Step back from the precipice, Dave -- there is a way to do this

Submitted by Rasmus on August 20th, 2010 at 4:03 PM

[Edit: Note that I was writing this when Brian posted a front-page reference to the same idea on Slow States. All I can say is either great minds think alike or this is freaking obvious.]

What happened to the biggest rivalry of the old BIg 8 conference, Nebraska-Oklahoma, when it was split across divisions when the Big XII was formed? I'll answer that for you -- it was eclipsed by Texas-Oklahoma, a divisional rivalry. The collapse of that game is a major reason why Nebraska is leaving that conference to join the Big Ten.

What would happen to the Michigan-Ohio State rivalry if it were split across divisions? Could it be eclipsed by Penn State-Ohio State, a divisional rivalry? This isn't as far-fetched as you might think. An occasional championship matchup will not make up for turning the regular-season game into a trophy game instead of a must-win game with the divisional title almost always on the line. In the long run, the loss of this dynamic could damage the Michigan program and ultimately the Big Ten brand.

This doesn't need to happen.

It is possible to create both geographic equity (i.e., what Penn State wants) and competitive intensity (i.e., what Michigan and Ohio State should want) in a divisional alignment that preserves or protects all major rivalries. The only real question here is how to split up the quadrangle of hate (Nebraska, Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin, formerly a triangle) -- no matter how you do it, you're going to lose part of that. Without further ado:


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

Protected regular-season games: Michigan-Michigan State, Ohio State-Penn State, Iowa-Nebraska, Minnesota-Wisconsin, Indiana-Purdue, Illinois-Northwestern.


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

Protected regular-season games: Michigan-Michigan State, Ohio State-Penn State, Iowa-Minnesota, Nebraska-Wisconsin, Indiana-Purdue, Illinois-Northwestern.

I'm not sure which of these two are better in terms of the quadrangle, but you get the idea. This protects most border-war and all in-state rivalries while spreading out the divisions, thereby not screwing anyone in that regard (i.e., like Penn State would be if you put them in an otherwise western division).

Finally, lest you argue this is the ACC redux, let's take a look at their current alignment:

  • Virginia, Virginia Tech, North Carolina, Duke, Georgia Tech, Miami
  • Boston College, Maryland, North Carolina State, Wake Forest, Clemson, Florida State

I don't know if there are protected rivalry games across the divisions, but regardless, this is not a consistent system. Like the quadrangle of hate, the main problem for the ACC is how to handle the four North Carolina schools and, actually, I think the current scheme has got that right. The main problem with it is they don't split up Virginia-Virginia Tech, resulting in Maryland being split from Virginia.

If the ACC were to follow my methodology with regard to the Big Ten, it would look like this:

  • Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, Duke, Georgia Tech, Florida State
  • Boston College, Virginia Tech, North Carolina State, Wake Forest, Clemson, Miami

Protected regular-season games: Maryland-Boston College, Virginia-Virginia Tech, North Carolina-North Carolina State, Duke-Wake Forest, Georgia Tech-Clemson, Florida State-Miami.

There, fixed two conferences in one go!



August 20th, 2010 at 4:06 PM ^

I think the NU/OU rivalry was killed by the fact that they didn't play every year, not the fact that they were in different divisions.  We will play OSU every year no matter what.  The rivalry will be fine if that happens.


August 20th, 2010 at 4:39 PM ^

Both factors hurt.  When your archrival is your final opponent of the season, there's a year-long buildup to the game.  It's the game that sends you out on a positive or negative note to end the regular season.  Not to mention that there are often championship implications.  If they'd played every year it would have helped a little, but it still wouldn't have been the same. 


August 20th, 2010 at 5:30 PM ^

At least in that instance Texas and OU are in the same division, so something is on the line everytime they play.  Also, Texas and OU only became rivals after the SWC/Big 12 merger and, hate to break it to you, but Texas/OU isn't exactly the paragon of college football rivalries.  Personally, I think its more an excuse to get coked up in Dallas than anything else.


August 20th, 2010 at 5:45 PM ^

Umm, it's been a neutral site game played between two traditional powers with frequent impact on national (and, since 1995, conference) championships.  It started in 1900, has been played more than 100 times, including every year since the 1930s.  So saying they only became rivals when the Big 12 was created is flat wrong, and I'd like to hear what you consider "the paragon of college football rivalries" if this one isn't in the discussion.

