Divisions With Funny Names

Submitted by Brian on June 15th, 2010 at 11:02 AM

BoAndWoodyWith Nebraska's addition the next question is how to split the Big Ten into equitable divisions. Most people are interpreting Delany's ordered list of priorities

“First priority’s competitive fairness to me,” Delany said last week. “Second priority is maintenance of rivalries, some of them are very important. They’re part of who we are and they’re not treated lightly. And then I think the third is what factor, if any, does geography play?”

…that mentions geography only to explicitly dismiss it, as evidence that the Big Ten will run an end-around on the ugly geographical reality that would see Michigan, Ohio State, and Penn State in the same division. Doc Sat's interpretation of the Big Ten's priorities, for instance:

1. Splitting up Ohio State, Penn State and Michigan, the three programs responsible for eight straight conference championships/automatic BCS berths and four of seven at-large BCS bids since 2002; and
2. Preserving the prominence of the Ohio State-Michigan game in the regular-season finale.

IE: Old-school-NHL-style division names or a complicated twelve-team pod system that I'm surprised I didn't dream up or divisions based on various alphabetical orderings. Cutting the conference along an axis is apparently not an option.

Most take a look at the rivalries and arrive at the conclusion that the Michigan-Michigan State-Ohio State triplet has to stay together and that the Nebraska addition to the Iowa-Wisconsin-Minnesota triumvirate of hate is natural. Then you throw Indiana and Purdue in with the west, and all you're left with is a decision about where to put Penn State and, if you dump them in the "east" which Illinois school to lift. It doesn't really matter for football. For basketball, you've got OSU, MSU, IU, and Purdue in the same division… so take Northwestern in a (futile) effort to balance things out. End result with 20 and 10 year records added in for color:

Historical Record Historical Record
Bo 20 year Rank 10 year Rank Woody 20 year Rank 10 year Rank
Iowa 59% 6 64% 5 Michigan 71% 3 65% 4
Minnesota 43% 10 50% 8 Ohio State 78% 1 80% 1
Wisconsin 64% 5 67% 2 Michigan State 49% 7 49% 10
Nebraska 76% 2 66% 3 Purdue 49% 8 54% 7
Illinois 41% 11 38% 11 Indiana 38% 12 33% 12
Penn State 71% 4 63% 6 Northwestern 45% 9 50% 8
Average   6.33   5.83     6.67   7

This is just about equitable according to the numbers, but the Woody division is undeniably top-heavy. Four of the top six schools in the conference are in the Bo division; Woody is Michigan, OSU, and a bunch of teams that think "Alamo Bowl? Awesome!"

Weirdly, The Only Colors stares down the Michigan-OSU-PSU division and says "sign me up." They average the Sagarin ratings for the last decade in an effort to show that shoving Penn State out of the west doesn't do much to help balance the divisions. I think the focus on average rating is the wrong approach when we're talking about picking two teams for a  championship game. Since we don't have any idea how divisions would actually play out we'll use the Sagarin Ratings TOC assembled as proxies and pick the best team in each division for a hypothetical championship game:

Geography Competitive Balance
Year Team 1 Team 2 Sagarin Team 1 Team 2 Sagarin
2000 Nebraska Michigan -- Nebraska Michigan --
2001 Nebraska Michigan -- Nebraska Michigan --
2002 Ohio State Iowa --- Ohio State Iowa --
2003 Michigan Iowa -- Michigan Iowa --
2004 Michigan Iowa -- Michigan Iowa --
2005 Ohio State Wisconsin 3+14 Ohio State Penn State 3+4
2006 Ohio State Wisconsin -- Ohio State Wisconsin --
2007 Ohio State Illinois 11+30 Ohio State Penn State 11+26
2008 Penn State Iowa 8+22 Ohio State Penn State 8+14
2009 Ohio State Iowa -- Ohio State Iowa --

Most of the time the change wouldn't have had an impact, but three times in the last decade having Penn State in a division opposite from Ohio State would have made for a better championship game. TOC argues that past results do not guarantee future performance, but since the cost of the switch is a very slightly increased travel I think it's worth it from the perspective of the league. Since Penn State suffered its post-Paterno swoon in the middle of the decade, the competitive balance effect on (on the championship game only) is more likely to be understated than overstated by the last decade.

If you want to go straight geography for non-revenue sports, fine by me, but in football I think the Big Ten will align things in a a way likely to avoid the Big 12 problem, and putting Michigan/Ohio State opposite Nebraska/Wisconsin/Iowa/Penn State is the most likely way to get sexy championship games.

