Rather than going with the 2 divisional alignment that has been argued quite extensively, I have a proposed solution for peer review. The main reason for peer review is that I'm not entirely sure that everything works out in every situation. Let me know if you find something that doesn't, making this whole post worthless.
In this situation, the 12 team conference will be split into 4 pods, and the four pods will rotate around who plays each other and a singular protected rivalry will happen outside of pod play.
First, for basic understanding of my pods:
Division names here are just made up for convenience, something better could be thought up. I'm just looking at how to divide and schedule.
The key to this scheduling technique is a rotation. The plan is to have a 9 game schedule, with each team playing 2 divisional games, 1 protected rivalry game, and 6 games against teams in matched divisions. If the protected rivalry game falls in one of the two matched divisions (2 games per division automatically end up this way), they'll be replaced by a team in the unlinked division.
The protected rivalries outside of the divisions:
I felt this does a good job of keeping some of the more important rivalries that may or may not exist, even if they are minor (Michigan vs Minnesota) or developing ones (Iowa vs Penn State).
By setting this divisional set up and match ups, this means that two divisions are linked every year. By linked, I mean that they will play the same divisions, but not each other, except in games replacing protected rivalry weekends. So, for example, in year one, the Central will play the West and South divisions. Also in year one, the Midwest will play the West and South divisions. The Central and Midwest won't play each other except replacing protected rivalry games, and the West and South won't play each other except in games replacing protected rivalries.
To describe this in chart form, the team in the top would play inter-divisional against the teams in the chart in each of the three rotating years:
Looking above, you can see that the Central would play the same inter-divisional opponents as the Midwest in year one of the rotation. In year two, they'd play the same opponents as the South. In year three, they'd play the same inter-divisional opponents as the West. Having played the same opponents, I think this makes them best suited for "linking" them for who makes the Big Ten Championship game. The best record emerging from the "linked" groups will face off in the Big Ten.
So in year one, the best Big Ten record of the Central and Midwest would face the best Big Ten record of the West and South. This helps eliminate some of the problem the Big XII faced as a 2 division, 12 team conference. One half of the conference cannot dominate the other half as quarters of the conference much mix yearly.
Will it work?
I'm not entirely sure. The protected rivalries may hurt the system, but some I think are near necessities. The thing I'm least sure about is if replacing protected rivalries will work out. Say Michigan is in year one of the rotation, they'll play Minnesota in the inter-divisional round, therefore, they'll need to play a team out of the Midwest to make up for the lost conference game. Will that work out all the time? I'm not sure. I tried to space it out where no team in the same pod had a protected rivalry in the same division as another team in their rivalry, so theoretically, there should always be two teams from each pod that must play a team from their linked pod.
That even number in each pod should make it possible. I'm interested to see if those with a sharper attention span can confirm this.
- It eliminates the need to split the conference in two parts.
- Geography is still pretty well grouped. Penn State does jump the Central schools, but that was to keep Michigan with it's two geographic rivals.
- The quarters provide a pretty solid balance between groups,
- It keeps many if not all major conference rivalries together.
- You never go more than one year without facing an opponent.
- Only 85% sure it will work.
- You're probably slightly confused just thinking about it.
- One less cream puff game per year, resulting in half the conference gaining an extra loss (price of a 9-game conference season)
I like it, but I'm interested in your thoughts. I don't see much in the way of 4 divisions being thrown around for much outside of the 16 team conference, which I'd prefer something similar in that case as well.
6'4, 285 lbs.
Elliott has started to see his recruitment take off. With around 14 offers so far, he is hoping for and expecting a few more offers to roll in. James was offered by Michigan this past Tuesday, and was very excited that the Wolverines have chosen him for a scholarship offer. He told me that Michigan is in his top five even if he gets those offers that he's hoping for.
He will most likely have to use an official visit to come see Ann Arbor since it's an expensive trip from Florida. Elliott has a very close relationship with his offensive line coach, and it just so happens that Elliott's line coach played at FSU with Michigan offensive line coach Greg Frey. They have that instant connection and trust that's needed during recruiting, so we'll see how this plays out. Distance won't be a factor for Elliot.
5'10, 165 lbs.
Cape Coral, Florida
Holloway is an interesting prospect who only holds a few offers from Indiana, Michigan, West Virginia, and Western Kentucky. Although the local schools haven't offered they've had their eye on Holloway, and at least one of them should jump into the mix soon.
