In recent days there's been enough new talkin' about the reshaped Big Ten that it seems like this is a deliberate trial balloon being floated. Penn State's AD:
Penn State athletic director David Joyner expects the addition of Rutgers and Maryland will lead the Big Ten toward a "geography-based" realignment.
In an interview posted on Penn State's website, Joyner said that the conference is leaning toward re-grouping its 12 teams based more on geography. As a result, Rutgers and Maryland could join a division with Penn State.
"We will likely be a little bit more attentive to geographic alignment," Brandon said. "If Michigan and Ohio State being in the same division turns out to be what's in the best interest of the conference, that would be great."
…Iowa AD Gary Barta…
"I do think we have a chance to have a little bit more of a geographic look to it, which I think is great," Iowa athletic director Gary Barta said. "It's great for fans, it's great for student-athletes, it considers travel, rivalries. With us, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Illinois, Northwestern, Nebraska, those just make great sense.
and Northwestern AD Jim Phillips:
"Maybe it was competitive balance last time," Northwestern athletic director Jim Phillips told ESPN.com. "Maybe geography wins the day this time. … It wasn't the most important [factor in 2010], but we should look at it this time because we are spread farther than we ever have been."
Previously, Gene Smith had asserted he wants a Michigan-OSU division, balance be damned. With this many athletic directors more or less openly saying geography will be a factor and downplaying the competitive balance angle it would be a shock if anything like the current alignment is maintained when Maryland and Rutgers are—oh God I'd forgotten—admitted the year after next. That's not the way PR works.
Presumably this would heal the current Michigan-OSU rift, thus ending the possibility that the Game gets moved to midseason and allowing Michigan fans to watch Ohio State games like God intended: hoping they lose, without reservations.
I still prefer the Eye Of Sauron alignment since over the long term it should provide more balanced Big Ten Championship games, but since they're just going to add more teams there is no long term.
The long term is unattractive. Things get hairy if you tack on two random ACC schools to get to 16 and still want to execute divisions based on geography. In that case whichever school from Indiana or Illinois that gets lumped in with the east would flip over to the other division and Michigan would play most of their traditional rivals once a decade or so.
Mitigating That Bit
one of two ways to play ten conference games
Nine conference games is on the table again. Prepare thy palm, reader, as this quote will no doubt cause you to put face to same:
"As the conference expands, it would be unfortunate if a student-athlete came to the University of Michigan, played in the Big Ten Conference for four years and never even got to play or compete against one of the schools in the conference," Brandon said.
I can think of a way the Big Ten could have avoided this problem.
In any case, Brandon says the Big Ten should "at least" move to nine; Smith says he "would like to go to nine or ten," and then everyone says they need seven home games or their department will implode. "Leveraging assets" is spoken. Ten seems unlikely, as it either prohibits you from playing anyone interesting in the nonconference or brings you down to six home games and forces you to fire every nonrevenue coach. Or something. Possibly just pay them somewhat less.
I'm not sure replacing games against good teams with Maryland and Rutgers is a good thing, but when the alternative is almost never playing Iowa or Wisconsin you have to do what you have to do.
The only way ten games seems feasible is if the NCAA institutes the I-AA-game-as-preseason-contest idea that Rich Rodriguez mentioned a couple times. That would act as your seventh home game without putting too much wear and tear on the kids—the guys who actually play during the year would be lifted after a couple drives. Then you can do what you want with your two nonconference games without having to set the soccer stadium on fire for the insurance money.
The Last Word
I fear this speculation is meaningless as whatever path makes the most sense to all parties concerned will be immediately discarded by B1G leadership in favor of something noboby likes or understands.