Recent interviews with athletics directors at Michigan and Ohio State indicate the two long-time football rivals might be split into different divisions when the Big Ten becomes a 12-school league beginning in 2011.
Michigan Athletics Director Dave Brandon said today on AM radio station WTKA that he didn't believe the two schools will be paired together.
"We're in a situation where one of the best things that could happen in my opinion in a given season would be the opportunity to play Ohio State twice, once during the regular season and once for the championship of the Big Ten," Brandon said.
Brandon's comments come one day after Ohio State Athletics Director Gene Smith told the Columbus Dispatch the situation remains fluid.
"I know one thing for sure — that we're going to play (Michigan every year)," Smith said. "We may end up playing the last game of the year, or not. I just don't know yet."
Nebraska joins the league next year, and Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany repeatedly has told reporters that competitive balance ranks No. 1 in divisional alignment. He includes rivalries and geography into a formula to determine the league's most equitable divisions.
"To me I think the biggest priority is going to be to make it equitable," Big Ten Network analyst Dave Revsine said Friday. "I think that’s what Jim Delany has made clear. He’s more concerned with equity than he is with geography. I think you do have to focus on geographic because otherwise you end up with the ACC and no one knows who’s in the Atlantic and who’s in the Coastal. So I think it’s a balancing act."
It's likely the league will split Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State and Nebraska into different divisions. The four teams were the most successful over a 17-year-run — when Penn State joined the league - and all have won national titles in the last 25 years. It's also possible the league will split Wisconsin and Iowa, the other Big Ten schools with winning records over that time, for competitive balance.
Should the league split Ohio State and Michigan into separate divisions, that means the two would play as part of a divisional cross-over game. Ohio State likely would be paired with Penn State because the teams play annually as a league-mandated designated rivalry. Likewise that would put Michigan in the same division as Michigan State and Nebraska to satisfy competitive balance and the rivalry component.
Beyond that, you figure the league would split Wisconsin and Iowa, likely sending Iowa with Nebraska to form a border rivalry and Wisconsin with Ohio State and Penn State for competitive reasons. Based on competitive balance, Indiana and Purdue would join Ohio State, Penn State and Wisconsin. The remaining schools are Minnesota, Illinois and Northwestern. Minnesota would slide with Wisconsin to maintain their traditional rivalry. Illinois and Northwestern would join Nebraska, Iowa, Michigan and Michigan State.
Therefore, my divisional alignment prediction, based on reading the tea leaves is:
RUST BELT: Ohio State, Penn State, Wisconsin, Purdue, Indiana, Minnesota -- 412 league wins over 17 years
GRAIN BELT: Michigan, Michigan State, Nebraska, Iowa, Illinois, Northwestern -- 428 league wins over 17 years
Within each division are intense rivalries and a logical geographic component. The schools also appear to have one annual cross-over opponent (likely to be played in late October and early November, maybe a designated "Rivalry Weekend"). Those games include:
CROSS-OVER RIVALRIES: Ohio State-Michigan, Nebraska-Penn State, Indiana-Illinois, Purdue-Northwestern, Iowa-Minnesota, Wisconsin-Michigan State
Four of the six cross-over rivalries include current league designated rivalries that are played annually. I think Iowa will get a choice of which school to play annually — Minnesota or Wisconsin — and pick Minnesota because of Floyd of Rosedale (and maybe because Iowa has beaten Minnesota 13 of the last 17).
There are only two negatives with this scenario. One, a second meeting devalues Ohio State-Michigan. It uproots college football's best rivalry from its traditional ending and makes it another game. Two, it ends the league's most competitive rivalry — Iowa vs. Wisconsin — on an annual basis, or at least until the league shifts from eight to nine games. Also, Iowa would not end its season against Minnesota any longer.
What are your thoughts?