Holloway told me that Michigan is in his top two with West Virginia. He said that even if one of the local schools does offer, Michigan will still be up there in the top group. Just because they're a local school doesn't mean he would pick them. He's looking for the right fit, and the right school for him. Holloway doesn't know the exact date yet but he will be visiting Michigan sometime either this month, or next.
One complicating factor for Holloway and Michigan is that, like his former teammate Spencer Boyd, Holloway has a child. Boyd recently transferred from Notre Dame to be closer to his family. You have to think that would have an effect on Prince, too.
A look at Prince's spring game this year:
6'3, 210 lbs.
Matthews, North Carolina
Kris Frost will be in Ann Arbor this coming weekend for camp with his family. This is a huge visit for Michigan, as it will be the first time his family will be seeing Michigan. Frost recently took an impromptu visit to Auburn and enjoyed himself. He's been to Auburn quite a few times now, and the proximity to his home is a plus in the eyes of his mom and dad.
Michigan needs to roll out the red carpet for his family. If Michigan can impress them, then it would be safe to say that Michigan will be the clear front-runner. I sent Kris a text the other day, and said, "You're still coming up to Michigan for camp right?" His reply was, "THAAATTTT'SSS RIIIIIIGGGHHTT!!!!!!!!" So… he's a little excited.
[Editor's note: Camp will be critical in Frost's recruitment. The frequent visits to Auburn have Tiger fans feeling optimistic; Michigan's main chance to sway him back will be this weekend.]
6'4, 215 lbs.
Ed was offered by Michigan this past weekend. I spoke with him afterwards, and he said he's going to get together with his family and talk about what's next. "What's next" could be an quick commitment. I'm expecting that Ed's commitment will come sooner rather than later, once he has all of his questions answered. He said he will be ready to make his decision once he feels right about a school.
Michigan is in good shape here.
- There was an article brought to my attention in which Andre Yruretagoyena (I don't even need to look that up anymore) said he didn't think it was fair that USC's new coaches were being punished for what the old staff did. The sanctions against USC are coming from 2004, and you have to remember, Andre was only 10 or 11 years old at that time. He didn't know that Lane Kiffin was part of that staff. He does now, and he doesn't feel as strongly about it. Yruretagoyena said he "want[s] to say it doesn't affect me, but it does."
- MD ATH Brandon Phelps has a Michigan offer, plans a visit, and lists Michigan in a list of five schools that are recruiting him hard.
- OH LB Sean Duggan's visit to Michigan was "awesome" and Michigan is now solidly in his top three.
Nebraska will begin Big Ten play in the fall of 2011, and the Internets are full of proposals for splitting the twelve-team conference into two divisions. Many of those proposals are fundamentally flawed, either because they are parochial (obviously to one school’s advantage), or because they ignore what Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delaney has already said about the conference’s priorities.
In the press conference welcoming Nebraska to the Big Ten, Delaney said that divisional alignment would be based on competitive balance, protecting rivalries, and geography, in that order. He also said that some rivalries are more important than others.
By putting geography third, Delaney sent a clear signal that an east–west split is highly unlikely. As many commenters have noted, that arrangement would put three of the conference's four traditional powers—Michigan, Ohio State, and Penn State—in the same division.
A north–south alignment seems equally unlikely. There isn't a huge difference in latitude between the northernmost and southernmost schools in the conference. No one in Illinois thinks of a trip to Michigan as “going north,” even if that’s literally true. It would be an awfully odd way to split up, if geography is the commissioner’s bottom priority.
Last year, three BCS leagues had twelve teams in two six-team divisions: the SEC, the ACC, and the Big XII. All three used the same scheduling formula: teams play all five members of their own division annually, plus three of six in the opposite division on a rotating basis, for a total of eight conference games. This is the most straightforward scheduling plan. It preserves the same number of league games that Big Ten teams play today, and it also ensures that every team plays all of the others reasonably often.
If we assume this format for the Big Ten in 2011, then Michigan and Ohio State will probably be in one division, Nebraska and Penn State in the other. This is the only arrangement that ensures the Wolverines and Buckeyes will play The Game every year. Putting the two in opposite divisions would either eliminate The Game as an annual affair, or create other scheduling headaches. There is simply no good reason to put Michigan and Ohio State in different divisions. Penn State and Nebraska may be at opposite geographic poles, but the commissioner has already said that geography is his last priority.
With the traditional powers evenly divided and geography a minimal concern, the remaining eight teams will probably be divided up based on rivalries, and the commissioner said that some are more important than others. Let us consider, then, how the rivalries might be ranked.