Not trying to say it equals UM-OSU, but it's got to be in the Top 10 of college rivalries, and disparaging either its tradition or its stakes doesn't help whatever argument you're trying to make.


August 20th, 2010 at 7:43 PM ^

OU-UT was never a November game, and it wasn't even a conference matchup until 1996.  It's always been played in the middle of the season and now it's gained importance since the two schools are division rivals.  I think it would be more important still if it were played at the end of the season, but they've never done it that way and it would interfere with UT's longstanding game with TAMU.  The only analogy you could make that relates to UM would be if Notre Dame were to join the conference and be placed in our division.  Then, yes, that game would gain importance.

UM-OSU, under the apparent proposal, absolutely would not.  It would be massively diluted.  First, the game would be moved from the point of the schedule at which it's been for 75 years, changing it from the culmination of the season to a midseason game.  Second, the two schools would be in separate divisions, meaning that the game might not have any ramifications in the standings at all.  It would almost be like a nonconference game. 

The only "upside" to this proposal would be the chance that UM and OSU would meet up in December.  I don't find that a good measure of compensation.  It wouldn't happen that often, it would render the first game meaningless, and it would settle the conference title not in Ann Arbor or Columbus but a neutral NFL field.  It's absolutely a bad idea.



August 20th, 2010 at 8:07 PM ^

Your original assertion was that our rivalry would lose its importance if we played it in October with Oklahoma-Nebraska as the example. Oklahoma-Texas was my counter example showing that playing your rival in October does not mean that it is no longer important. You then said my example didn't even apply to this situation, when your example is no closer to this situation than mine considering that the Oklahoma-Nebraska only played each other 2 out of every 4 years. If Michigan and Ohio State went two years without playing each, then the rivarly would obviously die, but that isn't the case.


August 20th, 2010 at 10:49 PM ^

I don't know what you're trying to argue or why you're confused.  Let me restate it for you.  The situations are not analagous.

OU and UT are in the same division.  UM and OSU, if the proposed arrangement goes through, would not be. 

The Big 12 allowed OU and UT to keep their rivalry the same week of the season.  If the proposed arrangement goes through, UM and OSU would be forced to move their game to a new date.

These are two key distinctions.  The Big 12 basically left the UT/OU rivalry as it was, and actually gave it more importance than it previously had by putting them in the same division (they had been in separate conferences before). 

On the other hand, the Big 12 took NU/OU, a rivalry very similar to UM/OSU, and destroyed it.  They were put in separate divisions and not allowed to play the last week of the season.  That is analogous to UM/OSU.  Now, the Big 12 did go a step further and didn't have the two play every year, but I don't believe that that alone is what killed that rivalry.   (We've had gaps in the ND series, but it hasn't diminished its intensity.)  What killed it is that even when they did meet, the circumstances were so changed that it wasn't the same.  The two teams were competing in separate divisions, and the game didn't end the season like it used to.  It didn't decide the conference like it used to. 

That's how it could be for UM-OSU.  Yeah, it'll be a big game, but in the long run, it will matter more to OSU to beat PSU (its division rival) and it'll matter more for us to beat Nebraska (our division rival).  UM-OSU won't decide much of anything.  It will basically be a trophy game. 


August 20th, 2010 at 5:29 PM ^

divisions not as much about when the game is played.  Nebraska-OU lost it's luster because they stopped playing, not because they were in separate divisions.


And the timing has some impact but certainly doesn't control a rivalry.  As JoeyB said, the RRR is played the second week in October and hasn't hurt the rivalry any.  UT-UF play really early and that is a very heated rivalry.  I'm all for keeping the game at the end of the year.  Michigan-ND play in September and I still consider that one of the better rivalries going.


I want the game to be the last game just as much as anyon,e but being in separate divisions isn't an automatic death knell to the rivalry.


August 20th, 2010 at 7:48 PM ^

The point you and joeyb seem to be missing is that OU and UT are in the same division, as are Florida and Tennessee.  Those games have division-title ramifications.  The Big Ten is proposing not just moving up UM-OSU, but putting them in separate divisions, watering down the game even more in importance.  Only if our two teams make it to the championship game will the old importance be restored, and even then we'd have the unsatisfactory result of a rematch played in an NFL stadium.

