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Possible Big Ten Divisions Analysis

Assumptions

1. The B10 will form 2 permanent divisions of 7, not pods.

2. The B10 will pay more attention to geography than last time, but competitive balance will still be a major consideration as well.

3. Everyone will have the same type of schedule, with either 0 or 1 locked rival.

4. The B10 will try to leverage the new eastern schools for maximum benefit.

5. Every school can make certain demands that have to be fulfilled.

6. The B10 office also has certain requirements that need to be filled.

7. The final solution needs a high degree of support. I’m guessing at least 10 schools have to be happy with it.

8. Rutgers and Maryland have a voice but not an official vote.

Schedule

The main point I think many people have neglected in this discussion is that the divisions and the schedule are intertwined. The best divisions depend on what the schedule will be and vice versa. The problem, of course, is we don’t know who has the power and where the powers that be stand on these issues.

Scheduling Options

8 games with 1 locked rival

The B10 teams are used to 8 games, so it fits their existing OOC schedules. The locked rival gives the B10 flexibility to maintain rivalries while using a variety of division alignments. It also lets them keep important games for TV purposes. The down side is the number of teams a school won’t see regularly.

Schedule math:

7 teams – 100% (6 in the division, 1 locked rival)

6 teams – 17% (twice in 12 years)

Current schedule (for comparison):

6 teams – 100% (5 in the division, 1 locked rival)

5 teams – 40% (twice in 5 years)

The B10 could reduce the problem by rotating that 8th game every year instead of playing home and home series. That would mean a school would play 11 of 13 teams in 4 years (12 in the 5 years a player might be there).

8 games with no locked rival

This keeps the advantages of the current schedule but increases the frequency of games against the other division’s members somewhat. That low frequency of games is still the biggest problem with an 8 game schedule.

Schedule math:

6 teams – 100% (division games only)

7 teams – 29% (twice in 7 years)

Again, the B10 could go to single games to speed the rotation of opponents. In 4 years, a school would play everyone in conference at least once. They would play in every stadium at least once every 7 years.


9 games with 1 locked rival

A 9 game schedule is a double-edged sword. The obvious advantage is getting to play the other B10 teams more often. The downsides are the uneven schedules (4 home, 5 away or vice versa) and the loss of potential home games. 5 road B10 games means that most teams will need 3 home games OOC. That means timing any OOC home and home series appropriately. As B10 schools toughen their OOC schedules, that will get harder to do.

Schedule math:

7 teams – 100% (6 in the division, 1 locked rival)

6 teams – 33% (twice in 6 years)

With single games, a school would play the rest of the B10 at least once every 3 years and visit every stadium at least once every 6 years. Unfortunately, going to 9 games with a locked rival doesn’t do much to increase the frequency of play.


9 games with no locked rival

By not locking a rival, the B10 increases the frequency of play against 6 other teams at the expense of more games against that 7th team. On the other hand, it restricts the acceptable division alignment options since every important rivalry must be in division.

Schedule math:

6 teams – 100% (all in the division)

7 teams – 43% (3 times in 7 years)

Even with home and homes, a school would play 12 of 13 possible opponents in 4 years. With single games, a player would visit 12 of 13 other stadiums in 4 years.

The real question is the tradeoffs. ADs really don’t want a 9th game, and it does present a competitive disadvantage nationally. On the other hand, it helps with SOS and maintaining long-standing rivalries. It also gives the B10 more freedom when making the divisions. The current schedule, with 8 games including 1 locked rival, just doesn’t play enough teams often enough. I have a hard time seeing the B10 accepting playing twice every 12 years. The middle options jump to twice every 6 or 7 years (29 or 33%). That’s better, but not great. The only gain over the current schedule comes with 9 games and no locked rival. However, I just don’t see the B10 accepting that plan. I think they’ll insist on a locked rival if they go to 9 games. It is counterintuitive to add an extra game and removed the locked rival we already have. That leaves the B10 with 2 likely choices - 8 games with no locked rivals or 9 games with a locked rival.

If divisions are agreed upon that don’t require a locked rival for any major rivalry, then I think the B10 will stay at 8 games to start. If they don’t like their choices without locked rivals, look for them to push to 9 games. I’ll be pretty surprised if they stick with the current schedule of 8 games with a locked rival.


Division Alignment

There are 3 main considerations when designing divisions - balance, geography and rivalries. They often interfere with each other, too. The biggest unknown is how the B10 will weight the various factors, but we know that geography will be more important this time than last time. Presumably rivalries will again be third.

