This news broke, oddly enough, late on Friday night, when everyone else in the country was paying attention to the manhunt in Boston, but it appears that the long-rumored geographic split for football divisions will come into play for the 2014 football season (it is unclear whether this format will apply to basketball). Here is the expected setup:
Big Ten East
Big Ten West
Unlike under the current Leaders/Legends alignment, protected crossovers will be the exception, not the rule. In fact, Indiana-Purdue is expected to be the only protected crossover under this scenario. Again, this format would be put in place for the 2014 season. By the 2016 season, it is expected that the Big Ten will introduce a 9 game schedule. But that means that for the first two years of the 14-team setup, IU will play six divisional games, Purdue, and then only one other team from the West.
So, what do we think of this new setup? On the negative side, the East obviously is a tougher division, at least at the top, than the West. The Big Ten has four programs that are traditionally top shelf programs in college football: Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State, and Nebraska. Three of the four are in IU's division. Michigan State arguably is the most tradition-rich program outside of the big four, and the Spartans are in IU's division. MSU, despite a recent resurgence, hasn't become the national power it was in the 1950s and 1960s, but the Spartans have always been a tough matchup for IU for whatever reason. Rutgers and Maryland are the wildcards. Rutgers has little history of success, but has long been perceived as a sleeping giant. Maryland has had a bit more going for it in football, and has won a conference title this century (in 2001), but is more of a basketball school.
Still, I think the negatives can be overstated a bit, because IU already has a pretty tough schedule. Currently, IU is guaranteed annual matchups with Ohio State, Penn State, and Purdue (division foes) and Michigan State (protected crossover). IU switches out Wisconsin for Michigan. Historically, this isn't a fair trade, but over the past 15 or 20 years there isn't as much difference between the two programs as there has been over the last 120 years. Instead of Illinois, IU plays Rutgers and Maryland. Those programs seems pretty similar: they all have better resources than IU, but haven't done all that much over the years. The non-Purdue crossovers will tell the story. If IU ends up with Wisconsin and Nebraska in a given season, that obviously would make for a murderous schedule. If IU ends up with Illinois and Northwestern, then that's not so bad.
So, are there any positives? Well, the best take I have heard on this is from Matt Weaver on Rivals. You can click through to read the whole thing if you have a subscription, but the essence of his position is that being in the tougher division should aid recruiting because IU can sell the opportunity to play the likes of OSU, Michigan, and Penn State on an annual basis. Particularly given the size of the conference, this may have some merit. It's not as if teams in the other division will be missing those teams for two years here and two years there. Not playing any given program in the other division will be the rule, not the exception.
IU has the worst football tradition and the worst recent history in the Big Ten. For IU to compete at a high level would require a complete transformation regardless of the division. I guess that my point is that complaining about the difficulty of the path to Indianapolis probably puts the cart before the horse.