Two groups of rivalries are probably at the bottom of the heap: those that are not contested annually, and those involving Penn State. The Little Brown Jug, involving Michigan and Minnesota, is in the first category. Even the current Big Ten scheduling system does not ensure that these two meet every year. If that’s acceptable today, then surely it is acceptable in the future.
Before Penn State joined the conference in the 1990s, it did not have a notable rivalry with any Big Ten team. Several rivalries were more-or-less invented for the Nittany Lions. They play for two named trophies—the Governor’s Victory Bell with Minnesota and the Land Grand Trophy with Michigan State—plus an annual unnamed tilt with Ohio State. As none of these rivalries is long-standing, they are presumably dispensable.
We move on to the Big Ten’s current protected rivalries—those that are contested every year, under the current system, minus those involving Penn State. Here they are:
Illinois: Indiana, Northwestern
Indiana: Illinois, Purdue
Iowa: Minnesota, Wisconsin
Michigan: Michigan State, Ohio State
Michigan State: Michigan,
Minnesota: Iowa, Wisconsin
Northwestern: Illinois, Purdue
Ohio State: Michigan,
Purdue: Indiana, Northwestern
Wisconsin: Iowa, Minnesota
We have already concluded that Michigan and Ohio State will be in the same division, so that rivalry is taken care of. We can assume that the conference would seek to preserve the same-state rivalries, such as Michigan vs. Michigan State, as most Division I football schools have an opponent in their own state that they play annually.
The adjoining-state rivalries require a bit of discussion. Michigan fans wax poetic about past Ohio State games, but many haven’t a clue about the games that matter to other teams in the conference. I am astonished when I see proposed line-ups that put Wisconsin and Minnesota in separate divisions. Amazingly enough, these two schools have the oldest annually contested rivalry in Division I football. There is no way Wisconsin and Minnesota would give that up. They’ve played every year since 1892. In contrast, Michigan didn’t play MSU until 1898, and it wasn’t an annual meeting until 1902.
The annual Minnesota–Wisconsin game is for a trophy called Paul Bunyon’s axe. There are named trophies for these two schools’ annual games with Iowa too—the Floyd of Rosedale and the Heartland Trophy respectively. In contrast, the annual Illinois–Indiana and Northwestern–Purdue tilts are of no special significance, beyond their longstanding membership in the Big Ten, a fact they share with other teams.
With our background on rivalries complete, we can now try to slot the new twelve-team Big Ten into divisions. It is obviously sensible to put Iowa into the same division as Nebraska, given that they occupy adjoining states. Nebraska does not have a long-standing rivalry with any Big Ten team, but if they were going to develop one, Iowa would be an obvious candidate. As the Hawkeyes and the Wisconsin Badgers are routinely strong football programs, it makes sense to split them, for competitive balance reasons. And given the background recited above, where the Badgers go, the Minnesota Golden Gophers go too.
(Incidentally, Nebraska has played Minnesota 51 times, more than any other team in the conference. But as the two have not met since 1990, this is not likely to be a factor in setting up the divisions.)
We therefore have the following start:
Plains: Iowa, Nebraska, Penn State
Lakes: Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Ohio State, Wisconsin
The Illinois and Indiana schools cannot be slotted into this arrangement without splitting one of the in-state rivalries. Fortunately, there is a straightforward solution. Although Illinois and Northwestern have played every year within living memory, the game was not annual until 1927. They played many times before that, but with numerous gaps. Indiana and Purdue have missed only two years since 1899. The state of Indiana therefore trumps the state of Illinois.
I therefore submit the following alignment as consistent with Jim Delaney’s stated priorities of competitive balance first, rivalries second, and geography third.
Plains: Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Nebraska, Penn State, Purdue
Lakes: Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Northwestern, Ohio State, Wisconsin
This plan has reasonable competitive balance. The only named trophy rivalries that would no longer be contested annually, aside from those involving Penn State, are Iowa–Minnesota, Iowa–Wisconsin, and Illinois–Northwestern. Of course, this doesn’t mean they’d no longer play each other, only that it wouldn’t be annual.
There does not appear to be an alignment that preserves these rivalries without breaking others that are more important, or setting up divisions that are clearly unbalanced. For instance, in the alignment above, if you swap Iowa and Northwestern, then the broken rivalries would be restored, but the Lakes division would be top-heavy, with Iowa, Michigan, Ohio State, and Wisconsin. Other re-arrangements meet with similar objections.
