Divisional Alignment: A Complex Proposal

Submitted by formerlyanonymous on June 14th, 2010 at 11:45 PM

Rather than going with the 2 divisional alignment that has been argued quite extensively, I have a proposed solution for peer review. The main reason for peer review is that I'm not entirely sure that everything works out in every situation. Let me know if you find something that doesn't, making this whole post worthless.

In this situation, the 12 team conference will be split into 4 pods, and the four pods will rotate around who plays each other and a singular protected rivalry will happen outside of pod play.

First, for basic understanding of my pods:





Ohio State



Penn State





Michigan State




Division names here are just made up for convenience, something better could be thought up. I'm just looking at how to divide and schedule.

The key to this scheduling technique is a rotation. The plan is to have a 9 game schedule, with each team playing 2 divisional games, 1 protected rivalry game, and 6 games against teams in matched divisions. If the protected rivalry game falls in one of the two matched divisions (2 games per division automatically end up this way), they'll be replaced by a team in the unlinked division.

The protected rivalries outside of the divisions:

Michigan Minnesota
Ohio State Indiana
Michigan State Northwestern
Wisconsin Nebraska
Illinois Purdue
Iowa Penn State

I felt this does a good job of keeping some of the more important rivalries that may or may not exist, even if they are minor (Michigan vs Minnesota) or developing ones (Iowa vs Penn State).

By setting this divisional set up and match ups, this means that two divisions are linked every year. By linked, I mean that they will play the same divisions, but not each other, except in games replacing protected rivalry weekends. So, for example, in year one, the Central will play the West and South divisions. Also in year one, the Midwest will play the West and South divisions. The Central and Midwest won't play each other except replacing protected rivalry games, and the West and South won't play each other except in games replacing protected rivalries.

To describe this in chart form, the team in the top would play inter-divisional against the teams in the chart in each of the three rotating years:

Year Central Midwest West South
1 West/South West/South Central/Midwest Central/Midwest
2 Midwest/West Central/South Central/South Midwest/West
3 Midwest/South Central/West Midwest/South Central/West

Looking above, you can see that the Central would play the same inter-divisional opponents as the Midwest in year one of the rotation. In year two, they'd play the same opponents as the South. In year three, they'd play the same inter-divisional opponents as the West. Having played the same opponents, I think this makes them best suited for "linking" them for who makes the Big Ten Championship game. The best record emerging from the "linked" groups will face off in the Big Ten.

So in year one, the best Big Ten record of the Central and Midwest would face the best Big Ten record of the West and South. This helps eliminate some of the problem the Big XII faced as a 2 division, 12 team conference. One half of the conference cannot dominate the other half as quarters of the conference much mix yearly.

Will it work?

I'm not entirely sure. The protected rivalries may hurt the system, but some I think are near necessities. The thing I'm least sure about is if replacing protected rivalries will work out. Say Michigan is in year one of the rotation, they'll play Minnesota in the inter-divisional round, therefore, they'll need to play a team out of the Midwest to make up for the lost conference game. Will that work out all the time? I'm not sure. I tried to space it out where no team in the same pod had a protected rivalry in the same division as another team in their rivalry, so theoretically, there should always be two teams from each pod that must play a team from their linked pod.

That even number in each pod should make it possible. I'm interested to see if those with a sharper attention span can confirm this.


  • It eliminates the need to split the conference in two parts.
  • Geography is still pretty well grouped. Penn State does jump the Central schools, but that was to keep Michigan with it's two geographic rivals.
  • The quarters provide a pretty solid balance between groups,
  • It keeps many if not all major conference rivalries together.
  • You never go more than one year without facing an opponent.


  • Only 85% sure it will work.
  • You're probably slightly confused just thinking about it.
  • One less cream puff game per year, resulting in half the conference gaining an extra loss (price of a 9-game conference season)


I like it, but I'm interested in your thoughts. I don't see much in the way of 4 divisions being thrown around for much outside of the 16 team conference, which I'd prefer something similar in that case as well.