As for UM-ND, it's a fun game but I don't put it on par with OSU in importance.  It's just a nonconference game.


August 20th, 2010 at 4:44 PM ^

Maybe so, but my main point is that it doesn't have to happen -- the Big Ten doesn't have to go down that road. There are other, better ways to solve Penn State's problem.


August 20th, 2010 at 4:48 PM ^

Agreed.  While I would hate to see the Michigan-OSU game moved from its traditional "Saturday before Thanksgiving, last regular season game for both schools" slot, it's overstating to say that moving it would result in an OU-Nebraska-ish "lessening" of the rivalry.  Further, while OU-NU was usually the last game of the regular season for NU, they played conference games the week following in '78, '87, and '92, (i.e., pre-Big 12), and OU frequently played OSU the week after the NU game (up until '85 or so).  And yet the rivalry flourished nonetheless, as did the OU-Texas rivalry, which was always played much earlier in the season.

Again, I would much prefer that Michigan play OSU on the last week of the season.  But I can't say that trumps destroying the possibility that UM will ever play OSU for the B10 title/slot in the BCS Championship game (i.e., put them in the same division), and I get that the TV types want to avoid the possible "next week rematch" game.  Heck, I'm not even sure I would want that -- imagine trying to follow up some of those Cooper-era upsets with another game the next week against the same team.

So I'm torn.  But I do not think this is Football Armageddon, nor do I think that this will destroy the rivalry.  Quite frankly, the only thing that will destroy this rivalry will be if one team or the other ceases to be an elite team over an extended period of time.  So long as tOSU continues to be what it has been during the Tressel era, and UM gets back to its rightful place in the football hierarchy, the rivalry will be fine.


August 20th, 2010 at 4:13 PM ^

If you want, you could also put Indiana and Purdue in the Penn State/Nebraska division.  Illinois and NW would be in the UM-OSU division together under that scenario.  You could make Illinois and NW the protected rivalries for Indiana and Purdue, or the schools could elect not to have one.


August 20th, 2010 at 4:17 PM ^

I think its a combination of the following 4 factors: Not being in the same division, not playing every year, the rise of Texas and OU as the dominant Big XII powers, and the Post Tom Osborn dark years of Nebraska football/West Coast Offense experiment


August 20th, 2010 at 4:25 PM ^

However this all shakes out, I hope the integrity of our fight song is considered. Somebody should put Michigan (and Ohio State) in the Western division so the last line of the chorus of The Victors makes sense again.

I take the cues for my credo from Bo:

...No geographical consideration is more important than The Victors. No conference realignment strategy is more important than The Victors. The Victors. The Victors. The Victors! And if we think that way, all of us, everything that you do, you take into consideration what effect does it have on The Victors?...


August 20th, 2010 at 4:26 PM ^

"An occasional championship matchup will not make up for turning the regular-season game into a trophy game instead of a must-win game with the divisional title almost always on the line."


August 20th, 2010 at 5:32 PM ^

Michigan and OSU needs to be the last game of the regular season with a trip to the BT Championship game on the line.  Hoping for an anticlimactic rematch every four years or so is "fools' gold."

IMO, a sequal would only cheapen the rivalry.  And the rivalry is far too important to cheapen in any way.  It works much better as it has for years: one game, win or pack for a lesser bowl.


August 20th, 2010 at 6:02 PM ^

I'm assuming I missed this sentiment in a previous post but isn't Brandon's objective to create the best opportunity for UM to get to the BT championship game each year?  We may disagree as to whether that's the right objective but seemingly that's his focus.


August 20th, 2010 at 6:13 PM ^

How is that objective achieved by having UM play OSU every year while every other team in the division doesn't always do so?

I realize the same could be said for OSU-PSU while we get to play Sparty, but to me that's the price Ohio State pays for the luxury of not having an in-state Big Ten recruiting rival.


