Members of the younger generation find this appealing.
Over the weekend BTN released an online survey (still alive) that let the fans opine on the divisions and their stupid names and how they ought to be reorganized and stuff. Online poll is online poll but I was ready to leap the second DIABEETUS posted it on the board because a.) Who Michigan plays and what is at stake for those games is important to me, and b.) There's been a growing sense since "Leaders and Legends," that sense emphatically underlined with the addition of Rutgers and Maryland, that general fan-think matters diddly to Delany and co.; opportunities to put an opinion where they might see it don't come along every day.
One of the questions in the survey asked us to rate the importance of three divisional considerations: geography, parity, and keeping traditional rivals together. They're all kinda important, and if there's any silver lining to adding two broke schools from the east coast it's that 7-team divisions are a better fit than 6-teams for an alignment that doesn't sacrifice any of those ideals.
The reason is because our conference is clustered in groups of three or four. Minnesota-Iowa-Wisconsin always had their circle of hate that has just enough room to add Nebraska. Illinois-Northwestern and Purdue-Indiana are an intermingled Chicagoland group that shouldn't be separated. Our block is the Michigan schools and Ohio State. Penn State could attach to that except it throws parity off, their awful thing be damned. Maryland and Rutgers turn the eastern part of the conference into two groups of three to match the west's groups of four:
The thick dark blue lines are the rivalries that ought to be protected within divisions and played every year. The light blue are old trophies and close non-trophy rivalries you keep if you can. The little green ones are those with the recent derived trophies or a proximity thing that isn't yet a full thing. Divisions then ought to pair one of the threesomes with one of the foursomes. Since one of the foursomes has Nebraska and Wisconsin in it and the other doesn't, the divisions ought to be obvious:
|In the Weight Room Division||In the Community Division|
|Ohio State||Penn State|
Don't care about the division names just yet. Let's check this against the three considerations.
Geography: Well Michigan, Ohio, Illinois and Indiana make a nice little Great Lakes grouping. Here's a table of distances written in driving hours (HT Google). The upper left quadrant is our division; lower-right is the other one:
You'll note the other division has some very long drives. Minnesota to anywhere starts at four hours and goes to 18 (to Rutgers). Lincoln and New Brunswick are literally half the country away. How can Rutgers be in a division with Nebraska that's a 20-hour drive away? Well…
|City||Distance from Rutgers in driving hours|
|College Park, MD||3:09|
|State College, PA||3:53|
|Ann Arbor, MI||9:21|
|East Lansing, MI||10:24|
|West Lafayette, IN||11:48|
|Iowa City, IA||15:06|
|St Paul, MN||18:02|
They're all that far away. Ann Arbor is the fourth-nearest by car; I've done that drive and it is far longer than is worth it for Saturday or even just a weekend. Five hours away is really the outer limit for expecting fans to drive into town the day of the game, or even stay Friday night and drive home afterwards. Six hours from Ann Arbor is Wisconsin; you may do that once in your lifetime. For a Rutgers fan anything past Pennsylvania is a flight, at which point it hardly matters if your destination is Detroit Metro or MSP International. The two debtors and Penn State go together; after that it doesn't matter who they're in a division with. Penn State gets mildly screwed however the Michigan schools are still six-and-a-half or seven hours away and Chicago is eight or nine; fly to Lincoln and you'll get there faster and spend less than you would have on gas.
Competitive Balance: This is such a moving target this is far harder to do than it would seem. A week ago you might have said Nebraska belongs with Michigan and Ohio State but Wisconsin isn't on that level. Having seen USC weather huge scholarship losses I don't think Penn State is guaranteed to be awful for the duration of this alignment (which will be two weeks) unless they come out hiring Tommy Amaker. Here's these schools in the BCS era (SRS = Simple Rating System by Sports Reference and measures how much better than an average FBS team you were based on margin of victory, win totals and SOS):
Tastes Great Division:
|School||Cumulative SRS||Wins||Losses||%||BCS appearances|
Less Filling Division:
|School||Cumulative SRS||Wins||Losses||%||BCS appearances|
Slanted to the other guys. Our side edges out in BCS appearances thanks to being heavy at the top but their total SRS is higher because they've got three teams in that top tier to our two. I figure if you take the deltas it's pretty even; I expect Michigan, Illinois and Northwestern will outperform the last 15 years, while most of the other division is trending down.
Protects Traditional Rivalries. The rivalries have all been saved. The Floyd of Rosedale? Check. The Not the Sweet Sioux Tomahawk Anymore Trophy? Check. The Purdue Cannon. The Illibuck. The Oaken Bucket. The Heartland Big Brass Bull Trophy. The Old Brass Spittoon. The Heroes of Corn. Paul Bunyan. Paul Bunyan's Axe. Paul Bunyan's Giant Slab of Bacon. Paul Bunyan's bunion. We even saved the contrived trophy they made for Penn State and Minnesota under the 11-team system. Illinois plays their rivals Indiana every year. Illinois plays their biggest rivals Michigan every year. Michigan and Ohio State meet every year on the last game of the season, probably with Indianapolis on the line.
The only trophies broken up are the Little Brown Jug and the Land Grant, which is a horrible thing the participants do not wish to be associated with anyway. We can safely bury the latter, as to the former the question comes to protected cross-division rivals.
Protected rivalries? As long as the Big Ten stays at eight conference games there shouldn't be protected cross-divisional rivalries. After six division games there's room for just two on the other side so it's a matter of seeing non-protected opponents twice every seven years (about three times per decade) or once every six. That sees Michigan playing six of our "conference rivals" just 16.7 percent of years. Worse, because those series will have to be home-and-homes you're looking at 11-year intervals between meetings; at least that absence can be broken up if there's two rotational schools.
I think if the conference goes to nine or 10 games the last ought to be the protected rivalry. Nine is more likely and keeping the Brown Jug an annual thing is the difference between seeing (for example) Penn State 43 percent of years or 33 percent of years—a casual acquaintance either way. Ten games is unrealistic (never should have let our AD taste eight home games) but that's the minimum to make the other division feel anything like conference mates.