West Texas Blue

June 15th, 2010 at 12:01 AM ^

Occam's Razor.  2 divisions is simple.  Will there be a possible geographical mismatch? Most likely, but complaining team(s) will get over it.  Discussing different outcomes of a 4 divsion conference over alot of beers is going to be pretty darn hard too.


June 15th, 2010 at 12:09 AM ^

I like it alot. My only question is the same question you posed, and I don't have an answer.

It poses an interesting approach to alignment in a think outside the box way. It certainly seems a plausible and fair way to settle things. Someone forward this to Delany.


June 15th, 2010 at 1:22 AM ^

I'd put the "power" teams into their own pods (M, OSU, PSU, Neb) then do what you suggest.

My pods would be:

  1. Michigan - MSU - Minn.
  2. OSU - Wisc. - Ill.
  3. PSU - Iowa - NW
  4. Neb - Purdue - IU

I'd also make the pod leaders play each other (M-OSU; PSU-Neb) no matter what. Penn State and Nebraska can fight over the Newcomer Trophy or something. That way, no one can dodge a bullet so to speak and M-OSU would be guaranteed. You'd also make sure that BTN would have all possible permutations of awesome match-ups every year ... I think it's 6, plus the championship game. Hot Damn! That's a lot of great football and therefore $$$.

Having said that, I agree with West Texas Blue; unfortunately, it seems that a whole lot of people would rather not think too much these days and would therefore reject an interesting and reasonably fair structure like this.

I wouldn't invoke Occam's Razor though, I'd invoke the Simpleton's Slice: keep it simple (&) stupid.

[Final Edit, I Promise]: M and OSU should permanently vow to forfeit their ticket to the Big Ten Championship Game presented by Rotel if they don't win. That'd be pretty awesome.


June 15th, 2010 at 7:10 AM ^

I generally like the split-by-power division plan you've got here, but Wisc/Minn/Iowa in three separate pods?  That's a pretty blatant major rival split, and I'm not sure you could fix it with the one protected game each scenario.

As nicely as it works out for the Big 4, I like that the Big Ten has traditionally done what's best for the league as a whole, not just catering to the biggest dogs.  

Unless you had a plan in there somewhere?  Because cthulu knows I don't have the attention span to figure it out right now.  Time for that beer...


June 15th, 2010 at 9:02 AM ^

I was coming from the basis that Competitve Balance trumps Rivalry Preservation, but, yeah, I definately forgot about working in Paul Bunyan's Axe. Since the Brown Jug isn't an annual rivalry, it probably makes sense to swap Minnesota and Illinois. I think under FA's plan, the Brown Jug would still be contested most years of a decade (6-7 years instead of 8). I see that Iowa-Wisconsin is a long standing game, but the Heartland trophy isn't ... maybe it's reasonable to relegate that game to Brown Jug status? I'd imagine that there's a way use the protected rivalry concept to increase the frequency if it matters that much to them. I haven't looked into that myself.

I don't think this proposal caters to the power programs, though. I think forcing the pod leaders to play each other makes their schedule BRUTAL--Michigan would play Ohio State, Penn State, Nebraska, and MSU every year and Notre Dame, Iowa and Wisconsin most years. As tough as it would be, the upshot would be that there would be a ton of high quality match-ups for BTN to market nationally. There would also be a solid rivalry week (or two) in November to market every year.

The more I think about it, the more I like FA's proposal with a rearranged pod structure.


June 15th, 2010 at 9:12 AM ^

In response to both of you, that was the one major one I couldn't get in. And with Nebraska wanting to make Nebraska their end of season rivalry seemed to be a potential trade off. The other idea was to switch Nebraska and Minnesota in the protected rivalries. Part of what makes my system feasible is that each team in each pod has a protected rivalry in a different other pod.

For example, the Central: Ohio State's protected rivalry is in the South, Michigan's is in the West, and MSU's is in the Midwest.