August 20th, 2010 at 6:03 PM ^

In the same division, the rivalry souldn't really lose much, if ANYTHING because:

A) they still play every year

2) they still play the last game of the reg season when nearly all the truly historic rivalry games are played (UM-OSU, Bama-'burn, Army-Navy, USC-UCLA, etc)

C) they could potentially play for more than just a W or L, but also to win the division

Blue in Seattle

August 20th, 2010 at 6:39 PM ^

Whether there in the same division or not is less important than adding in a non-conference cream puff the week before the championship game.

especially if the last regular season game is after Thanksgiving.

Also, the Rivalry isn't driven by the fact that a Championship is in contention, it's because we really hate the whole state of Ohio.  Bo and Woody happened to make it the Championship game because 105 scholarships allowed the conference to become the Big 2 Little 8, and the Ten Year War was about two over stocked talented teams beating up the conference prior to the one truly competitve game on the schedule.

The end of Bo's career to beginning of Moeller from 1988 to 1992 Michigan had a streak of 5 championships (1990 4 Conference Champions, WTF?!?) with Ohio State being a spoiler at best.

From 1993 to 1996 Michigan becomes the spoiler (and Moeller loses his job).  1994 and 1995 I specifically remember being disappointed with the season, but happy that "at least we ruined Ohio States Season".

Now the plan is that we continue to play our hated rival every year and the game is one game toward determining our conference record and their conference record just like it's always been.  Then if we have the best conference record in our division we go to the championship game where the winner takes all, and then David Brandon is saying that sometimes it might actually be against the one team we hate, and that since we already played them one of us is really pissed off for losing to the other AND this game is for all the marbles?

how does that diminish our rivalry with Ohio State?  Because there could be two of "The Game" or is it because it's just different?

Like a Conference with 12 teams in it called the Big Ten?


August 20th, 2010 at 7:55 PM ^

Also, the Rivalry isn't driven by the fact that a Championship is in contention, it's because we really hate the whole state of Ohio.

That's your opinion,  For me, a big part of what makes the Game special is that it's a matchup of the two dominant historical powers, and that there usually are title implications for at least one of the teams.   And given how much people still talk about the Ten Year War, I think a lot of people share this view. 

Kilgore Trout

August 20th, 2010 at 9:12 PM ^

I don't know if you meant to imply this, but I think you're onto something.  UM / OSU can be the last game of the conference season without being the last game of the year. Even with an even number of teams, I don't think the Big Ten is going to do away with byes.  I think UM could agree to this if we can get a guarantee that Thanksgiving weekend will be both of our bye weeks in the Big Ten.  I'm sure both schools could convince a MAC team to come to them on Thanksgiving weekend to round out the season.  So everyone wins.  We get the possibility of a rematch in the title game, we get to have the OSU game be the end of the competitive season, and the TV folks get their separation between The Game and the title game.  You even get to keep The Game on the weekend it's always been on.  Saturday before Thanksgiving.  I think this might be the golden ticket....


August 20th, 2010 at 8:09 PM ^

I think Iowa-Nebraska-Wisconsin is plenty to anchor the Western division (not to mention that competitive balance should be the least of the three priorities as it's the most subject to change over relatively short periods of time), and you can keep nine of the 11 existing protected rivalries without a crossover rivalry (which is the theoretical maximum); moreover, the two you lose are likely the least interesting of the bunch (Illinois-Indiana and Purdue-Northwestern).

Everyone's talking about this like the three priorities Delany laid out are in conflict and some tradeoff has to be made. But a pure geographical split works perfectly for all three. Why sacrifice one for absolutely no improvement in the other two?


August 21st, 2010 at 1:58 AM ^

I probably should have said that the proposed alignment is only my preference if for some reason they have to split the four programs with past national championships evenly.

I can only assume that somebody is objecting to having UM-OSU-PSU in one division, so it's a non-starter. I'm not sure why -- maybe Nebraska is afraid of being stranded in a weak division again? If so, I guess I can understand that.


August 21st, 2010 at 2:03 AM ^

Although you have to go back at least to the 1960s to get anyone other than Nebraska-OSU-PSU-Mich (MSU had a few in the 1950s and 1960s, Minnesota had a few right before WWII, Illinois had several in the 1910s and 1920s, Iowa had one in 1958).