Balance

I think balance is still the biggest issue, and that’s because it has several components. There is actual competitive balance on the field, which is desirable to make exciting division races and B10 championship games. Unfortunately, you can’t accurately predict balance in the short term. Teams have ups and downs from season to season. However, you don’t need an accurate prediction for each team each season. You need long term balance, and that is more predictable. Some teams will rise while other fall, but most teams tend to stay at a certain success level for long periods of time.

The second component of balance is attention balance. The B10 wants both divisions to get equal attention from the media and from fans. Winning draws attention, so competitive balance impacts this. However, a lot of attention is based on brand and location. Brands lag actual success, and once a good brand exists it takes a long time to fade. Location is important because the major media and population are grouped in certain areas, and success there will draw more attention than in other places.

A third component of balance is future opportunity balance. This is driven by access to students, players and fans. The B10 wants every school to have a fair chance at success. To do that, it must consider recruiting grounds and population base when creating divisions. Otherwise, the balance may grow more uneven over time.

Geography

The second major factor is geography. As the B10 has expanded, its footprint has really grown, especially to the east and west. The longest road trip used to be 760 miles (OSU – MN), but now it’s 1300 miles (NE – RU). That sort of separation makes it hard on teams and fans to travel. That’s why the B10 should try to group nearby schools into divisions when possible. The bonus is that most rivalries are driven by proximity. If you group neighboring schools, you generally maintain most of the rivalries too.

Rivalries

The third factor is rivalries. As I just said, most rivalries are local so you want to group neighbors together. On the other hand, not all rivalries work that way. MI/MN and OSU/IL are two examples of rivals that aren’t neighbors. The B10 is full of rivalries, both big and small, and not all of them can be preserved as annual games. The key is to keep the important ones first and then as many of the smaller ones as is reasonable. The B10 also has some games it wants to keep for business reasons even if they aren’t true rivalries (PSU/NE, for example). They may be willing to trade them for an equivalent game, though (PSU/MI, NE/OSU).

Division Options

There are 3 main options when making B10 divisions.

1. Use the current divisions as a template

1a. Keep the current divisions and add RU to one and MD to the other

Pros – Easy, balanced

Cons – Ruins the chance to have PSU playing both eastern partners annually

Note – Must have locked rivals (OSU/MI)

Odds – Slim to none

1b. Move IL west and add RU and MD in the east

Pros – Simple, balanced, keeps the eastern group together

Cons – Limits MI’s access to the east, hard to remember the alignment

Note – Must have locked rivals (OSU/MI)

Odds – Decent

1c. Move WI west and add RU and MD in the east

Pros – Simple, keeps the eastern group together, reunites the western group

Cons – Unbalanced, limits MI’s access to the east, hard to remember the alignment

Note – Must have locked rivals (OSU/MI)

Odds – Not great

2. Geographic Split

2a. Pure East/West

Pros – Keeps neighbors together

Cons – 3 kings and a prince in one division means really poor balance

Note – Must have locked rivals (PU/IN)

Odds – Poor

2b. NW/SE = East/West but with MSU in the west and PU in the east

Pros – Keeps neighbors together

Cons – 3 kings in one division means poor balance

Note – Must have locked rivals (MI/MSU)

Odds – Decent

2c. East/West but with OSU in the west and PU in the east

Pros – Keeps neighbors together

Cons – OSU is isolated from its neighbors, limits OSU’s eastern access

Note – Must have locked rivals (OSU/MI)

Odds – OK

2d. Alternating blocks (NE, WI, IA, MN, OSU, PU, IN vs MI, MSU, NW, IL, PSU, RU, MD)

Pros – Keeps neighbors together, balanced

Cons – Limits OSU’s eastern access

Note – Must have locked rivals (OSU/MI)

Odds – OK

3. Edges vs Middle

Pros – Keeps neighbors together, balanced

Cons – Limits MI’s and OSU’s eastern access, lots of travel for the edges

Note – No locked rivals needed

Odds – OK

4. Other

I’m sure there are more ideas floating out there, but I think I hit the highlights.

Other Factors

The B10 isn’t doing this in a vacuum. They have to take into account many factors. The B10 has now added 3 schools in 4 years. They have to work on integrating those schools into the B10 while maximizing their value to the league. The TV people will have opinions and desires on schedules and games. The fans and alumni of all 14 schools have varying interests, and the ADs and presidents may have a whole different set of priorities. The B10 has to find a compromise acceptable to all parties.