I didn't want to give Nebraska to Michigan to avoid homerism on who gets the rivalry, nor did I want to really stack Michigan's rivalries. OSU and MSU are tough enough games as it is. But yeah, the easiest way to solve the axe is switch Nebraska to Michigan's protected rival.

Double Nickel BG

June 15th, 2010 at 8:41 AM ^

Your team/division break down if group 1 and 2  are a pair and groups 3 and 4 are another pair. This is the best I have seen figuring in competitive fairness and having OSU/Michigan playing for the right to go to the CC game. You can also change Wisconsin or Iowa to that 3rd spot in a division to make it even more competitive from year to year.


Michigan schedule 2011 (dates not given)          2012

MSU                                                                            MSU

Minn                                                                            Minn

PSU                                                                            PSU

Nebraska                                                               Nebraska

Wisconsin                                                                 Illinois

NW                                                                             Iowa

Purdue                                                                       IU

ND                                                                              ND

OOC                                                                           OOC

OOC                                                                           OOC

OOC                                                                           OOC

OSU                                                                           OSU


Play 8 B10 games. Play everyone in the B10 atleast every other year. Still leaves 3 OOC games and ND so you can tweak the SOS on weaker/stronger years.

I like this.


June 15th, 2010 at 1:16 AM ^

Yes I agree that the South is far inferior than the other 3 but, I believe the Midwest and West are nearly equal.

Both divisions have the pushover in Minny and Illinois. I think Wiscy is as good a program as either Iowa or Nebraska now. NW is also a program on the rise with Fitzgerald and could be a very solid prpgram.

So, about equal.


EDIT: Meant to be in response to BlueBulls

I Blue Myself

June 15th, 2010 at 1:18 AM ^

1. Why have the protected rivalries?   It makes your proposal more complicated, and none of those games are huge rivalries.

2. Keep Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Iowa together.  It's the only true three way rivalry in the Big Ten.

3. Whoever gets paired with Indiana/Purdue and Illinois/Northwestern has it very easy, as BlueBalls noted. 

Instead, how about:

A. Mich, MSU, OSU

B. Iowa, Wisconsin, Minnesota

C. Penn State, Nebraska, Illinois

D. Northwestern, Purdue, Indiana

Obviously, group D is much weaker, but those teams don't often compete for Big 10 titles, so it's not as much of a big deal.  Nebraska and Penn State get an annual rivalry.  And make it so that when you pair up pods into divisions each year, Mich and OSU are always in a separate division from Nebraska and Penn State, so you would never have all four power teams competing for the same division title.

You still have the possibility of a team getting an easy path to the Big Ten title, but I think that's always a possibility when you miss two opponents every year.

This is probably more complicated than it needs to be, but I like it better than static divisions.

Blue in Seattle

June 15th, 2010 at 1:19 AM ^

I never been sure why hockey and soccer need to use complex things like this other than hockey and soccer fans are as obsessed with statistics as baseball fans are, but just don't have the same insane amount of games to create a significant sample.

phew! that sentence wore me down almost as much as the original post itself.

I don't really see the need.  The changes happening to the conference as far as football is concerned are driven by TV.  And the rivalries important to TV will be protected right after the need to ensure an adequately exciting champtionship game every year.

Michigan and Ohio are still the most populous states and/or biggest media markets to drive everything.  Wisconsin and Penn State are the two schools begging for relevancy in a championship game, thus willing to do anything, and the rest of the conference can just be fit in as needed.

Is it possible that two cinderella teams make it to the championship game? yes it's possible, but not very likely.


They will balance the divisions to make sure the championship game gets watched, Almost as much as the final division game between Michigan and Ohio State.

The Rose Bowl USED to be the reward for winning THE RIVALRY.

Now the Conference Championship game that will be the reward.

Back to my first point, football is a game that is enriched by the "singularities".  Those moments when the game is in the balance, and the woulda, shoulda, coulda, excuses come raining down.

making sure that everything is balanced is just boring, and boring leads to apathy.

plus it's not like they won't still invite 7 or 8 teams to a bowl game every year.

