Hokepoints Wants Divisions Consensus

Submitted by Seth on December 4th, 2012 at 6:50 AM


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:

big ten rivalries

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
Michigan Minnesota
Michigan State Nebraska
Northwestern Wisconsin
Purdue Iowa
Indiana Rutgers
Illinois Maryland
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:

School Mich MSU OSU NW Pur Ill Ind Wis PSU Iowa Md Rut Min Neb
Mich x 1:02 3:08 4:01 4:24 5:07 5:14 6:04 6:16 6:44 8:15 9:21 9:44 11:04
MSU 1:02 x 4:04 3:48 4:11 4:54 5:00 5:51 7:12 6:31 9:09 10:24 9:31 10:51
OSU 3:08 4:04 x 5:51 3:46 4:37 3:42 7:55 5:26 8:13 6:31 8:12 11:35 12:28
NW 4:01 3:48 5:51 x 2:29 2:34 4:16 2:37 9:15 3:46 11:13 12:27 6:17 8:05
Pur 4:24 4:11 3:46 2:29 x 1:47 2:06 4:29 9:03 5:06 10:08 11:48 8:09 9:25
Ill 5:07 4:54 4:37 2:34 1:47 x 2:48 3:56 9:54 3:47 10:59 12:40 7:35 7:59
Ind 5:14 5:00 3:42 4:16 2:06 2:48 x 6:17 8:53 6:27 9:58 11:39 9:57 10:14
Wis 6:04 5:51 7:55 2:37 4:29 3:56 6:17 x 11:18 3:06 13:16 14:31 4:07 7:22
PSU 6:16 7:12 5:26 9:15 9:03 9:54 8:53 11:18 x 11:48 3:28 3:53 14:45 16:07
Iowa 6:44 6:31 8:13 3:46 5:06 3:47 6:27 3:06 11:48 x 13:52 15:06 4:38 4:33
Md 8:15 9:09 6:31 11:13 10:08 10:59 9:58 13:16 3:28 13:52 x 3:09 16:47 18:08
Rut 9:21 10:24 8:12 12:27 11:48 12:40 11:39 14:31 3:53 15:06 3:09 x 18:02 19:24
Minn 9:44 9:31 11:35 6:17 8:09 7:35 9:57 4:07 14:45 4:38 16:47 18:02 x 6:26
Neb 11:04 10:51 12:28 8:05 9:25 7:59 10:14 7:22 16:07 4:33 18:08 19:24 6:26 x

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
Columbus, OH 8:12
Ann Arbor, MI 9:21
East Lansing, MI 10:24
Bloomington, IN 11:39
West Lafayette, IN 11:48
Evanston, IL 12:27
Champaign, IL 12:40
Madison, WI 14:31
Iowa City, IA 15:06
St Paul, MN 18:02
Lincoln, NE 19:24

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
Ohio State 214.83 149 40 79% 9
Michigan 157.52 127 60 68% 5
Michigan State 87.81 104 81 56% 0
Purdue 70.56 100 86 54% 1
Illinois 2.31 72 107 40% 1
Northwestern 0.34 89 94 49% 0
Indiana -66.12 57 118 33% 0
TOTAL 467.25 698 586 54% 16

Less Filling Division:

School Cumulative SRS Wins Losses % BCS appearances
Nebraska 162.18 134 60 69% 2
Wisconsin 146.67 137 56 71% 5
Penn State 142.70 120 66 65% 2
Iowa 86.77 103 82 56% 1
Maryland 35.55 94 88 52% 1
Minnesota 26.4 87 96 48% 0
Rutgers -33.28 86 94 48% 0
TOTAL 566.99 761 542 58% 11

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.

pg2_ap_land_grant1_400Protects 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.



December 4th, 2012 at 4:35 PM ^

Lincoln's a small airport so almost everything is connecting except from Chicago, Denver or MSP. If they're flying to Columbus (another small airport) it's a 1-hour flight to Chicago, a layover, then a 1-hour flight to Columbus. If they're flying to Baltimore or EWR it's the same flight to Chicago then a much shorter layover (flying normal carriers so now you're into the regular routes) and a 2-hour flight. The jet lag difference is negligable.