East Coast Additions

Adding RU and MD helps appease the PSU fan base. A segment of that group has been complaining since PSU joined the B10 about not having any eastern partners. Now that more than 20% of the B10 is eastern, all 3 schools should feel more at home. It also helps the B10 play some games in front of a lot of alumni that haven’t been catered to very much. PSU, OSU and MI all have large fan bases in NYC and DC, and their surrounding areas, so bringing games to them should be well received. RU and MD fans will also be excited to have more football kings coming to town than they had before. On top of that, the east coast brings access to the major media in an unprecedented way. Major games in NYC and DC would get even more attention for the B10 than games in the midwest. That’s the upside.

The risk is alienating the eastern fans by giving RU and MD schedules that are too demanding. RU and MD aren’t kings. They can’t prosper if you throw all the good teams at them in one season. They need successful seasons to build their fan bases. The B10 has to balance their desire for eastern exposure with their desire to build the fan bases of RU and MD. For a contrast, look at NE. NE played every top team in their first 2 years and has paid the price in Ws and Ls. Some fans were mad about the schedules, others excited. NE was a king that could expect to play with anybody, though. RU and MD aren’t on that level, so they shouldn’t be expected to play that kind of schedule.

Western Block

While the B10 is looking to make teams happy, they also need to look west. The 4 western schools really want to play each other annually. The B10 sacrificed WI/IA for balance last time, and WI also missed out on NE for future schedules. Having 1 newish team and being the other end of the footprint, the B10 shouldn’t neglect the western schools when making new divisions.

The CCG

TV pays more for desirable games, and the CCG is worth a lot. To keep high ratings, the B10 needs good games. Once way to assure that is to split the good teams evenly so both divisions are likely to produce quality champions. While the CCG is only 1 game, it does pay more than 10% of what the entire regular season earns. You can get too focused on it, but it should never be ignored either. Where this will really factor in is when splitting the top 6-7 teams. Some potential match-ups have more value than others, and that has to be factored into the decision.

Crossover Games

I think people forget about the power of scheduling. The B10 can adjust the crossover games to make an uneven rotation if they want to play certain games more often. When PSU joined, they got OSU and MSU as their two locked rivals. However, for the first 10 years they also got to play MI every year. The B10 can do something similar now to help RU and MD settle in.

Conclusions

8 Games, No Locked Rival

If the B10 really wants to stay with 8 games, I think they’ll decide to drop locked rivals. That means they need to keep every important rivalry within the division. The only alignment that works for this is the edges versus the middle.

X – OSU, MI, MSU, NW, IL, PU, IN

O – PSU, MD, RU, NE, WI, IA, MN

Lost rivalries – Little Brown Jug (MI/MN), OSU/PSU, MI/NE, OSU/WI

Gained rivalries – OSU/MSU, WI/IA, NE/WI

Note – The Game cannot be played in the CCG

9 Games, 1 Locked Rival

Any alignment will work with this schedule. It just comes down to priorities.

A. If you want the chance for an OSU/MI rematch

Alternating Blocks is probably the best choice of those I discussed.

In order of locked rivals:

X – OSU, WI, IA, IN, NE, MN, PU

O – MI, MSU, NW, IL, PSU, RU, MD

B. If you don’t want the chance for an OSU/MI rematch

Edges vs Middle makes the most sense, I suppose.

In order of locked rivals:

X – OSU, MI, MSU, NW, IL, PU, IN

O – PSU, NE, WI, RU, MD, IA, MN

C. If your main focus is maximum exposure in the east

NW/SE trades off balance for getting 3 kings in the east.

In order of locked rivals:

X – OSU, MI, PSU, PU, IN, RU, MD

O – WI, MSU, NE, IA, MN, NW, IL

Overall

This tells me that "Edges vs Middle" is the best plan. It works with any schedule just fine. It’s balanced, it preserves rivalries and no team should have a major complaint. The biggest drawback is the relative lack of MI and OSU games in the east. There is a fix for that, however. The B10 can schedule the crossover games to get MI and OSU in the east more often.

Example:

8 games, no locked rival

RU and MD would normally play OSU twice in 7 years (29%). But the B10 could bump that up a lot.

Team – Year 1 opponents, Year 2, Year 3, …

RU – OSU/MSU, MI/NW, OSU/PU, MI/IL, OSU/IN, MI/NW

MD – MI/NW, OSU/MSU, MI/IL, OSU/PU, MI/NW, OSU/IN

In the first 6 years, RU and MD both get 3 games each versus OSU and MI, 2 against NW and 1 against everyone else. That’s on top of annual games with PSU, NE and WI. At some point you should return to an equal rotation, mostly so the other schools can play OSU and MI too, but you could easily do this for 6-12 years.

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