Obviously, with the Big Ten’s expansion study still very much alive, the conference might not have 12 teams for very long. But while it does, I think the Plains/Lakes alignment given above does the best job of meeting the Commissioner’s stated priorities of competitive balance first, rivalries second, and geography third.
Action since last rankings:
6-7-10 Ohio State gains commitment from Joel Hale.
6-8-10 Indiana gains commitment from Nick VanHoose. Minnesota loses commitment from James Farrow. Minnesota gains commitment from Sam Rohr.
6-10-10 Indiana gains commitment from Shafer Johnson.
6-11-10 Indiana gains commitment from Donte Phillips. Minnesota gains commitment from Max Shortell.
|Big Ten+ Recruiting Class Rankings|
|Rank||School||# Commits||Rivals Avg||Scout Avg||ESPN Avg|
Rivals, Scout, and ESPN all have their Top-X (X is 250, 300, and 150, respectively) lists released now. In the tables, Rivals' and Scout's rankings are on the 5-star scale (unranked = 1-star), and ESPN's will now be shown as their numerical rating (unranked = 45).
|#1 Ohio State - 14 Commits|
Ohio State gets a long-awaited commitment from Joel Hale.
|#2 Notre Dame - 9 Commits|
The Irish have been stagnating for a loooong time. Are some recruits taking a wait-and-see approach on the Kelly Administration?
|#3 Michigan - 5 Commits|
No commits for Michigan coming out of their Elite Camp, but a new offer or two could net them a new recruit soon.
|#4 Michigan State - 5 Commits|
The Spartans could move up once ESPN ranks Jones and Miller.
|#5 Indiana - 11 Commits|
Quantity over quality early for Indiana - as has seemed to be the case for each of the past couple years, as well.
|#6 Wisconsin - 4 Commits|
Wisconsin's averages are slightly deflated by the fact that Rivals and ESPN have each ranked only half of their commits.
|#7 Iowa - 3 Commits|
I considered moving Iowa past Wisconsin, but even with poor rankings for the Badgers' as-yet-unrated guys, they'd move up big time.
|#8 Purdue - 2 Commits|
A solid air for the Boilers.
|#9 Northwestern - 2 Commits|
No change, though ESPN's rankings helped them pass Minnesota.
|#10 Minnesota - 4 Commits|
Gophers pick up Sam Rohr and Max Shortell, though my Minnesota peeps tell me James Farrow has decommitted. That's already two commits lost for Tim Brewster this year, and it seems like he's looking to outdo last year's decommitment parade.
|#11 Illinois - 3 Commits|
Nothing new for UI.
|#12 Penn State - 1 Commit|
Still ho-hum for PSU.
Brandon Phelps is one of the top athletes in the country, hailing from Demascus High School in Maryland. Phelps was recently ranked a 4 star on Rivals, and can play either side of the ball. I caught up with him to talk about Michigan, and his recruitment. Take a look at his highlight tape, then the interview.
TOM: Tell me a little bit about your game. I don't think a lot of people know that much about you.
BRANDON: I play receiver and corner for my high school team. Colleges are mostly recruiting me for defense, though. I honestly feel like I'm pretty even at both positions, but most colleges see me as a defensive back. I really don't have a preference, so what ever they want me as, that's what I'll play.
TOM: What makes you say you're even on both sides. What are your strengths?
BRANDON: My ball skills, and being a receiver really helps me know how other receivers are going to run their routes. I can also pick up on weaknesses in zones real well, and my speed is one of my strengths, too.
TOM: What was your most recent forty time?
BRANDON: I ran a 4.39, a 4.40, and a 4.37 on our track at my school recently. I'm always trying to get bigger, stronger, and faster, though.
TOM: You said most schools are recruiting you for defense. Which schools are recruiting you the hardest right now?
BRANDON: Probably UCLA, Virginia, Michigan, Maryland, and Penn State.
TOM: So are those the schools that stick out to you, or that are on top of your list?
BRANDON: I don't really have a list yet. I'm going to try to make it out to as many schools as I can over the summer, and do some research on each school over the internet, then narrow it down from there. I'll narrow the list probably midway through the summer, because I want to make my decision before the season starts.
TOM: Where does Michigan fit into that? Are they getting a visit?
BRANDON: Oh yeah, I'm definitely going to try to get up there; they're on my list. Growing up I really liked Braylon Edwards, and I watched them on TV, so I've been following ever since. My coach said the Big House is unbelievable, because he's been there for a game. He told me that whenever I visit, he's coming with me.
