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 1:47 PM ^

I'm for 16 for this reason: 4 divisions of 4, leading to a two week playoff among the divsion champions where the winner gets the automatic BCS bid. 

It would allow for an easier seperation of powers, and it would also allow for rivalries to exist still (you could still schedule Michigan/Ohio State at the end, for example).  I'm tossing geography out.  I would prefer to see the Big Ten head for the Big East (those teams in parentheses).  I don't like Notre Dame, but they make sense for the conference.

My proposed divisions:

Div. 1

Ohio State, Minnesota, Purdue, and (Rutgers)

Div. 2

Michigan, Michigan State, Indiana, and (West Virginia)

Div. 3

(Notre Dame), Wisconsin, (Pitt), and Iowa

Div. 4

Penn State,  Nebraska, Illinois, and Northwestern

Granted, it's not a perfect model, but it allows for some protection of Ohio State, Michigan, and Penn State while incorporating some other name schools. 

I would propose a 9 game schedule: One time through your division (3 games), one other division completely, and then 1 team from another division (who is not a rival) and 1 rivalry game.  The rivalry game is static and unchanging from year to year and is the last game of the year.  It is also a cross division foe.  Proposed rivalries:

Michigan/Ohio State, Penn State/Pitt, Indiana/Purdue, Wisconsin/Nebraska, Notre Dame/Michigan State, Illinois/Northwestern, Minnesota/Iowa, and Rutgers/West Virginia.

The remainder of the schedule (3-4 games) would be non-conference filler that would no impact on the Big Ten. 

Seeding for playoffs would be based on overall conference record followed by head to head.  Other tie breakers that make sense (common opponent and what not) could be added later.   Top seeds get the home games. 

A perfect model?  No.  However, I think if the Big Ten wants the big money in college football, a two week playoff among division leaders at the end would make a killing.  I don't mind teams not playing each other every year because I'm used to the NFL where the NFC and AFC don't play everyone in the conference every year.  Does that mean that some years a team may catch an easier schedule?  Yeah, but the balance is that they'd still have to get through the playoff to be rewarded for that (unlike a team in the current system that some how avoids Ohio State and Michigan and coasts to a good conference record).



June 16th, 2010 at 2:39 AM ^

The NCAA limits schools to 12 games, 13 if you are in a 12 or more team conference and make it to the championship game (or if you fly to Hawaii). That means, to have a 4 team (2 round) playoff, every team in the B10 could only play 11 regular season games. Either that, or the 8 teams that did not qualify for the playoff each year would have to quickly schedule and play semi-meaningless consolation games against each other after the playoff teams were determined. Not only would the consolation games be strange and confusing, but their TV ratings and ticket sales likely would be poor.


June 15th, 2010 at 1:49 PM ^

Do people realize that when the Big12 was formed the divisions were heavily weighted to the North Side?  Texas was slumbering, OK wasn't doing that much, and Kansas St, Nebraska, and Colorado were kicking ass.

I don't think anyone anticipated Nebraska having the Callahan issue.  Hell, look at Michigan under RichRod so far.  The point is you can't just force competitive fairness, look at the ACC and B12 for examples.  Heck, the SEC west was pretty weak relative to the UGA/UF/UT juggernaut for years.  East won 7 of first 9, it's East 4 wins -  West 5 wins since then.

I'd still keep OSU and MICH together, probably with MSU.  Add Purdue, Indiana, and Minnesota and that's probably decent.

Nebraska, PSU, Illinois, Wisconsin, Iowa, Northwestern....ok that's not fair.

OSU - MICH - MSU - Northwestern - Illinois - Minnesota

Nebraska - PSU - Iowa - Wisconsin - Indiana - Purdue

Those make sense to me for divisions.


June 15th, 2010 at 3:53 PM ^

I believe 1996 was the first year of the big 12.  Nebraska was back to back national champion.  Colorado was a perenial Top 15-20 program and KState was on the rise under Bill Snyder. 

In the south, Oklahoma was in the middle of a long post Switzer draught which lasted until Stoops came along.  Texas was decent but no where near where they have been the last 7-8 yrs.  In fact, that Texas A&M was the top team in the south when the Big 12 was formed.

Like you said, since then just about every team mentioned did a 180:  Texas and OU became perenial Top 10 teams, Nebraska fell off, Colorado imploded and KState pretty much imploded too.

If there's one thing that we should have learned over the last 20-30 yrs of college football is that no program is immune to having losing seasons and down periods.  So what may seem like balanced divisions today could very well be unbalanced 5, 10 years down the road.


June 15th, 2010 at 8:34 PM ^

This is why competitive balance should be a minor issue at best with the divisions. Group your divisions purely for competitive balance, and when the balance inevitably shifts (just in the past 15 years we've seen both Nebraska and PSU hit the dark years and bounce back, Iowa and Wisconsin having a resurgence, and Michigan's Half-Decade of Infinite Pain) your divisions aren't optimized for anything.

Focus on keeping rivalries and keeping geography. An East/West split (with Lake Michigan being the dividing line) does that perfectly (the only existing permanent rivalries you split are Illinois-Indiana and Purdue-NW, which are probably the two least important ones).