December 4th, 2012 at 8:52 AM ^

Despite the lack of trophies, NU has palpable rivalries with Iowa and Wisconsin. We often play a spoiler role when they are having good seasons and I would see this continuing as NU continues to be a solid 8-9 win team. I could expound on all the ways this is a thing but will spare you.


December 4th, 2012 at 8:56 AM ^

the toughest thing is the eyeball test. You've got to get the person staring at your divisions over the hump of seeing Nebraska and Rutgers in the same division (and their ADs, too). Assemble all good explanations and keep them at the ready.

And you've got to anticipate two more schools to come.

One thing this proves (to me, anyway), is that the geodistribution of the conference, or midwestern integrity, ceases to be a big deal pretty quickly. Twenty years from now, no kid will suffer pangs because all the B1G schools were once adjacent to billowing corn or wheat (NB). Geographic contiguity, strong academics, and--finally--a strong conference will be meaningful. North Carolina and Kansas would work. For those things you have to be willing to look down the road a little, not just at your current prejudices against Rutgers, and you have to be able to see things like soccer and lacrosse. Oh, hockey. 

P.S. Could the U of Toronto be a consideration? Just dreamin'.


December 4th, 2012 at 11:22 AM ^

I couldnt agree more MGoShoe.  We make many weekend road trips.  We did Nebraska Leaving Friday 10pm (couldnt get out of work) then came home Sunday.  Was a great trip.  I have done Iowa, Wisco, and Minnehaha in similar fashion.  

I met a old guy on the road that claimed, "I have missed 3 games in 31 years"  He set a new standard for me.



December 4th, 2012 at 9:01 AM ^

Since this makes sense, Delaney will never do it. Instead, when the new divisions are announced, one of the divisions will have five teams, the other will have nine, Illinois will be forgotten and Rutgers will be listed twice in the division with five teams in it.


Rutgers will have a 3-year losing streak in its rivalry with itself.


December 4th, 2012 at 9:26 AM ^

I would hate to see these two playing this game to decide who goes to the Big Ten championship every year.  Most years these will be the best two teams in the BIg Ten. I would risk them not playing every year unless they both go the the Big Ten Championship game.  As Hoke says the goal is to be Big Ten Champions, and if that goal gets decided at the Big Ten Championship game, I am okay with it.

Wolverine 73

December 4th, 2012 at 9:43 AM ^

Let's not kid ourselves that we are going back to Michigan and Ohio being the two best teams in the league "most years."  Wisconsin has been a force for a long time, Penn State will be even better (once sanctions lift)  now that Joe is gone, Nebraska is a traditional power, even MSU and NW have become much stronger teams than they used to be.  Winning on the road is a challenge, and the way the schedule sets up will play a big part in who wins each year.  If Michigan can get to the title game 5 times in every 10 years, that will be a huge accomplishment.   I would be happy to play in the same division with Ohio, play them last game of the year, and see if it determines who plays in the title game. 


December 4th, 2012 at 12:53 PM ^

Wisconsin has been a force for like 3 seasons and they weren't really a force this season, they just benefited from OSU and PSU being on probation.  The only time teams like Wisconsin, Iowa, or MSU rise up to the top of the conference for any extended period is when the elite teams leave a vacuum.  Michigan's fall from grace has been well-documented, but that is something Hoke is quickly correcting.  With the exception of 2011, Ohio has been the elite team of this conference for going on a decade.

Should expansion come with divisional realignment and place Michigan and Ohio together, I would be shocked if the division rep wasn't one them 8 of 10 times a decade.  That said, I would expect Wisconsin and Nebraska to be the elite teams of their division, but I think they lose the B1G championship game more than they win it against either U of M or Ohio.

The keys to long-term program success is coaching stability and recruiting.  Nobody outside of Michigan and Ohio can challenge on that point.


December 4th, 2012 at 10:00 AM ^

While this arrangement passes the eyeball test in Michigan's division, I don't think it does in the other one. Fans of those teams will see a division that makes no geographical sense -- Nebraska and Maryland -- and is probably the tougher of the two divisions. Plus, the traditional powers in that division -- Nebraska, PSU -- will be pissed that they won't get yearly match-ups against the big-ticket teams. I think this arrangement is pie-in-the-sky and won't fly.