TOM: Who do you keep in contact with at Michigan?
BRANDON: I'm mostly in contact with Coach Dews. He's a real cool guy; I like him. We mostly just have regular conversations, and it's cool to have the luxury of being able to talk about whatever with a coach like that. But, we're still getting to know each other, and building a relationship.
TOM: What is a school going to have to do to get your attention, or get you to commit?
BRANDON: To me, the most important thing is education. I want to become a better person, wherever I go, and I want to be able to find a good job after college. I'd really like to play in front of a lot of people, too, and I just want to be around nice people. People that make you better, and that make you feel comfortable. That's what I'm looking for on these visits, and I hope to have it done before the start of my season.
Now that the Big Ten will officially have 12 teams, divisions aren't far behind. We have options here, and that's not even to speak of the question of whether other sports besides football should use divisions as well. (Helpful hint: HELL NO.)
No, the options are the myriad ways this could be done. Some choices to make:
- ACC-style split, non-geographical or Big 12/SEC-style split, by geography.
- ACC/SEC-style scheduling or Big 12-style scheduling.
There are probably other ways to do it, but these are the extant methods and I don't see a great many different ways to do it. Those are basically the only options for a divisional split, for example. So how would this look?
Well, the Big Ten is different than these other conferences, in that we have a lot of trophies to hand out. No conference does intraconference rivalries like the Big Ten. I count thirteen games that are played each year, or used to be before Penn State, for trophies - this includes Michigan/Ohio State, for which there is no formal trophy, but often, the winner receives a Rose. So this kind of thing needs to be taken into account. These thirteen are:
|Michigan-Michigan State||Paul Bunyan Trophy|
|Michigan-Ohio State||needs no trophy|
|Michigan-Minnesota||Little Brown Jug|
|Michigan State-Penn State||Land Grant Trophy|
|Michigan State-Indiana||Old Brass Spittoon|
|Illinois-Northwestern||Sweet Sioux Tomahawk*|
|Wisconsin-Minnesota||Paul Bunyan's Axe|
|Penn State-Minnesota||Governor's Victory Bell|
Old Oaken Bucket
Floyd of Rosedale
The conference did a decent job of keeping rivalries intact as best they could when Penn State was added, so I think they will take these into account in the future as well.
Note that Nebraska has no established rivalries; this makes things easier. What might a geographical split look like? East/West is natural; this means:
This isn't well-balanced, but it's not terrible either. At least the eastern teams get to beat up on Indiana. And the rivalries match up for the most part. If you use the Big 12 system for scheduling, which means you play three teams two years in a row and the other three teams the next two years, a lot of trophy games get left behind; therefore, these are matched up with permanent opponents in order to save a few - here, Illibuck and the Jug. Lost (or relegated to occasional status, are the Victory Bell - not very old - and the Purdue Cannon - and my brother is a Purdue grad and never, ever talks about some pressing need to beat Illinois. Come to think of it, nobody does even though Illinois thinks everyone is their blood rival.) In the ACC model, you play your permanently-matched cross-division opponent every year and rotate the other games. Michigan would play Wisconsin and Illinois one year, Illinois and Iowa the next, Iowa and Northwestern after that, and so on.
Now suppose we were a little different about splitting this up. As it turns out, this is geographical, in a way; it's a North/South split. It also preserves 11 of the 13 rivalries:
|Michigan State||Penn State|
This also has the benefit of matching Nebraska with its western cousins, and in an ACC/SEC-style schedule system, 11 of the 13 rivalries. This time the Victory Bell and the Spittoon are relegated to semi-rivalry status, and let's face it, anyone who claims to have a rivalry with IU football that doesn't share a state with them is doing it wrong. The Spittoon is pretty one-sided.
In this arrangement, you could actually switch Penn State and Indiana's "permanent rivals" and save both those rivalries at the expense of the Land Grant Trophy and keep 12 of 13 rivalries intact. But MSU-PSU is a lot more compelling (and liable to get MSU beat more often) than IU/MSU or Minny/PSU.
This allows, also, for the possibility of a Michigan/OSU title game, though it sacrifices the idea of the division as a prize for winning the game.
Either one is a tough draw for Michigan. One puts them in a division with Penn State and Ohio State, which is a nasty way of doing things. The other puts most of the crappy Big Ten teams in the other division, but also the two toughest teams in the conference.
These, I think, are the ways of splitting up this conference and still keeping the rivalries intact. It remains to be seen how much these things come into play.