Situations change for league, but Big Ten brand remains strong

Published: August 2 2010 | 10:58 pm - Updated: 31 March 2014 | 3:58 am in
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CHICAGO -- The Big Ten Conference brand first appeared in 1917. The name didn't change when the league became nine schools in 1946 or 11 in 1993.

When the Big Ten becomes 12 schools in 2011, the name will stay the same.

"I think the Big Ten is the Big Ten regardless of the number," Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany said Monday the league's annual media days event in Chicago.

Only the Big Ten brand remains constant these days, especially on the football field. When Nebraska joins the league in 2011, the Big Ten will revamp into two divisions, play its first football championship game and shift from eight league games to nine within four years. The league remains open to future expansion, but its perpetual flirtation with Notre Dame appears over, maybe for good.

Divisional realignment is the forefront issue for Delany and the league's athletics director, who will decide the issue within the next 45 days. It's a tricky subject in a league filled with 12 trophy games and 10 series boasting more than 90 games among its members.

Related information

Read more complete coverage from Dochterman, Marc Morehouse and Mike Hlas on the Big Ten media day.

Delany said the realignment principles begin with competitive balance aimed at preserving rivalries. Delany defines competitive balance based on records from 1993, when Penn State joined the league, scholarship numbers were reduced to 85 and the precursor to the Bowl Championship Series was born. In the ensuing 17 seasons,  five schools have posted winning records in Big Ten play: Ohio State (106-29-1), Michigan (94-42), Penn State (86-50), Wisconsin (79-54-3) and Iowa (69-64-1). Nebraska, which has won three national titles over the same span, posted a 96-37 mark in the Big Eight and Big 12 conferences.

Splitting up the membership won't be easy, ESPN college football analyst Kirk Herbstreit said.

"I think you have to hold on to some of the obvious tradition and some of the great rivalries that we have in the Big Ten," said Herbstreit, a former Ohio State quarterback. "I think then you have to start some new ones and not be afraid to split it up and do some things that are probably going to have a lot of people frustrated and concerned about why in the world would they do this and be willing to go to unchartered territory."

Many rivalries likely will be preserved, whether it's in divisional or cross-divisional play. Michigan-Ohio State have played 106 times and the teams have combined to win 76 Big Ten football titles. The schools have met on the league's final regular-season Saturday every year since 1942.

It's undetermined if the schools will remain in the same division.

"You could conceive of a divisional setup that had them in the same division," he said. "I think you could equally conceive of a divisional setup that had them in different divisions. I think the important thing is that they play."

But there are other rivalries that could get lost in divisional realignment, Delany concedes. Minnesota Coach Tim Brewster said he spoke with Delany about maintaining annual rivalries with Iowa and Wisconsin, calling them "vital to the Big Ten." That's why Delany envisions the league increasing its annual games from eight to nine.

"I think a ninth game at this juncture would serve everybody's interests," Delany said.

Delany said the league remains open to future expansion, but he and the university presidents won't discuss it again until December.

Notre Dame, which publicly rejected the Big Ten in 1999, appears to be outside the league's expansion target zone.

"I don't see them as a player, really," Delany said. "I think (Notre Dame Athletics Director) Jack Swarbrick has been consistent from the beginning about their commitment to the Big East and their commitment to independence. And so I see Notre Dame playing in the Big East for many years to come. And I see Notre Dame playing as an independent in football for many years to come."

Other highlights:

  • Delany said the league likely will select a football championship site for one year before going through a bidding process for future host sites.
  • It's possible the league won't divide its Olympic sports, including basketball, into divisions. "I don't know what a divisional configuration does in women's and men's basketball that would be an improvement on what we're doing," Delany said.
  • While the league won't change it's name, it must alter its current logo, which contains the number 11 inside the words "Big Ten."
  • The Big Ten Network is just beginning discussions with Nebraska about integrating the school's video inventory, Big Ten Network President Mark Silverman said.

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