Dividing the Big 10 into Divisions
Now that Nebraska has launched from the Big 12 to the Big 10, the debate will begin as to how the 12 teams in the Big 10 will be divided.
At first glance the most logical way is a simple East/West divide.
In this scenario the Big 10 west would include Nebraska, Minnesota, Iowa, Illinois, Northwestern and Wisconsin. When you look at what would be the other side of the conference in the east, however, it doesn’t take long to see how far out of whack this idea really is.
The east would be top-heavy: Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan State, Purdue and Indiana.
Early on in the process the Big 10 Commissioner Jim Delany has said it will be important to keep rivalries in-tact. In football, for sure, that includes the Michigan/Ohio State battle, Michigan/Michigan State, even Penn State/Ohio State and Purdue/Indiana.
Although Nebraska and Iowa have met fewer than 10 times on the football field, it would make sense for this to be a natural rivalry, similar to Colorado/Nebraska. Some commentators have suggested that Nebraska/Wisconsin would be another game that should be played every season, largely because of the Barry Alvarez connection to Nebraska. Alvarez is a Nebraska alumni and played for the Huskers.
The problem with dividing the Big 10 into east/west is that the conference championship game, at least on paper, would be a mismatch nearly every year.
I doubt this is what the Big 10 has in mind.
It would make more sense to split the traditional powers — Ohio State, Nebraska, Michigan and Penn State, two in each division.
Since this is all about football — which revenue-speaking it is — then it would be easy to put Michigan and Ohio State in the same division. This by far is the biggest rivalry in the conference.
Since Nebraska is new to the Big 10 the conference will have some flexibility in where it puts the Huskers — there are no established rivalries with Big 10 schools.
When the dysfunctional Big 12 formed back in the ’90s there was some discussion of teams designating a rival they would meet on the football field every year. When Oklahoma decided it didn’t want to continue to play Nebraska every year, that ended one of the most storied rivals in all of college sports.
Now that we’re starting from scratch, it would make sense to start a new with this idea.
The Big 10 should allow Michigan/Ohio State to play every year, no matter how the divisions shake out. Then schools could play their five divisional foes every year, plus three different schools from the other side of the conference every year, along with a single, designated rival.
So here’s how I see it shaking out — at least this makes some sense.
One division should include Nebraska, Penn State, Iowa, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Illinois. The other division should include Michigan, Ohio State, Michigan State, Purdue, Northwestern and Indiana. Putting Michigan and Ohio State in the same division secures the future of that rivalry no matter what.
Putting Nebraska on the same side with Penn State, Iowa and Wisconsin at least secures what many believe would be natural rivals for Nebraska — Wisconsin and Iowa. And it ensures at least a semblance of a balance of power in both divisions.
If you look at Nebraska’s history in playing Big 10 schools, probably the Huskers’ biggest “rival” would be Penn State. As Husker fans no all too well, the officiating debacle at Penn State in the 1980s eliminated Nebraska’s national title hunt.
So bad blood can be a good place to start.
When you look at the Big 10, playing in the dome in Indianapolis makes the most sense — by far — when it comes to venues. And really Indiana is centrally located in the Big 10, making it fairly easy for most fans to make the trek.
Whatever the case, Nebraska’s move to the Big 10 is a great opportunity to put together a unique situation in college football.
Let’s hope they get it right.