Do you realize we’re less than a month away from the annual Big Ten football media gathering in Chicago, which means thoughts can turn to Big Ten expansion faster than you can ask, what’s up with Notre Dame?
Nothing, of course, is up with the Irish because expansion fever has cooled. For now, they don’t have to do anything but keep their independent status, and let Big Ten officials dream about what might never be.
Those Big Ten officials, however, are doing more than dreaming. They’re busy figuring out how to fit Nebraska into next year’s schedule, and beyond. The big ticket item is football and dividing the new 12-team league into two six-team divisions.
As far as Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany is concerned the keys are as follows:
1) Competitive fairness
Competitive fairness, by the way, would not be a division of Penn State, Ohio State, Michigan, Nebraska, Indiana and Purdue.
So how do you divide it? Conference athletic directors will gather to hash it out. They will get input from coaches and presidents. They will consider all the options.
Tradition indicates the four major teams are Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State and Nebraska. It would make zero sense to put all four in the same division.
Michigan and Ohio State deserve each other. Competitive logic would indicate putting Penn State and Nebraska together in the other division.
Over the last decade or so the best teams after that would be Wisconsin and Iowa. So split them up, maybe Wisconsin with Michigan and Ohio State, and Iowa with Nebraska and Penn State.
That leaves Indiana, Purdue, Northwestern, Minnesota, Michigan State and Illinois.
A 10-year snapshot of Big Ten action puts Purdue and Northwestern with the next best records, the Boilers at 41-39, the Wildcats at 38-42. So split them up. After that the two best records are Michigan State (32-48) and Minnesota (30-50). Split them up. Last is Illinois (26-54) and IU (18-62).
Key rivalries to consider include Michigan State-Michigan, Ohio State-Michigan and Indiana-Purdue.
Because the divisions wouldn’t be based on geography it would be hard to call them Big Ten East or Big Ten North, but given the 12-team league is still called the Big Ten, does it really matter?
How about a Big Ten East of Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio State, Michigan State Purdue and Indiana. That would leave a Big Ten West of Penn State, Nebraska, Iowa, Northwestern, Minnesota and Illinois.
Or, if you wanted to potentially go a little easier on the Hoosiers, you could put Minnesota and Illinois in the Big Ten East and Indiana and Purdue in the Big Ten West.
Each team would play five division games and three non-division games. Each team could schedule non-conference games based on the needs and fit of its program.
So there you have it. We have done all the work, so Big Ten athletic directors can implement it and focus on what’s really important in major-college football: