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Big 10 Divisions: Split Michigan, Ohio State

August 20, 2010

Written by Jon Miller

Hawkeye Nation

by Jon Miller
Publisher

More and more momentum builds for Ohio State and Michigan being in opposite divisions. The biggest ‘whoa’ we have seen on this front in some time is Michigan AD David Brandon’s comments within the past 24 hours that if he were the one setting up the divisions, would he place Michigan and Ohio State in the same division…he said ‘No.’ You can read more of what he said here. Adam Rittenberg of ESPN also talks about the splitting of divisions here.

I have felt all along that Michigan and Ohio State would be in the same division to preserve the ‘sanctity’ of their rivalry, one of the best in sports…to have it possibly be played twice per year could water it down and make it less special, in my opinion. Perhaps that’s just me being too sentimental being a nearly 40-year old life long fan of Big Ten Athletics…it’s a new era, a new time.

Let’s take a look at what a lineup might look like without Michigan and Ohio State playing in the same division…we need to keep in mind Jim Delany’s comments on what will be most important on this matter: Competitive balance, rivalries, then geography…in that order. Also, how many protected rivalries will teams have? One or two? Delany said earlier this week that he expects a nine-game conference slate by 2015. I also think the Big Ten will be larger than 12 teams by then, so to go with more than one protected rival right now might fit, because if there will be 16 teams in the league some day, you’d play all seven division foes and then two protected rivals to get to nine games…but that means you might never play five teams in your conference unless you met them in the Big Ten title game. Does that seem likely? Not to me, given what Delany has said about the reason for being in a conference is because you like one another and you want to play one another. So two protected rivals works in a 12 team league, not so great in a 16 team league..then again, if they go to 16, teams won’t be playing a lot of the other teams for a while to begin with.

Say Iowa and Illinois were not in the same division in a 16 team league…and they were not protected rivals. That means the only way they would play is if they met in the title game. How many times in the last 30 years could something like that have happened? Not often. While I wouldn’t mind not having to play Ohio State unless it was for the Big Ten title, this just doesn’t seem to mesh. So for this discussion, I will go with just one protected rival.

DIVISION A
Ohio State
Penn State

DIVISION B
Michigan
Nebraska

Let’s stop right here for a moment. We know that Michigan and Ohio State will be one another’s protected rival. I want to assume Penn State and Nebraska protect one another, based on how I will lay things out in a second. Right off the bat, we have the Michigan State conundrum; are they opposite Michigan? If so, then they are not going to have their in state rivalry protected. It’s the best in state rivalry in the league. If you put them in DIvision B, then they would play each year. But now you have a Division that begins to look out of balance…let’s go further.

DIVISION A
Ohio State
Penn State
Indiana
Purdue

Continue reading below

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DIVISION B
Michigan
Nebraska
Michigan State
Iowa

I think it’s safe to assume Nebraska and Iowa will be in the same division. Indiana and Purdue fit in Division A from a geographical perspective. They are also rivals and would not have to split themselves. I think you can see where this is going…What about Wisconsin? Do you put them in Division B? That is the best fit, on the surface. But if you put them there in the same Division with Iowa, doesn’t Minnesota have to come along?

DIVISION A
Ohio State
Penn State
Indiana
Purdue
Northwestern
Illinois

DIVISION B
Michigan
Nebraska
Michigan State
Iowa
Wisconsin
Minnesota

Continue reading below

Delany has established 1993 as the year where he will begin to factor in the competitive balance numbers. Division B looks awfully loaded, with just one ‘weak’ program in Minnesota. Michigan State has upper division talent year in and year out, while their on field performance rarely lives up to expectations, yet on a given Saturday, they have traditionally had the personel to beat any team in the league. Michigan is down right now, but do you really expect them to stay that way?

In Division A, Ohio State has an 11-6 record against Penn State since 1993. The Buckeyes are 10-3 against Purdue, 13-0 against Indiana, 11-4 against Illinois and 11-1 against Northwestern. Yes, Ohio State is one of the best programs in the sport. But that’s a slanted slate. Penn State is 10-3 vs Northwestern, 13-0 vs Indiana, 10-2 vs Purdue and 11-2 vs Illinois. This is basically a two team division.

Over in B, Michigan is 8-3 vs Iowa, 8-5 vs Wisconsin, 11-6 vs Michigan State and 13-1 vs Minnesota. Far more balanced. Iowa is 13-4 vs Minnesota, 8-7 vs Wisconsin and 8-5 vs Michigan State. Wisconsin is 8-5 vs Michigan State, 13-4 vs Minnesota.

In Division A, Purdue and Illinois have one Big Ten title since 1993, Penn State has three, Northwestern has three and Ohio State has 9. In B, Iowa has two, Wisconsin has three, Michigan has five while Minnesota and Michigan State have zero. On the Championship front, you can eek out a little more balance. But then you are forgetting the impact Nebraska would have had and will have on Big Ten titles…Division B is too strong…

Continue reading below

As slanted as this seems, it’s hard to see any other way. Here is a look at protected rivals under this scenario.

DIVISION A
Ohio State (Michigan)
Penn State (Nebraska)
Indiana (Minnesota)
Purdue (Michigan State)
Northwestern (Wisconsin)
Illinois (Iowa)

DIVISION B
Michigan (Ohio State)
Nebraska (Penn State)
Michigan State (Purdue)
Iowa (Illinois)
Wisconsin (Northwestern)
Minnesota (Indiana)

From an Iowa fan perspective, it would be great to save the rivalries with Wisconsin and Minnesota, and we are all looking forward to the budding rivalry with Nebraska. I also prefer to be in the same division with Michigan, as the series has been competitive, more so than the W-L record indicates. Protecting the Michigan-Ohio State rivalry is an automatic, but Michigan State is the program that sort of tilts the balance here; they are the odd man out. It would be a better fit for them in Division A, and move Illinois or Northwestern to Division B.

I also think these divisions are split up well to accomodate teams from the East as possible future Big Ten expansion…Rutgers, Maryland, Syracuse, teams along those lines…they would fit into Division A, and you could easily slide NW and ILL to B without much fuss…also Notre Dame, for that matter. I dont know how you cannot give a nod to possible expansion when looking at splitting up these divisions, because I don’t think the Big Ten is stopping at 12.

However, this thing isn’t going to please everyone. What are your thoughts? I am looking forward to debating this on the Big Ten Network’s ‘Big Ten Pulse’ on our debut show, September 9th.

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