Tangent! Maize 'n' Brew demolishes the idea of a 16-team conference, which I co-sign. Cease imperial designs presently.



June 15th, 2010 at 11:10 AM ^

...you actually put Michigan in a "Woody" division.  Sacrilege of sacrileges.

And yes, OSU in a "Bo" division is less of a sacrilege given his prior association with the Buckeyes. 



June 15th, 2010 at 11:50 AM ^

The SEC setup was particularly bad this year, where the top four teams were all in the same division so inferior W-1 and W-2 teams got byes over E-3 and E-4.

The men's hoops scheduling is pretty sensible though.  That's how the Big 12 did it: home and home against opponents from your "division", only one game against teams from the other "division", but no official impact of the divisions on conf. tournament seeding.


June 15th, 2010 at 12:24 PM ^

Not every sport has that luxury. Baseball, for instance, only plays 8 weekend series. They'd also need divisions. So would things like women's soccer where you only play round robin with 11 teams already. You're adding an extra week to the conference season probably.

Volleyball would also require an extra shuffle. Currently, you play 2 games each weekend, and you play and home with each team. That's an extra 2 games you're adding to each teams' schedule. Volleyball doesn't have a long OOC season. SEC uses divisions, I think Big 12 used to as well.

So yeah, the divisions are important.


June 15th, 2010 at 11:27 AM ^

4 out of the 6 top programs, AND the sleeping giant that is Illinois, AND the Gophers?

Nice work at competitive balance.

Give us Indiana for Minnesota, and you have a legitimate starting point for discussion.  It also should, in the long run, help for hoops balance.

Icehole Woody

June 15th, 2010 at 11:32 AM ^

Division A


Michigan State

Ohio State





Division B


Penn State






Then sit back and watch and enjoy Paterno's bitching about all the travel. But it'll serve him right for opening his big mouth about expansion.

turd ferguson

June 15th, 2010 at 11:57 AM ^

this is my preference, too.

as for penn state, i really think that people are exaggerating the geographic impact. let's say you have an eight-game schedule with the five in your division and three from the opposite division. that means you'll play 2-3 road games within your division and 1-2 road games outside of it. assuming these divisions hold only for football, that's an average of one game per season that requires a little more travel.

plus, as a consolation prize, i'd offer penn state and nebraska a yearly rivalry game to end the season. the big ten could essentially own that saturday by showcasing its four historic football powers (michigan vs. OSU; PSU vs. nebraska) in games that almost always would be consequential.


June 15th, 2010 at 12:58 PM ^

According to the (questionable, admittedly) numbers on Mapquest, Happy Valley to Champaign is 12 hours 25 minutes / 761.32 miles.  Happy Valley to Evanston is 11 hours 49 minutes / 712.85 miles.  So not only is it more accessible, it's closer. I suppose the crappy little airport by Champaign is a bit closer to the city it's by, and you'd probably be chartering...but by bus it has to be at least a bit longer trip.  And God forbid you have any problems, mechanical or otherwise in the middle of nowhere.

Blue in Seattle

June 15th, 2010 at 1:42 PM ^

who has more equipment per person than football?

who has more people per team than football?

what sport pays for all the others?  ahh football.

incidentally the track team goes to invitationals on the west coast all the time.  We were able to watch my niece race every year she was in school because she was competing in non-conference invitationals.

Of course for track you're just moving shoes and underwear around, not 100 sets of shoulder pads and helmets plus all the backup equipment.

On the Road With Michigan Football



June 15th, 2010 at 11:32 AM ^

I like. 

In addition to "Bo" and "Woody" What other division names could there be? Crisler? Yost? 

Couch-burners/Boat Burners?

Cats/Other Mascots?

I'm sure many people on here are more creative than I am...


June 15th, 2010 at 11:42 AM ^

Why do basketball and other minor sports need division splits? I could understand if they go to 14 or 16 because of sheer numbers, but with only 12, is it possible to just have a basketball season (and all other sports seasons) like right now and set up the tournament with another first round game in the Big Ten Tournament (or however all the other sports tournaments are currently set up)? Am I missing something obvious?

Shalom Lansky

June 15th, 2010 at 11:42 AM ^

If PSU, OSU, Michigan and MSU were put in the same division, MSU would never, EVER even sniff a B10 title game.  OK, not that this would be much of a change, but  this would lock them further into their little brotherness, which I am for 100%.


