Debunking the Big Ten West = Big XII North myth

Submitted by Rasmus on June 15th, 2010 at 4:23 PM

There is a meme going around that if the Big Ten were to adopt the obvious East-West geographic alignment that preserves all important annual rivalries,* the West division would be like the Big 12 North, yielding a meaningless, lopsided championship game each year while the dominant programs in the East beat up on each other, reducing their chances of making the BCS championship game. This, however, ignores a number of realities:

  • The Big 12 North's performance has been monumentally bad, far beyond anything we can expect from a Big Ten West. Take a quick look at the Big 12's conference standings for the past eight years. The North's record, both overall and against ranked opponents, is truly abysmal.
  • In addition, the Big 12 South has been profoundly unbalanced, with Texas and Oklahoma the only champions.
  • The Big Ten West can produce a viable champion each year. This is especially true if Nebraska is out of the doldrums, but does not depend on it, unlike the Big 12 North.
  • An undefeated or even one-loss champion coming out of the Big Ten East would always be in play for the BCS championship game, due to strength of schedule (computers) and human factors (voters).

The real difference between the new Big Ten and the old Big 12 is the latter had no consistent, ambitious middle-tier (i.e., consistently ranked, but rarely threatening for a national title) football programs like Wisconsin, Iowa, and Michigan State -- nobody to really pressure Texas and Oklahoma from within their division, or Nebraska if they hadn't lost their minds. Instead, the Big 12 had a few middle-tier programs dependent on individual coaches -- Kansas State under Snyder, Texas Tech under Leach, for example. Not a recipe for long-term success. 

* [WEST: Nebraska, Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Northwestern, Illinois] [EAST: Penn State, Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State, Indiana, Purdue]



June 15th, 2010 at 5:03 PM ^

In addition, the Big 12 South has been profoundly unbalanced, with Texas and Oklahoma the only champions.

Minor quibble: it doesn't change your point but Texas A&M captured the Big XII South (and Big XII) championship in 1998.


June 15th, 2010 at 5:12 PM ^

Saying that a B10 East v. West would not be as lopsided as the B12 South v. North misses the point. Given the relatively compact footprint of the B10, organizing the divisions based on geography accomplishes virtually nothing. A month ago, the B10 was seriously considering Rutgers and was actively pursuing TX (in all likelihood in combo with A&M). That is a geography problem. The distance between PSU and Wisconsin is not.

If not geography, then what should be the primary factor in setting up divisions? Fairness suggests it should be the expected competitiveness of the teams over time. Since everyone cannot play everyone in the conference, the primary goal should be to make it equally difficult in each division. If we are going to make exceptions to this, it should be only where there is a good reason. Longstanding rivalries is such a reason. Geography is not.

Explained another way, the B10 should arrange the divisions the same way we picked teams for dodgeball or sandlot baseball as kids. Make the two best players captains and let them alternate picks until everyone is taken (sorry, IN). If the B10 did it this way, I guarantee you the divisions would not be arranged based on geography. Then, if you want to make adjustments based on rivalries, great. But this obsession with geography within the B10 footprint is bordering on idiotic.


June 15th, 2010 at 9:03 PM ^

I mean, Penn State versus Ohio State has the potential for being a serious rivalry. Not to mention Penn State versus Michigan. Nebraska doesn't have a lot of history re: Iowa, but that is going to be a really good one. I'll argue that killing natural border-war rivalries in the name of competitive balance is "bordering on idiotic."


June 15th, 2010 at 9:30 PM ^

You're right about that. In the OP, I didn't mean to imply that geography was the only factor. But there's something really right about PSU-OSU in my mind, and geography has something to do with it. It's a long drive from Columbus to State College, but it's a monumental haul from State College to Lincoln.


June 15th, 2010 at 5:06 PM ^

The bottom three in each conference are pretty much all equal and if the format is 5 in conf games, 3 rotating opposing conf games, and 4 ooc games then it should give a good reading on who is good in the Big10. With the shift of recruiting to the south I can't imagine any team being stacked with as much talent as Texas and OU gets each year. There will be some good cycling as to who is top each year unlike the BigXII who always just has a top two with competition only once every 5 years or so for the throne.


June 15th, 2010 at 5:30 PM ^

is that they are far and away the top schools in terms of recruiting.  If Michigan regains its form like we all expect, it's not unlikely that the Big Ten championship will find a permanent home amongst those schools.

However, I will say that Iowa and Wisconsin have more staying power than Nebraska's old rivals in the Big12N

Kilgore Trout

June 15th, 2010 at 9:02 PM ^

I don't understand this comment.  You just compared the expected top 3 in one division to the expected bottom 3 in another.  That's like saying I'll take the American League Central over the American League East because I like the Tigers and Twins better than the Orioles and Blue Jays.  


June 15th, 2010 at 8:04 PM ^

You could do what the NFL did and put the Colts in the AFC South for the sake of balance even though that doesnt make sense geographically. Obviously Penn St will be put with Nebraska and Michigan and Ohio State will be together. Probably OSU will be in the Big Ten North. Having Penn St in the Big Ten west as the easternmost team would be retarded.


June 15th, 2010 at 8:15 PM ^

Big Ten North - Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Northwestern

Big Ten South - Penn State, Nebraska, Iowa, Illinois, Purdue, Indiana


June 15th, 2010 at 8:44 PM ^

North/South divisions make little sense geographically when the conference stretches almost three times as far from east to west as it does north to south. At that point you might as well do it at random.

I'd rather have East/West. They're not horribly unbalanced in the current state (nor likely to become so), they make much better sense geographically, and they keep almost all existing protected rivalries without having to fudge by including a cross-division rivalry.

Tha Stunna

June 15th, 2010 at 8:15 PM ^

I definitely agree.  Also, take a look at Brian's list of championship games on the front page; two of the lame championship games were Ohio State vs Illinois in 2007 and Penn State vs Iowa in 2008.  Does anyone remember how those turned out?


June 15th, 2010 at 11:31 PM ^

in Football.  In basketball, it is a disaster.

Question:  with a B10 conference hoops tournament already in place, why would basketball even need to align into divisions? 


June 16th, 2010 at 12:03 AM ^

The three football conferences that had divisions all handled it differently:

Big XII: Schedule by division (North teams always played each other twice), but standings are straight 1-12 without regard to divisions.

SEC: Schedule and standings by division.

ACC: Ignore the divisions entirely; semi-random assignment of five home-and-homes vs. six single-plays. (If we stay with 18 games, it would be 7 home-and-home, 4 single-play.)

I'd be fine with either the Big XII or ACC approach. The SEC approach sucks, for reasons seen last year (a pair of 9-7 teams got byes ahead of an 11-5 team because the 11-5 team was third in its division).


June 16th, 2010 at 3:58 AM ^

First post here, but a long time lurker.

Is there any precedent for a conference to send its teams to the conference championship game by vote (BCS-type rankings, but with a Big 10 committee) rather than the winner of each division? Imagine a 2006 with an OSU rematch the week after- how great would that have been?

Would this not fly?