Can THE RIVALRY overshadow the championship game,

Of Course! as it should.


June 15th, 2010 at 1:55 AM ^

So would you have a semi finals (4 division winners) then a final b10 play off game? I would be with you on  multiple divisions if we some how gained 16 or more teams over the next several years.  But for now I would just have 2 division!  Western division (NE, IL, IA, NW, MN, WI) and the eastern division (UM, OSU, MSU, PSU, PU, IN). The winners of both division will play in the b10 championship game.  Within every division the teams would play each other every season!


June 15th, 2010 at 3:08 AM ^

With that split, Michigan and Ohio State would NEVER play for Big Ten Chamionship game. That would then be a not boring... but it would not have the same feel as it would if UM and OSU could play for Big Ten Championship game.


June 15th, 2010 at 9:16 AM ^

I wanted to avoid a mini-playoff in my scenario as they aren't legal right now. The pod winners wouldn't mean anything, just who has the best record of linked pods (the pods that don't play each other, therefore leaving the most common opponents).

This is proposal is about rotating more teams onto the schedule on a regular basis while keeping primary rivalries and without creating unbalanced 2-divisions. Some years Penn State would be in the same division as UM, OSU, and MSU, some years Iowa, Minnesota, and Nebraska, other years, the other group.

Schedules would be put out far enough in advance that it should eliminate much of the confusion fans would face during the year, or at least a good portion of it. Knowing which teams are in your linked pods still might have some confusion.


June 15th, 2010 at 3:09 AM ^

I don't think a 9 game conference season is feasible, especially with the addition of a conference championship game. The Big 12, ACC, and SEC all had 12 teams, played a championship game, and all of them had 8 game seasons.

I do like the pod idea though, it's original and you're right that it should avoid another Big 12 disaster


June 15th, 2010 at 7:26 AM ^

To paraphrase Delaney, it’s a football schedule, not a rocket launch.

You got some of the protected rivalries wrong: there is no way that Minnesota and Wisconsin won’t play each other every year. They have the oldest annual rivalry in Division I football.

But even after you fix that, you’re introducing much more complexity than the problem requires.


June 15th, 2010 at 9:27 AM ^

It would be interesting to see this, because it protects a lot more rivalries. However the divisions end up, the thing I want most is to protect some of the Big Ten's best rivalries.


June 15th, 2010 at 11:43 AM ^

I like this idea a lot. I misread it at first and found a problem with the way I read it. The solution I came up with was what you had.

This setup allows for one division to play home to another division in all of those games and just rotate them. That would be 3 home and 3 away from the pods, 1 home and 1 away from your pod and either a home or away from the last pod, which rotates every year.

If Michigan and Minnesota don't need to reschedule that Means that OSU, MSU, Nebraska and Iowa all need to reschedule. Have OSU play @Nebraska and MSU play @Iowa; 3 years later have Iowa @OSU and Nebraska @MSU; and continue like that.

If OSU, MSU, and Michigan all tie, then the tie breaker can be the record of the team they played in the last division.

Also, put OSU and Michigan in different pods and make that the rivalry.


June 15th, 2010 at 1:37 PM ^

Also, listening to what Delaney said, they will have balance.  OSU, UM, and MSU in one group is not balance.


UM, OSU, PSU, and NEB would be in separate pods. 







Something like that maybe? I don't know, but like I said, with 12, it will be divided into 6's





June 15th, 2010 at 2:10 PM ^

One thing worth noting, I think, is that your system for choosing who plays in the championship will guarantee a rematch. It would be nice if there was a chance (even if small) that the two teams in the championship game hadn't already played each other that year.


June 19th, 2010 at 12:36 AM ^

for the average fan to understand. I think this is a very good division setup though. The best 4 division setup i have seen so far. I like the idea of 4 divisions. Were going to have 16 teams eventually anyway, might as well set it up for 16 teams now.