June 15th, 2010 at 11:54 AM ^

I think you have the divisions aligned perfectly for football and basketball.  Michigan, MSU, and OSU must be in the same division. All of the traditional rivalries(Mich- OSU, Mich-MSU, Purdue-Indiana, Wisc-Minnesota) will not be disturbed.  The Woody division in football would be more top heavy, but the BO division would be solid from top to bottom.  Therefore, competitive balance would be perfect.  Penn State already has to travel to all of the teams in the BO division (except Nebraska) anyway, so there travel plans would not really change.

For basketball, the top Big 10 programs over the last ten years have been MSU, Illinois, Wisconsin, and OSU.  Those teams will be split up equally.  The divisions don't matter as much in basketball due to the amount of games. All of the teams will play each other anyway and the tourney still exists. 

I hope the Big 10 gets it right, the leadership makes me nervous.


June 15th, 2010 at 12:09 PM ^

With only 5 games to play in a teams division, why is it neccesary to keep major rivals together?  Couldn't the schedules be set up such that each team has 1 protected rivalry game with a team in the other division, thus allowing teams like MIchigan and OSU to be split up and make balancing somewhat easier.

turd ferguson

June 15th, 2010 at 12:20 PM ^

i'm not a fan of protected inter-divisional rivalry games for two reasons:

(1) if school A's protected rival is indiana and school B's protected rival is ohio state, school A has a major competitive advantage in an 8-game schedule.

(2) let's assume that you play all five teams in your division and three of the six in the other division. without protected rivalries, you play every school in the other division once every two years. within a four-year period (for players, students, etc.), every team visits your stadium at least once and you visit every other stadium at least once. this isn't true with protected rivalries.


June 15th, 2010 at 12:33 PM ^

Despite internecine hatred and petty whining second to no conference, I don't recall schedule imbalance because of fixed rivalries ever being cited as an issue in the SEC.  Maybe it's because two of the rivalries in particular, Auburn-Georgia and Alabama-Tennessee, are revered as more important than competitive balance.  Maybe it's because the other two rotating games provide so much schedule variance that it doesn't matter.  Maybe it's because of fairly stable conference standings: LSU and Florida are always pretty good; State, Kentucky, Ole Miss [usually], and Vanderbilt are almost always pretty bad.  No one complains when the rivalries are fairly evenly matched.


June 15th, 2010 at 1:51 PM ^

(1) Unless, of course, you use that imbalance to counter other imbalances. Schedules are typically unbalanced in favor of better teams, because the best team in the conference never has to play against the best team in the conference.* In my alignment proposal, I put Indiana with Michigan State, yet MSU ends up with only the 7th hardest schedule overall, by nature of being one of the lower teams in their division. Iowa, in contrast, drew Nebraska, and has, on average, an easier schedule than MSU.

(2) I agree that it is important to make sure teams see each other often. Otherwise recruits may play an entire 4-year career at, say, Penn State, and never step foot inside the Big House. If that's going to happen, what's the point of being in a conference together?

No matter the alignment, I think there needs to be a 9th conference game added. The schedule has gone in the last decade from 10 regular season games and maybe a bowl, to 12 regular season games, a possible championship game, and most likely a bowl. The BTN makes this more palatable, since what you lose in a few home games is made up in ad revenue for a better BTN broadcast. And the Big Ten revenue-sharing agreement helps too, since Northwestern and Michigan have exactly as much to gain from Michigan scheduling Delaware State. Plus, with 12 teams, you need a 9th game simply to make sure the teams are seeing each other.

And finally, rivalry games are awesome. We should try to have as many as we possibly can on the schedule. They should start working right now on a trophy for Iowa and Nebraska (the golden corn or something, I dunno), and create some sort of amalgymation of the 1997 AP and Coaches trophies that gets passed between Michigan and Nebraska, and a Wizard Hat for Michigan-Purdue. Rivalries make the games more important. They should come up with a cool name for Penn State/Ohio State and then kill Prince Paterno's bride Buttercup and blame Iowa for it.

I'm not down with silly Gov Cup or Land-Grant Trophy crap. Rivalries have to come from somewhere. My main point, jokes aside, is that it's important to play them, and make sure those we have continue to be special.

