An Interesting Proposal for the Big Ten/11/12 Conference Divisions

Submitted by bklein09 on December 15th, 2009 at 8:23 PM
I've mentioned this in a couple other threads at this point, so I apologize to those of you who have already seen it and thought it uninteresting, illogical, or other. I also wanna apologize to those of you who are already tired of talk about expansion. I know there have been a ton of posts on this subject, but I haven't seen anyone else suggest what I am about to and I wanted to get some opinion on it. It has almost no realistic chance of happening this way, but what the heck. It is December, bowl season hasn't started yet, and I'm not that excited about it anyways, so here it goes. 

I recommend that when the Big Ten accepts a 12th team, they initiate a division system that goes outside the box of what has been done before. Instead of having permanent divisions, the divisions should be rotating and determined by conference record in previous seasons. Originally, I thought that the divisions should be reformed after each season, but Seth9 convinced me that a rotation occurring every two seasons was best. 

For example, if this system had been in place in 2007 (with a hypothetical 12th team of course) the divisions would have looked like this in 2009:

(Combined Conference Standing from 2007 and 2008 in Parenthesis)

Division Odd:
(1) Ohio State 
(3) MSU
(5) Illinois
(7) Northwestern
(9) Purdue
(11) Minnesota

Division Even:
(2) PSU
(4) Iowa
(6) Wisconsin
(8) Michigan
(10) Indiana
(n/a) 12th Team

Based on this break down, OSU and Iowa would have faced off in the Championship Game (which should be held in Lucas Oil Stadium in my opinion). Again this does not factor in the 12th team, but I wanted to give a tangible example of how this would work. 

These divisions would remain like this for the 2010 season, and then be reconfigured again based on the combined conference records from 2009/2010. 

On to the analysis:

The major issues that have been brought up by quite a few people in regards to expansion is how to deal with The Game (in addition to other current rivalries). 

Most say that UM-OSU need to be in the same division so that they can continue to play on the last week of the regular season without the risk that they will have to play again in the Championship. However, there is another group that thinks that putting UM-OSU on the same side will create a Texas-Oklahoma situation, where you have one extremely strong division that basically beats the hell out of the the other division in the Championship game (yes I know Nebraska used to be really good and I know Kansas State beat Oklahoma once, but in general the North has been terrible the last few years).

In my opinion, rotating divisions is the best compromise possible in a situation where no one is going to be completely satisfied. Some years UM-OSU would end up playing twice in one season and other times one of them would get screwed because they are on a side with the two best teams. 

I'm just not okay with saying that OSU, MSU, UM have to be on the same side because they are rivals and have to play every year. Yes, I completely understand the importance of rivalries, but if the Big Ten tries to make divisions that way they will end up with an unbalanced conference, which is a nightmare scenario IMO.

With the rotating divisions, each team would obviously play every other team on their side. They would then each be allowed one permanent opponent (UM-OSU, Minn-Wisconsin, etc) from the other side. If you really wanted to make an effort to preserve all the rivalries in the Big Ten, you could even allow teams to have an alternate permanent opponent that they could play if their first choice is already on their side. For example, when UM and OSU are on the same side, UM could be guaranteed a game against MSU (assuming they are on the other side). I know this is starting to sound pretty confusing, but a lot of things about conference rules and scheduling is confusing. 

That about sums up my thoughts on the rotating divisions concept, so I will now turn it over to the MGOBLOG community for examination. I realize that this is extremely unlikely to ever become reality, so some of you may find talking about it a waste of time. But I was bored, didn't want to work on a term paper, and wanted to see what people thought so here it is.




December 15th, 2009 at 9:27 PM ^

If Michigan was placed in Division A, and OSU and MSU were placed in Division B, then UM would obviously choose their guarantee game to be OSU. This does not mean we would not play MSU. In fact, there would still be a 40% chance of use playing MSU. Assuming 8 conference games, you play all 5 in your division, one guarantee from the opposite division, and two of the remaining five from the opposite division.

Of course, the system is far from perfect, but its as good or better than any permanent divisions I have seen.

Also, there are many ways to work the guarantee game. Would two schools from opposite division have to agree to play each other? or does every school get its pick of one other?

For example, could Michigan pick OSU for the guaranteed cross-division game, but then MSU pick michigan?


December 15th, 2009 at 9:54 PM ^

Every school could keep their current 2 guaranteed games and if they rotated into the other division, then they stay on the schedule no matter what. You would always play 3 conference games from the opposite division so it could easily keep the current rivalries in place.


December 15th, 2009 at 9:06 PM ^

It would absolutely blow a hole in scheduling. As it stands, our Big Ten schedule is set in stone many years in advance, which allows teams to schedule their out of conference foes far in advance. If teams didn't know their divisions until 10 months before the first game of the upcoming season, it would cause all kinds of scrambling.


December 15th, 2009 at 9:08 PM ^

Even if the teams play eachother on the last game of the year, they would still have a chance to play AGAIN on the B10 championship game. The whole reason that the game is so popular is how much it means for each team and they only play once. Other rivalries that are good (NYY vs Boston, NC vs Duke...) play eachother multiple times, so the spark is not as strong as our rivalry. Have to keep them in the same division.


