately, there's no obvious winner. Geography is going to be hewed to fairly closely if only because the serious rivalries in the league are based on it. So the Big Ten faces a choice between throwing three of its four-ish (three and a half, really) glamor teams in the same division, creating an unbalanced split of the top six programs, or disrupting some of the leagues most treasured rivalries. Or I guess they could go with the last option if they want to do two of the three. ↵

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This post originally appeared on the Sporting Blog. For more, see The Sporting Blog Archives.

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