* Not counting spring games or metaphors for performance.

turd ferguson

June 15th, 2010 at 2:21 PM ^

i disagree, though, that the benefit that a school gets from not having to play itself ought to be accounted for in balancing schedules. it's an advantage that's entirely endogenous to one's own program quality. we don't fault roger federer for not having to face roger federer; that's one of the legitimate benefits of his greatness.

i completely agree about the awesomeness of rivalries and would be up for a 9-game conference schedule. the money folks won't like that, though. plus, i'm not not sure that too much is lost in rivalries by not protecting the inter-divisional ones. let's say you use brian's divisional split. (personally, i'd swap illinois and northwestern, but i like his, too.) granted, a few rivalries -- e.g., michigan-minnesota and illinois-northwestern -- cut across divisions, but almost all of the most important ones are intra-divisional. plus, in the off years, schools could schedule those rivalry games as non-conference games if they'd like. an every-other-year illinois-northwestern game at soldier field would be a cool thing even if it didn't count as a conference game.


June 15th, 2010 at 5:03 PM ^

i disagree, though, that the benefit that a school gets from not having to play itself ought to be accounted for in balancing schedules. it's an advantage that's entirely endogenous to one's own program quality. we don't fault roger federer for not having to face roger federer; that's one of the legitimate benefits of his greatness.

That was my fault for not clarifying. I'm not punishing teams at all for being better. What I was referring to is the effect this would have on a small divisional alignment. Ultimately, the schedules do end up favoring the better schools all around. But in a small sample, you end up giving a top seed too great of an advantage if your goal is to have everyone really be part of one larger environment.


June 15th, 2010 at 12:31 PM ^

It is not difficult to achieve competitive balance, while having U-M and OSU in the same division. Since that’s the most straightforward solution, I suspect that’s what they’ll do.

If U-M and OSU are in separate divisions, then either The Game would need to be moved earlier in the season, or you have the possibility of playing the Buckeyes two weeks in a row (the rivalry game, followed by the championship game). Inevitably, The Game would lose some of its “all the marbles” appeal if it’s just a dress rehearsal for a do-over the following week.

I also agree with the other poster that protected rivalries across divisions are undesirable. It means: either you add a ninth conference game, or some teams don’t see each other for a long, long time.


June 15th, 2010 at 12:37 PM ^

I'm not that worried about not playing for someone for 2 years. We've already had that system in place for the last forever. There's always two teams rotated off the schedule for 2 years at a time. If you protect a rivalry in a 8 game conference season, teams in the other division who aren't your rival on, off for a year, on, off for two years, and then it repeats.

When compared to on for 8 years, off for two, that doesn't seem so bad. If you don't protect a rivalry, those games are every other year instead. So it becomes are any of the cross-division rivalries big enough that they warrant not alternating on and off the schedule?


June 15th, 2010 at 2:32 PM ^

"The Game", as you say, became "The Game" because back in the day, "The Game" often decided the outcome of the Big 10 champs.  

Therefore, if one puts U-M and tOSU in the same division, they are ignoring history (and isn't "history" why rivalries become rivalries in the first place) as U-M v tOSU can never decide who gets to go to the Rose Bowl again.

Personally, beating the red-neck-Pabst-swilling-sweaty-yellow-t-shirt-wearing-wife-beating-inbreds-from-that-shithole-known-as-Columbus is just as fine in September as it is in November.

[email protected]

June 15th, 2010 at 12:19 PM ^

1) Potential champion game match-ups are a key consideration, but so is overall competitive balance.  As an MSU fan, I'm certainly OK with your divisions, since we'd only face 2 of the 6 historical upper-division foes on an annual basis, while, say, Minnesota would have to play 4 such teams every year.  But I don't think that's the fairest approach for the league overall.

2) See the comment to my post (which your link actually goes to) on past attempts to manufacture top-notch conference championship game match-ups (Miami-FSU, anyone?) .  While there's more stability in college football program performance than in other major U.S. sports, there's still quite a bit of fluctuation in where teams fall in the standings.  You've seen that with every program in the league besides OSU just in the last decade.

Blue in Texas

June 15th, 2010 at 12:55 PM ^

Here's my attempt at solving the conference divisions.
Four groups/pods
Group 1.
Group 2.
Group 3.
Group 4.
Each school is also setup with three additional permanent rivals
The groups would rotate every two years to form a division.  If your division contained a permanent rival, it would be replaced on the schedule by a team in the other division. 
All games would count in the division standings.  Ties would be determined by in division standings/results.

