With basketball and hockey dominating our attention, I have to admit that I'd forgotten all about the upcoming Big Ten decisions on how the football divisions will be realigned. Before we talk about the likely selection, let's recap some of the options. If you recall, the Big Ten Network polled fans on the subject back in December and included 3 choices:
- Current alignment +1 new team
- An alignment based on geography (i.e. East/West)
- The Eye of Sauron (aka: Innie/Outie)
So...Which Way Are The Winds Blowing?
Good news (at least in my opinion)! According to Adam Rittenburg, the Big Ten has already decided to go with the East/West option.
The Big Ten's future division alignment is taking shape. Barring a late shift in the discussions between athletic directors and league officials, the only question to sort out is: Will Indiana or Purdue move West?
League sources have told ESPN.com that the Big Ten, as expected, will go with a geographic split for its divisions in 2014. As we first reported last month, time zones are expected to divide the divisions. The only problem: eight Big Ten schools are located in the Eastern time zone, including future members Maryland and Rutgers, while just six are located in the Central time zone.
One team needs to move West, and speculation has centered on three schools: Purdue, Indiana and Michigan State. But Michigan State isn't in play to move West, sources say, and the debate now is whether Indiana or Purdue enters the "West" division.
Alright! East/West! Divisions that make sense! But what about Purdue and Indiana? If they're split up that means we're stuck with protected crossover games still, right? Well, maybe not!
Before Hoosier fans and Boiler fans panic about their annual rivalry, rest assured that the Bucket game will be preserved with a protected crossover. Barring a change in the discussions, Indiana-Purdue will be the only protected crossover, as the Big Ten wants to create as much flexibility as possible with its schedules.
The only protected crossover? Now that's very interesting. That will help eliminate the "we never get to play the teams in the other division" issue. And given the fact that neither of those programs is a traditional powerhouse, neither should be saddled with a competitive disadvantage (if anything, Purdue's schedule should remain easier because of it). That leaves the 9 or 10 game schedule decision.
League sources tell ESPN.com that a 9-game conference schedule likely will go into effect for the 2016 season -- there's still some discussion about a 10-game league slate, but all signs point to nine -- and that the goal is for every pair of teams to play at least once every four years.
But what about competitive balance? On paper, the East division is more difficult. Well, it looks like the B1G has finally wised up to the fact that competitive balance is cyclical and trying to design static divisions that deliver it is a fools errand.
What Does This Mean For The Gophers?
Honestly? This is probably the best outcome for Minnesota competitively. We end up in the marginally weaker of the two divisions and no protected crossovers means that the schedule doesn't have the yearly competitive disadvantage of Michigan while other schools get paired with easier teams. Additionally, we'll be in the division with 2 teams that have shown the ability to suck (Illinois and Purdue/Indiana) and one that we've been competitive with even in our down seasons (Northwestern).
On the downside, the rivalry with Michigan is a casualty of this alignment. Forgoing the protected crossover will result in longer breaks in the battle for the Little Brown Jug. Even with a nine game schedule, the gaps will be longer and more frequent than they were before Nebraska joined the conference. That said, Iowa and Wisconsin will both be division foes and Nebraska remains on the schedule. They may not be a historical rival, but we do share a long history.
And last but not least, we don't end up in a division with the newbies with whom we share no common history or geography.
I like it!
Assuming the reports are accurate, what do you think of this plan?
Follow The Daily Gopher on Twitter at @TheDailyGopher.
You can follow GoAUpher on Twitter at @GoAUpher.