With 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|
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:
|Year||Team 1||Team 2||Sagarin||Team 1||Team 2||Sagarin|
|2002||Ohio State||Iowa||---||Ohio State||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.