Blue Durham

June 15th, 2010 at 1:06 PM ^

Championship game? There are several benefits of not having divisions and placing the overall #1 versus #2 in the championship game:

It ensures that the 2 teams with the best record particpate in the championship game, something divisions sometimes fail to do.

Assuming protected rivalries, it allows for a better mix of games. I.e., Michigan would not be playing the same 5 teams every year, and the 6 teams in the opposite division only half the time. Thus more balanced scheduling.

With the more balanced scheduling, more Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa and Nebraska, and less Indiana, Purdue and Penn State (assuming the most common division splits out there). I think that's a net plus.

So yeah, if it doesn't preclude a conference championship game, I would prefer no divisions, just 1 vs 2.


June 15th, 2010 at 1:13 PM ^

I think a straight east-west split would be better balanced than your proposed swap of Penn State for Northwestern. I used total wins from 2000 to 2009 as a crude measure of strength, which I think is misleading for Penn State (awful from 00 to 04 but strong since 05) and maybe Illinois (probably closer to NW and Minn going forward than to Indiana) but pretty accurate for everyone else.

East: OSU 102, Mich 81, PSU 77, Pur 67, MSU 60, Ind 39 = 426

West: Wisc 86, Neb 84, Iowa 80, Minn 62, NW 61, Ill 45 = 418

That's basically even. Switching PSU and NW puts 4 of the typical top 6 teams in the same division. If you want to argue that OSU, UM, and PSU are likely to be the top 3 (or at least 3 of the top 4) programs going forward based on money and visibility and that as such PSU must be moved, it would be better to swap them for Wisconsin as Doc Sat suggested.


June 15th, 2010 at 1:16 PM ^

Whoever first picks the eventual divisions gets extra special bragging rights.

On another thread it was determined that there are only 462 ways to do two 6 team divisions so my guess is that at least one person around here will be right sooner or later.  


June 15th, 2010 at 1:27 PM ^

No one is a bigger fanatic of UofM than I am, but the Bo/Woody names do not work. First of all, how could you ever put Michigan in the Woody division or OSU in the Bo division? I am not saying it is just confusing. I am saying that anyone who knows anything about Michigan and Ohio State knows that this is not just a bad idea but it is a "no fucking way in hell" idea.

Second, and again I bleed maize and blue, but one of the most iconic coaches n college football history is currently coaching in the B10 and his name is Joe Paterno. JoePa is PSU football. He has been a coach at PSU for 680 of their 1,202 games, having been hired as an assistant in 1950 (yes, take that in for a moment). Hell, given what he has done for the university (including donating a large portion of his salary each year to the PSU library), you could make a very good argument he is PSU itself. It would be wrong and an absolute slap in the face to name the divisions after Schembechler and Hayes and simply ignore Paterno. I guarantee you that if Bo and Woody were alive, they never would let this happen.

Additionally, we now have another college football coaching legend in the fold. His name is Tom Osborne [pause to let the boos and cat calls subside]. Like it or not, the guy was good. Osborne coached NE for 25 years and won three national championships [insert more boos here]. In his final five seasons, he went 60-3 [pause for dead silence]. For the same reason you cannot dis Paterno, you cannot dis Osborne.

My solution is simple and, in fact, would reinforce the image of the B10 as the "king" in terms of tradition. Name one of the divisions the Bo-Woody division (yes, this would be the division with UofM and OSU) and the other the Paterno-Osborne division. It is informative. It is fair. It is a major nod to history and tradition. "East-West" and "North-South" are unlikely to be accurate if you want balanced divisions anyway, so unless someone has a better idea (like there actually could be one) I seriously propose these as the names. Oh, and this has one incidental side benefit. If ND ever does finally join the B10, the names already will have been established and it will be too late for ND to insist on naming one of the divisions after Rockne. This will absolutely drive them crazy until the end of time.


June 15th, 2010 at 1:31 PM ^

that Bo/Woody is not workable.  I don't like Paterno/Osborne because it honors the 2 newest members and ignores the others.

I think they'll just give the divisions corporate endorsement names.  I'd be OK with that as long as they earmarked all the revenues for scholarships or some other worthwhile cause.

Otherwise, just boring old letters to avoid a months long dispute over honorary titles.


June 15th, 2010 at 1:30 PM ^

I hope they announce them soon, it's going to be really interesting to see what they end up doing. I just hope they protect some rivalries and put Michigan and Ohio State in the same division.