As to OSU-Mich-PSU in one division: if they're actually paying attention to the numbers over a span longer than, say, five years, they'd know Michigan, PSU, Iowa, Wisconsin, and Nebraska have very nearly identical records over the Big Ten's 11-team era. Nebraska-Iowa-Wisconsin is a slightly weaker top three in the division, but not much.

And it's folly to try to align the divisions based on competitive balance; balance shifts on too short a timescale to reliably do so. The Big XII South was the weak-sister division for the late 1990s, and the ACC's presumed Florida State-Miami title game (the reason it's been held in Florida) has not only never materialized, only once has either team gotten there. Just in the past decade in the Big Ten you have Michigan's Half-Decade of Infinite Pain, PSU's fall and rise, Iowa's ascent to the top tier, Illinois with two Rose Bowl trips amid a bunch of crapulence, Minnesota's descent from perennial Music City Bowldom (itself an abrupt change from the 1990s) to abject suckitude. About the only constants are Indiana being an embarrassment to the conference, OSU being a beast, and MSU finding newer and more elaborate ways to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.


August 21st, 2010 at 3:08 AM ^

That's what I get for not checking. I guess I knew somewhere deep down about MSU's 1965 season, but not 1952 (the year before they started playing in the Big Ten). I also knew the Gophers had been good in the 30s and 40s.

Iowa's is shaky, though, being only the FWAA, which is just five people voting.

For anyone who's interested, here's a great page on the history of national championships in football.


August 20th, 2010 at 10:19 PM ^

One thing I haven't seen discussed recently are floating divisions for football.  If you're looking for continually competitive divisions/brackets, then re-seed more often than the "once every 17 years then set in stone forever" approach. 

Big Ten seeds would be created based on the previous year or a combined avg of two or three years.  This allows teams like Indiana and Illinois to have a more rewarding schedule the next season if they win and not be trapped trying to get out of the cellar forever in the tougher of two divisions.

A whole thread would not capture all the specifics, but a few example "big picture" rules could be as follows:

1) Seeds 1,4,5,8,9,12 in one division and  2,3,6,7,10,11 in the other.  Tie-breakers for teams with the same record would first work to make sure a new schedule can work (see #4 below).

2) Rivalry games protected (either you play within your division or in one of the 3 cross over games)

3) Geography and Brand can still be a part of tie-breakers to break up Penn State, Ohio State, Michigan, and Nebraska as much as possible.

4) The 5 vs 4 home games would have to rotate every year.  With 9 total games (and 3 home, 3 away) in division, there should be some way to arrange it.  Quants?

5) A certain minimum strength of schedule for cross-over about you just can't play the 3 worst teams in the other division unless there is no other way to schedule it.

Within days after every Big Ten Championship game, Big Ten admin could have the next year's schedule handled (there's only one game the week of the championship game so if it came out one week after the game, they will have had two weeks to plan really).

Reasons against: the Admin work involved, TV contracts, etc, etc, etc, the list can go on and on - I hear some of it, but nothing (yet) that would determine it couldn't be done other than the "they will never go for it" thought b/c, well, it is a new idea to understand that isn't the safety net of the status quo.  A computer program could figure out the basics and then they can adjust from there.

In one sense, schools would like it since they would know that the crappy arrangement they have one year will be gone the next year instead of 1-2 teams getting the bird forever from being out-voted in the set-in-stone traditional arrangement we will most likely get.  It will also add excitement and more of a "March Madness" feel with variety every year.


August 21st, 2010 at 3:27 PM ^

The biggest reason for the two six-team divisions is actually to hold a championship game, which is required by NCAA rules.

The existing rivalries would stay intact.  OSU and UM would still play each other each year in the same division or as a crossover.  And only 2 teams would drop off your schedule with a 9 game Big Ten schedule which is NO CHANGE from today with 8 conference games and 2 dropping off.

I think new rivalries will still grow even when you don't play them every year.  Even though not Big Ten, Michigan has a rivalry with Notre Dame and they don't play them every year.

The point is that divisions are being created with historical data which is not a predictor of future results.  One division is likely to be noticably stronger than the other at times and people will complain about the team from division B that has a soft division schedule to the championship.  "If we had that schedule, we'd be a BCS bowl team, too!"  If you set it in stone, then changing it later sounds like a tremendous task.  And how do you handle new Big Ten teams down the road?  With flexible divisions, you can drop them in and not worry as much about poorly predicated future team competitiveness.