June 15th, 2010 at 2:08 PM ^

...a Nebraskan's perspective on divisional alignment.  Presumptuous?  Perhaps.  Well done? Debatable.

The West division: Nebraska, Iowa, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Illinois and Northwestern.

The East division: Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan, Michigan State, Purdue and Indiana.

Divisional winners meet in the Big Ten championship game.

OK, here’s the wrinkle: Top programs in the East would meet the West’s top programs more often than usual.  Nebraska, for example, would play two of the East elite — Ohio State, Penn State and Michigan — every year. Same for Iowa and Wisconsin.  The powers in the West would play only one of the East’s bottom three — Michigan State, Purdue and Indiana.  Same goes for Ohio State, Penn State and Michigan. They’d face Nebraska, Iowa and Wisconsin two of every three years. And Minnesota, Northwestern and Illinois just one of every three years.


June 15th, 2010 at 2:15 PM ^

I would find it rather funny if the Big Ten later announced that it selected conferences based on the first letter of the last name of its football coaches.

BTW, that would yield the:

Division One: Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan State, Iowa, Northwestern, Purdue,

Division Two: Indiana, Penn State, Nebraska, Michigan, Ohio State, Illinois.

Then trade Nebraska for Michigan State.

There - the conference alignment solved in 2 minutes, 25 seconds.

Jon Benke

June 15th, 2010 at 2:44 PM ^

I like the SEC format, where you play a natural rival every year outside of your division.  This way, you can have UM and Ohio State in different divisions, which makes sense, but still have them play one another every year.  Now, of course, this means that they could also meet in the Big10 championship game, but I don't think that'd happen as much as some would think, so it wouldn't hurt "the game" all that much.  I wouldn't mind a rematch.

GROUP A; Michigan, Nebraska, Iowa, Michigan State, Northwestern, Indiana

GROUP B; Ohio State, Penn State, Wisconsin, Purdue, Minnesota, Illinois

NATURAL RIVALS; UM/OSU, Nebraska/Wisconsin, MSU/PSU, Illinois/NW, Iowa/Minn, Ind/Purdue


June 15th, 2010 at 10:36 PM ^

I don't think that Michigan should have OSU as an "out of division" opponent every year because it almost automatically gives them a harder schedule than everyone else in their division.  That's why, in my mind, Michigan and OSU need to be in the same division.

I realize that it's sort of that way now.  In fact, I'd say that Sparty has traditionally had the toughest schedule because they have to play Michigan and Penn State every year.

I just think that it needs to be divided up as equitably as possible and you can do that if Michigan and OSU play "out of division" games.


UM fan in FL

June 17th, 2010 at 9:51 AM ^

You are the first one I have seen on any website that understands that:   1)UM-OSU  have to play each year.  2)  They also HAVE to be able to play each other for the big ten title again, like they have sooo many times in the past.  They have to be in different divisions to do that.  They CANNOT make it impossible for the two to play for a big ten title ever again.  Too much history there to throw it all away.  Like your scenario says, each team should play one annual cross division rival.  Another example..  Your scenario has NEB-WIS in different divisions.  I have read that WIS AD Alverez would like NEB-WIS to be a annual season finale rivalry.  I'm sure there will be others too.  Good Job!


June 15th, 2010 at 2:55 PM ^

as inter-division balance.  If Michigan and Ohio State are in the same division, which I think they have to be, then you must throw in one other traditional competitive team in there to keep them honest.  I've seen divisions that include Michigan, Ohio State, Michigan State, Indiana, Purdue and Northwestern.  Michigan or Ohio State win that division 96 times out of 100.  I wouldn't mind seeing that, but it is ridiculously unfair.  Much more unfair than a division that has more talent overall than another.  You need at least one of Wisconsin, Iowa, Penn State or Nebraska in the division with Michigan and OSU.  And if you are going to do that, it might as well be Penn State to preserve the rivalries and the East/West geography. 

Sure Michigan, OSU and Penn State are traditionally 3 of the 4 best teams in the league, but a championship game against the best of Nebraska, Wisconsin, Iowa or Illinois in a championship game will almost always be a championship worthy matchup. 


June 15th, 2010 at 5:12 PM ^

Ohio State has only lost four Big Ten games in the past five years.  Purdue (2009), Penn State (2008 and 2005) and Illinois (2007).  Iowa also took them to OT.  As much as it pains me to say it.....that's damn good.  We're assuming that Michigan will offer a challenge to the Buckeyes in the near future but that's not really a foregone conclusion.  The gap is pretty large right now.

There has to be somebody (PSU, Iowa or Wisky) in the division with the Buckeyes to make sure that there's the proper level of competition.


June 15th, 2010 at 4:50 PM ^

There is zero chance of the Triumvirate of Hate being split up. It's easy to overlook or dismiss the Wisconsin-Iowa-Minnesota rivalry if you're (or your school is) a 3 day ride on the Empire Builder away, but each of those schools would lose their respective shit if they didn't play each other every year. Frankly, most years it's about the only thing they've got going, and those games are a major source of residual revenue.

Frankly, with the addition of Nebraska and the advent of the Quadumvirate of Hate, any scenario splitting up those schools is even less likely.