December 15th, 2009 at 9:15 PM ^

While this is not a perfect idea...I think to better keep the scheduling intact, and to avoid unbalanced divisions, that divisions should be eliminated. And the teams with the two best conference records play in the championship game. This would help fix the flaw the Big 12 has with the North division being virtually worthless. Granted in days of old that was not the case, but in recent years the South has been dominant. This erases the unbalanced divisions and problematic scheduling. The only real glaring issue I see with this proposal is if teams played in back to back weeks. As in Michigan and OSU play when they have always played and then play again in the championship game. Just a thought...


December 15th, 2009 at 9:32 PM ^

Assuming we add ND or Pitt (the only viable options in my view), I think the divisions can be divided fairly equally while preserving the important rivalries.

Division 1: Michigan, OSU, MSU, Iowa, Wisconsin, Minnesota

Division 2: Illinois, Northwestern, Indiana, Purdue, PSU, Pitt/ND

Each division would have a marquee game acting as a de-facto division championship, you don't break up any real rivalries as far as I can tell, and the balance is pretty good (to me division one looks stronger, but Illinois, Northwestern and Purdue have all won the Big10 in the last 10-15 years). This to me is a much better set-up than they have in the Big12, ACC or SEC.


December 15th, 2009 at 10:09 PM ^

Even that alignment is unbalanced, with Division 1 being visibly tougher than Division 2. Illinois, Northwestern, Indiana, and Purdue, are only rarely conference championship contenders, whereas Division 1 has four teams that could be expected to be good with regularity.


December 15th, 2009 at 10:42 PM ^

I think if you flipped Iowa with Indiana/Purdue it would balance the divisions as best as possible. The only problem with that would be then Division 2 has the geographical gap with PSU and most likely Pitt pretty far from Iowa, Illinois, and Northwestern. I'm not sure how big of a factor that would be in creating the divisions, given modern travel and everything these days.

But I think that there would be pretty good balance, especially if Pitt can consistently replicate its current season in the future. Northwestern is gaining some clout with Pat Fitzgerald at the helm, and I see them becoming a Big Ten powerhouse in the very near future, as he has said he wants to coach at NU for as long as they'll have him.

I would then say the big three in each division would be Michigan, OSU, and MSU/Wisconsin and PSU, Iowa, and then Northwestern/Pitt.


December 16th, 2009 at 1:41 AM ^

My head would start spinning after a few years not knowing what division we will be in! If UM and OSU are not in the same division there could be a chance that they may not play each other which is totally unacceptable.

I don't mind if an East Division containing UM, OSU, PSU destroys the west division on a yearly bases. What I don't like seeing is a WI or IA who does not happen to play both OSU or UM (PSU) one season, end up representing the b10 in the Rose Bowl. The two division conference would prevent this from ever occurring!


December 16th, 2009 at 1:52 AM ^

I'm for some sort of breakdown where Michigan/OSU are in separate divisions but play each year (maybe 1st big ten game so if they play in the Big 10 title game it is not a rematch of the week before).

Or why have divisions at all? Have each team play 8 (or 9) conference games and the top 2 play in the conference championship game.


December 16th, 2009 at 7:45 AM ^

Let us not forget that expansion is for ALL SPORTS not just football. This is one aspect that is completely forgotten. I was against the rotating divisions originally, but as I thought more about it, it is VERY flexible. You could do that for each sport. It is a very controversial and out of the box idea. At first thought, people would tend to reject it. (Especially if you bring in the idea that the division alignment would be different for each sport) However, if you present it in the right way, it may work. Good starting point!


December 16th, 2009 at 8:01 AM ^

Hockey isn't in the big 10 (CCHA)
Basketball doesn't need divisions (Big ten free for all)
Volleyball same as basketball
Not sure about baseball, but I am guessing that they play a ton of games.

So why are we even thinking about other sports?

Also, a rotating conference is a dumb idea.


December 16th, 2009 at 8:14 AM ^

I think it would create too many scheduling issues and imbalance of home/road games. If it rotates that often, balancing the schedules that quickly will be more difficult and making sure teams trade home and road games against each other would be very difficult, especially in the year immediately following the rotation. Also, it doesn't really allow for good "peripheral" rivalries to develop. Having constant divisions will help the rivalries between schools within that division, whereas rotating will not allow them to develop.

Otherwise, I think it is a good idea and if practical would certainly make things interesting.


December 16th, 2009 at 8:30 AM ^

Suppose the divisions are created this way: Add up the total records of each team over the last five years. The team with the best record goes into Division A; second best into B; third best into A, fourth best into B, and so forth. This would create two well balanced divisions, based on recent performance. Every five years, they would be re-balanced by the same formula.

The only issue is how to deal with protected rivalries. Nine out of the eleven current teams have just one long-standing rival. Michigan, with two, and Penn State, with zero, are the exceptions. The scheduling format could ensure that each of the nine teams with just one major rival plays that opponent every year, even if the formula places them in opposite divisions.

