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Big Ten Conference realignment: The Big Ten needs to get rid of divisions

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Let’s do away with the East and the West. It’s only fair. Especially for Indiana.

NCAA Football: Big Ten Championship-Wisconsin vs Penn State Thomas J. Russo-USA TODAY Sports

SB Nation’s own Bill Connelly has created a platform to become commissioner of college football. There’s a lot of great ideas in it! Such as:

But there’s one facet of Connelly’s commissioner platform that I want to focus on today. I agree completely with him about the need to scrap divisions in college football. Especially in the Big Ten, where the East and West have been unbalanced from the start. And ultimately, this has been a detriment to Indiana football.

Let’s talk about why Big Ten divisions need to go. First of all, the East is dominating. Yes, the past two B1G title games have been close affairs, but overall, the eastern division has been stacked since its inception in 2014, when Ohio State won the national title. Every CFP team in the Big Ten has come from the East, and the division has the three schools - Michigan, Ohio State, and Penn State - that produced the most football revenue, according to a recent PennLive report. These same three teams finished in the top eight of Connelly’s S&P+ ratings for 2016. The only saving grace for the West last season was Wisconsin, who was ranked 11th - otherwise you have to go all the way down to Iowa in 30th to find the next-best West team.

Additionally, the divisions don’t make sense for the entire reason that they are divided - because of geography. Bloomington, Indiana is only 149 miles from Champaign, Illinois. Bloomington to Piscataway, New Jersey, on the other hand, is 732 miles away. Of course, the Hoosiers have to play Rutger every year, while this fall will be their first contest with the Illini since 2013. And let’s look at it from the other division, too. West Lafayette, Indiana is 249 miles from Michigan State in East Lansing. However, West Lafayette is a brisk 610 miles from Lincoln, home of the Nebraska Cornhuskers. Guess which team the Boilermakers get to play every year?

Thus, parity and geography - the two reasons why conferences have tried to pigeonhole divisions into college football in the first place - are not entirely relevant in the Big Ten.

Now, you’re probably thinking that I’m just writing this because I don’t like that Indiana has to be in the East while Purdue gets to be in the West. And you know what? You’re exactly right. It sucks that Purdue will go a full four-year recruiting cycle without playing either Ohio State or Michigan, while IU has played them both four times in that span. And it’s only because Bloomington is a smidge further east of West Lafayette! How is this fair? Look at how close they are in longitude on this map!

You know what? I’ve even helped the cause. I’ve come up with two protected rivalries for every Big Ten school!

Here, check this list out that I developed in about five minutes last night:

protected rivalries.csv

Team Protected Opponent 1 Protected Opponent 2
Team Protected Opponent 1 Protected Opponent 2
Ohio State Michigan Penn State
Michigan Ohio State Michigan State
Michigan State Michigan Indiana
Indiana Purdue Michigan State
Purdue Indiana Illinois
Illinois Northwestern Purdue
Northwestern Illinois Maryland
Penn State Rutgers Ohio State
Maryland Rutgers Northwestern
Rutgers Maryland Penn State
Iowa Nebraska Minnesota
Wisconsin Minnesota Nebraska
Minnesota Wisconsin Iowa
Nebraska Iowa Wisconsin

Okay, so this isn’t perfect, especially for teams that only have one main rival. For example I wanted to keep the Spittoon game in the schedule, but Maryland-Northwestern isn’t exactly a rivalry. But at the same time, Penn State-Ohio State is hard to give up too (especially after last year’s classic), even though the Terps and Nittany Lions are sometimes considered rivals. So maybe ditch the Spittoon, have Michigan State play OSU, and Penn State against Maryland, leaving IU and Northwestern together as strange protected rival bedfellows? Or you reinstate classic rivalry trophies like Illibuck and Little Brown Jug, and protect Wisconsin-Iowa? Regardless, there isn’t an outcome that will please everyone, but it’s still better than the alternative.

That being said, without divisions, there’s more opportunity for teams to play each other more often. In a nine-game conference schedule, you’d play your two protected rivals, then seven other opponents, and as for the four conference opponents you miss out on, you’d get to play them the next year. Thus, at most you’d have to wait one year before playing a conference opponent again, instead of the six dang years it took for IU to finally play Nebraska in-conference last fall.

So in short, the Big Ten’s East and West divisions are bad for competitive balance, bad for geography, bad for scheduling, and most importantly, they’re bad for Indiana football. And don’t even get me started on how silly Leaders and Legends were.

Let’s get rid of divisions once and for all.