Rumblings are starting to come out of Chicago that the Big Ten is finalizing conference alignments, and from the sound of it, it sounds like the Big Ten is about to drink a 55 gallon drum full of FAIL. When it comes to divisional alignments, you have two options: geographic or competitive, and a respect for long standing rivalries. There are three conferences that have split along both lines, the Big XII, SEC and the ACC. The SEC chose geography, the ACC chose 'competitive balance', and the Big XII chose to chuck one of the greatest rivalries in college football overboard. What happened? The SEC blew up into the most competitive conference in the country with rivalries as intense as ever, the ACC is a hodgepodge of ass right now because the comptetive balance they envisioned didn't develop and they have no geographic rivalries to really fall back on, and the Big XII is down to ten schools because one of the teams who had their traditional rivalry screwed with went to...the Big Ten.
Oh, and they want to split OSU and Michigan into separate divisions and play the game earlier in the year. Fuck and that.
I am a traditionalist, yet I was able to embrace the change of the Nebraska addition and the splitting of the conference into divisions. The way Jim Delany was playing chess while everyone else was playing checkers gave me confidence that if he was bold enough to get a Nebraska, that the splitting of the conference into divisions based on geography would be a no-brainer. I did a whole post on why geographic alignments were best, the purpose of this post isn't to rehash that, because most folks, (not all) think that a geographic alignment is the best format, because it preserves most rivalries and trophy games. I also felt that if Michigan and OSU were in the same division, the intensity of the rivalry would not change. I did a post on that, too.
But now it seems like the Big Ten is going to go all New Coke on us and screw everything up. Instead of making it simple, it looks like Iowa and Wisconsin will be in separate divisions. If that's true, the Big Ten seems to be leaning towards the ACC strategy of 'Hey, let's just randomly throw teams into divisions, and see how it plays out'.
Adam Rittenberg has been reading the tea leaves based on what he's hearing and has his prediction of divisions is this:
The one that jumps out is splitting OSU-UM into separate divisions. The thinking is that they should play for the conference championship, which means if they do that (which seems dubious right now considering Michigan's, uh...situation) the OSU-UM game will move from it's current spot as the last game of the season, because no one would want them to play back to back weeks. Yes, I am an OSU fan, so maybe I'm biased, and feel free to tell me I am in the comments. But UM-OSU is the marquee rivalry game in this conference, hell in all of college footbal. Hell, in all of sports, especially when both teams are competitive. It draws interest from fans outside the conference, and that draws money, and I think the brand is hurt if The Game is moved into October, when it's just another conference game and not deciding who goes to the Big Ten championship game.
The other one that jumps out is that the oldest rivalry games between Minnesota, Iowa, and Wisconsin will go the way of Nebraska-Oklahoma. MN-WI will be preserved, but by moving Iowa out of the same division means the IA-MN or IA-WI rivalry will be sacrificed, as teams will only have one cross-division rival. None of those games are UM-OSU, but they mean just as much to those fanbases.
I love Ohio State football and the OSU-UM rivalry. I grew up on the Floyd of Rosedale and Paul Bunyan Axe Rivalry games, and many of you live and die with the outcome of the Old Oaken Bucket, the Heartland Trophy, the Sweet Sioux Tomahawk (sorry, it will ALWAYS be the Sweet Sioux Tomahawk), the Paul Bunyan Trophy, and the most meaningful trophy of them all--The Land Grant Trophy. Adding Nebraska into this tradition-rich conference and giving them rivalries that will be on par with what has already been established can be done, but not at the expense of the marquee rivalry.
Tradition is what we grew up on, and what made us fall in love with the Big Ten and college football, and it seems like the Big Ten is about to try and outsmart themselves by a half and come out looking idiotic in the process.
Now, tell me I'm an idiot and this will end up all right, but I'm just not seeing it. That this will be all right, that is. I've known I'm an idiot for years.