You can easily protect one rival per team, but it's less clear what to do about Michigan, but as I noted, the Wolverines are the only Big Ten team with two big intra-conference rivalries. Every other team has either one or none.

Max Power

December 16th, 2009 at 9:33 AM ^

The rotating divison concept is a good idea. You wouldnt need to use it for any other sport. Basketball could go to a normal divison breakdown. In other two division leagues the two divisions just effect seeding for the bball tourny. W1 and E1 get a bye etc. but as for schedualing they play everyone.


December 16th, 2009 at 10:28 AM ^

The proposal, while interesting, seems to present as many problems as it solves.

The problem of rotating division would largely go away if you were to increase the number of conference games played. The more games played in conference, the more relevant the W-L record.

A ten game conference schedule still allows for seven home games for every team. Not as good as eight, but not a huge deal.


December 16th, 2009 at 10:32 AM ^

IMHO, the North/South configuration will work out the best in ANY 12th team situation by spreading out the perennial good teams, especially if we wind up with a Missouri or a Nebraska. You could throw an East/West conference rotation too to keep things interesting. The E/W choice would depend on the 12th team.

* = perennial


(should we get Neb/Mizz, decent balance)

(without Neb/Mizz, quite unbalanced)
2 of the MSU/Indiana/Purdue

1 of the MSU/Indiana/Purdue


December 16th, 2009 at 11:27 AM ^

I could envision a scenario where come the last week of the season, teams might have an idea of what the divisional breakdown would be for the following year. At this point, there might be incentive to lose a game to increase the likelihood of success the following year due to the ability to predict favorable matchups. Not sure this would actually happen, but you can bet fans would be rooting for losses by their teams under some circumstances.


December 16th, 2009 at 1:22 PM ^

I agree. MI and OSU being in the same division is a bad idea, unless there is some compensation--eg rotation, as you suggest, or an equalization of strength of schedule within the division.

To illustrate why, consider a purely heuristic example. Suppose we have three teams of equal strength (eg MI=team A, OSU=team B, and a hypothetical third team=team C). Let us say that each team is assured of winning its division (unless it must first play another team of equal strength to do so) For the two placed in the same division (A and B), the chances of winning the division and league championship games is .5*.5= .25. For the team alone in its division, the chance of doing so is 1*.5=.5. So, clearly, in this case, there is an advantage of not playing in the same division as another strong competitor. Even though all teams are of equal strength in this hypothetical example, Team C, alone in its division, has twice the chances of winning the championship (.5 vs .25).

In reality, the chances of winning the division in each case will not be this high. Also, there will be some level of competition in the other division (e.g. PSU, IA and Wisc this year were actually stronger than UM). However, these differences will only change the size of the advantage of teams in the other division, who will still have an advantage if:

1. teams A and B (UM and OSU) are expected, in the long run, to be the strongest and are in one division, unless

2. the rest of the UM-OSU division is weak enough to compensate for the disadvantage of them being in the same division.

So, for this proposal NOT to disadvantage UM and OSU (without rotation) one would need to make the rest of the division very weak, if indeed there is enough weakness to adequately compensate for the disadvantage of them being together.

For instance, if the other division contained IA, Wisc PSU and MSU, then the strength of schedule in that division might, in the future, be at least as great as that of the UM-OSU division (without IA, Wisc, PSU and MSU).

To see what arrangements would be equitable for all teams, you could actually compute the schedule strengths based on the Sagarin ratings (eg considering the past 20 years but with a progressively higher weighting placed on the more recent seasons). That could be a more feasible alternative than rotation.


December 16th, 2009 at 2:33 PM ^

From looking at as many articles I could find on Big Ten expansion, I found an interesting idea in the comment section:

"As long as we are going to think about expansion, let's do it strategically. Instead of adding 1 team to make a 12 team conference just to keep up with the Joneses (SEC, B12), Let's leapfrog these conferences by combining the B10 and Big East into two 10 team divisions - Big Ten East and Big Ten West. We could then have annual divisional playoff games at the Meadowlands and Solder Field after the regular season with a follow-up Conference Championship to be held at a rotating neutral site within region.
The champion each year would have a very strong case for playing the BCS championship both from competitive and financial standpoints. You might wonder where the 20th team might come from since the B10 has 11 and the Big East has 8 teams - WAKE UP THE ECHOS!"

This would do a number of things:

1. Keep the UM OSU game very relevant, as it would likely decide the B10West every year.

2. Putting PSU in the East would make that division similarly strong to the B10 West.

After thinking about it, there are way to many roadblocks (academics #1) but it's definitely and interesting idea.


December 16th, 2009 at 3:48 PM ^

in the same division will lead to a Big 12 South type of scenario?

Let's say the 12th team is Pitt.

And let's say the divisions are:

UM / OSU / MSU / Illinois / Northwestern / Purdue
PSU / Pitt / Wisky / Minny / Iowa / Indiana

People really think that second division is weak? I think it would be pretty hard, outside of Indiana.

Those divisions also work pretty well for basketball.....