It's like economics, just let the market figure it out.  Don't let some old guys make the decision.


August 22nd, 2010 at 3:00 AM ^

Problem is that any adjustments are reactive. There's so much variation, over both the short term and the long term, that any formula you might try is going to end up looking silly once the season is over as often as not.

Put another way, unless you're really, really good at guessing which teams are going to be good, the divisions are going to be unbalanced competitively half the time anyway. Markets break down all the time in the absence of perfect information, and if you think prior results (whether for one year or a decade) provide such I've got a bridge in New York to sell you. Since you're never going to get consistently good balance even if you reshuffle constantly, make the divisions consistent and make them at least make sense for rivalries and geography.


August 25th, 2010 at 11:12 AM ^

You suggest that the formula would look silly at the end of the year.  The point isn't that the 1 seed wins it all or that the 12 seed stays at the bottom.  There is no "guessing" or "prognosticating" that certain teams will win.  That's the beauty of it.  It is just "seeding" them with the best available information (most recent results) instead of permanently "annointing" teams as being the best in the division based on 17 years of history.  It is the best "reactive" method since only the seniors on each team will be gone. 

The excitement is that teams can and will vary and beat higher seeds, improve their stock, and be validated the next year with a higher seed.  While seeds will vary, the level of competition in the division would be as close to previous years' level of competition as is possible.

It is not "perfect" competition, only better competition relative to the 17-year Delany reactive model or a geography model.    I'm just saying if you care about competitive balance, floating divisions are a way to mitigate the risk that divisions will be unbalanced.  Required rivalries like UM/OSU would still exist.

My guess is that people could learn and like this model, but the difficulty in understanding it now will mean it will never happen.  Understanding change like this would not occur until the games were actually being played and people really got into it.


August 20th, 2010 at 10:57 PM ^

David Brandon's message was very clear - change is coming.   You can either embrace and celebrate change or cling bitterly to a past which no longer exists. 

Glad to hear that our AD has vision...


August 21st, 2010 at 2:00 AM ^

You're mistaking dissent for an unwillingness to embrace change. The reality is that Brandon was floating a trial balloon, just like the OSU guy and pretty much all the other ADs have been doing. You can try to express an opinion about what they have been saying, or not. That's up to you.

Maybe I'll be happy with what they end up doing -- I don't know. I hope that at least I will be able to understand why they did it. But right now, we're still in that past you say no longer exists. Change is coming, yes -- but the shape of the future is still undetermined. It's a process, one in which there is a role for public opinion.


August 20th, 2010 at 11:46 PM ^

therefore you should always embrace it.  I STRONGLY disagree!  Sometimes changes are made for the wrong reasons.  Sometimes well intended changes turn out badly.

FACT:  UM/OSU is a great rivalry.  Acclaimed by almost everyone as among the top 5 in all of sport.  When you start messing with the formula, don't assume that it is always going to be that way.  If it turns out badly and "The Game" loses some of its luster, pardon me for not embrasing the change.


August 21st, 2010 at 1:58 AM ^

The reason that this midseason matchup idea would destroy the UM-OSU rivalry is that it will take all of the significance out of the matchup. Yes, the teams and the fans will still hate each other, but a loss in the Game would then be just like any other Big 10 loss. The loser loses, and then moves on to pound Northwestern or Purdue in their next game, jumping back up the BCS rankings. What is awesome about the way it is set up now, is that this game either makes or breaks the season and determines the postseason for both teams, and thats the way it should be.


August 21st, 2010 at 2:43 AM ^

My thinking on the rematch in the title game goes something like this. Say we beat OSU in The Game during the season but they still win their division. "FUCK YEAH, WE BEAT OSU!" Cue two weeks later and here's the championship game. Say they beat us. Okay, so we won The Game during the regular season, which got us to the Big Ten Championship game. OSU won The Game during the championship and they are going to a BCS game. 

Bottom line, we can win The Game but still be let down at the end of the year if we don't win it the second time. I feel like if we win The Game we should have won The Game and called it good. Or something like that. I hope you understand the point I was trying to make.

tl;dr - UofM/OSU in the same division