December 4th, 2012 at 11:20 AM ^

I think everyone in the proposed U-M division would vote "yes" for this format.  Except Michigan State --- half out of spite and half because they're stuck competiting with BOTH U-M and OSU yearly.


Nebraska and Penn State would vote "yes" on this (I think) --- but Rutgers and Maryland are definitely "no" votes here.  I think they want to maximize games with OSU and U-M.  Plus, playing half their road games in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, and Nebraska?  East coast people view that part of the country on par with Siberia.


Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa --- who knows --- but I'd guess they'd vote "no" on this also.


These divisions may only get an 8-6 "yes" vote --- there are other options that would get more consensus.


December 4th, 2012 at 12:09 PM ^

"There are other options that would get more consensus."

Do tell (and I mean that as least dickish as possible). The reason why I feel like we ended up with crappy divisions in the first place is because we tried to reach a better consensus. Instead of making most happy and some pissed, we just made everyone go "meh?"


December 4th, 2012 at 12:16 PM ^

The ultimate problem that Michigan and OSU fans face in the divisional alignment conversation is that the other 12 schools willl never agree to put M and OSU in the same division. Everyone will want a guaranteed game against one or the other every year, but no one wants guaranteed games against both: that's the sweet spot between 'big games' and 'competitive balance' the other ADs will covet. Which in turn means protected rivalries. Which in turn means another dumb set of divisions is inevitable.


December 4th, 2012 at 10:05 AM ^

go to 20 by taking over (merging with) the bulk of the ACC (BC, UVA, Duke, UNC, GT, and one other), create a Big Ten Division and an ACC Division (sending Purdue or IU east with Penn State), and be done with it already?

The Pac 12 and ND have had their chances. If we go this way, we anchor the TV lucrative North East, and the demographic growth lucrative corridor between DC and Atlanta, not to mention making BTN basketball must see TV.


December 4th, 2012 at 10:24 AM ^

..looking at the map and struggling with the geographical inaccuracies?  I get that it's not intended to replace Google Maps, but it's not even close.  Purdue and Illinois are essentially in need of being swapped; I'm not sure why MSU is south of Ann Arbor; Rutgers is actually south of State College, not North; and Nebraska is nearly due West of Iowa, not South.

/insane rant

turd ferguson

December 4th, 2012 at 10:41 AM ^

I think these are great.  I don't mind the east/west split, and it's kind of cool to basically have two sub-divisions there.  There would be slightly more travel involved for teams, but this is football only and any given team will only have three divisional road games per year (with at least one very close to home).

Consider this the Turd Ferguson stamp of approval.  Nicely done.


December 4th, 2012 at 11:22 AM ^

I live in the state of Michigan, and where I live, it takes longer than 5 hours to drive to Ann Arbor. Don't let driving distance play a factor. There's some places in Michigan that would take 10 hours to make it to Ann Arbor.


December 4th, 2012 at 11:28 AM ^

that flexibility in terms of when Ohio and Michigan play is key to any reallignment if they are not going to be in the same division.  Look at recruiting over the next two years.  Michigan and Ohio State are going to play often in the Big Ten title game absent a complete division makeover like Seth has proposed, and I think proactively it would enhance the rivarly to play the initial meeting earlier in the year if they are going to stay in the same division.  Let them play in October, let them play at night (If Auburn and Alabama can I don't want to hear about it being to intense of a rivarly for night games, get off it already, fans will adjust and behave themselves), let them play the first game of the Big Ten season if need be.  Some of the most intense Miami v. Florida State games that I have seen have been the first game of the season (!) let alone conference play.  Flexibility with the timing of The Game is key to fixing the conference slate and how future season will play out and I think it is time for the needle to move in that direction.  Something has to give and I think that may be it.  (All in all if I could have more Ohio v. Michigan per year I would support that result)


December 4th, 2012 at 11:39 AM ^

Asgardian's post above, stick UVA and UNC with the east coast boys and start building all the teams up. Preserve the core rivalries, yes, but the unceasing assumption that these teams and their football value and prowess are set in amber grow a little bit tiresome--and too football-centric. ADs and Presidents are forced to see this thing from a wider perspective. 


December 4th, 2012 at 11:44 AM ^

I know the general concensus is that Michigan and Ohio State should be in the same division, but is that the best for the conference (or each school?).  Looking back through the 1960s, Michigan and Ohio State each would've won 20+ division titles if the divisions looked like it does now, with most schools struggling to even reach double digits in terms of division titles.  If you put both in the same division, you're going to severely limit the number of Big Ten titles either Michigan or Ohio State can win.

Is there a counter-argument to this?


December 4th, 2012 at 12:39 PM ^

You can't have shared titles, so there will only be one to go around.  And if you're the best team whether you beat OSU the second to last game of the season or last doesn't matter. Sure, you can eliminate one team in the odd year they play each other, but then you have to beat a team potentially twice to be the champ.  And if you can't go into the championship game and beat some other team you probably didn't deserve to be champ in the first place, and you're not padding it by some construction of divisions.

The two best teams will probably not play in the championship game quite often. Right now we're maybe one for two. Who were the two best teams this year? Nebraska and Ohio State? Nebraska and Michigan among the eligibles? Wisconsin with their record and non-division win, because they beat Nebraska?  It' a mini-playoff, and the best team over a year doesn't always win.


December 4th, 2012 at 11:58 AM ^

Some schools are far more likely to sacrifice academic for athletic achievement.  Why should a selective school compete with one that cuts corners?  Why not group schools by their values and intelligence?*

Dumb Division
Ohio, RTG, Pur, IU, MSU, IA, NEB

Smart Division

I know it will never happen.  I am being a little facetious (but not completely)

*roughly according to multiple ranks in different systems like the two below:




December 4th, 2012 at 11:56 AM ^

I think the practical outcomes of "competitive balance" makes it an overrated value.  I'd rather see good matchups every week, every year than have "balanced" divisions resulting in lots of games I don't care about every year.  So, taking your four clusters, I'd rather see Michigan-MSU-OSU paired with Nebraska-Wisconsin-Minnesota-Iowa than Northwestern-Illinios-Purdue-Indiana.  That's four boring conference games every year counterbalance with two interesting ones every year.  Wouldn't it be better to see MSU, OSU, Nebraska, and Wisconsin every year?


December 4th, 2012 at 12:19 PM ^

I drive 9-10 hours from Harrisburg PA., (75 miles south of Happy Valley)to A2 twice a year. Spring game and one actual game. It would be nice to have games on this side of the country that mean something. I hope they get it right.


December 4th, 2012 at 12:21 PM ^


Let's all keep in mind that the addition of Maryland and Rutgers was designed and executed by businessmen with more interest in deepening their collective pockets than deepening the traditions of the Big Ten, a Midwestern football conference.  That said, I'm going to posit that the divisions end up like this:

Winning:  Michigan, Maryland, Rutgers, Penn State, Indiana, Michigan State, Ohio.

Trying:  Nebraska, Wisconsin, Iowa, Northwestern, Illinois, Minnesota, Purdue.

Only significant "rivalry" (arguably) not respected here is Indiana Purdue (could be scheduled against one another anyway).. Otherwise, it also makes sense from a geographical standpoint.  

This way, the teams that stand to benefit from the expansion the most (i.e., the teams with the best chance at recruiting east coast players away from other conferences --> UofM and OSU) will get the exposure they desire on the coast, and still only have to go out there once a year.  Added travel expenses for teams like Michigan and Ohio are necessary evils to gain the recruiting advantage that this move seeks to encourage.  

Indiana is really the only traditional Big Ten team that will be able to gripe about the distance, but certainly can't complain ahead of either/both Maryland and Rutgers, whose average travel time (according to the chart above) would be about 7 hours. Unfortunately, when you add two teams that have no geographic relation to the other 12, there are going to be some negative side effects.  Sorry, Hoosiers; stick to basketball and all will be well. 

Western portion of the conference can't complain at all.  They maintain all their traditional rivalries, and ultimately remains the same 3-way power struggle between Nebraska, Wisconsin, and Iowa (when they're good). 

No matter how it all comes out, you can bet that they'll screw it up in some nonsensical fashion.  

Go Blue. 

Ron Utah

December 4th, 2012 at 12:22 PM ^

Unfortunately, this won't happen.  Makes too much sense from every aspect save geography. This is important because the cost of travel for the schools in the less filling division would be astronomical.  Only way this happens is if the conference works out a deal to subsidize travel for the in the community division.

I hope that happens, but doubt it.