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Big Ten Realignment: Is it finally time for PODS?

Conference expansion means divisions will change. Are they worth keeping?

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NCAA Football: Big Ten Football Championship-Iowa vs Michigan Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The additions of USC and UCLA to the Big Ten means that Ten actually represents 16 teams. Here’s the neat thing about 16: it’s divisible by four. It’s no secret that this website is a fan of pods, but now with realignment being necessary, I’m actually justified in talking about it! After all, I don’t think any of our previous conversations accounted for the two additions being the SoCal giants. So, below, I’ll be listing the potential divisional realignments from what I believe to be the most likely, to the most awesome. And I’ll probably forget something, so correct me in the comments.

Regional Divisions

Add UCLA and USC to the West, move Purdue to the East. Pretty simple.

Pros: could add competitive balance if USC can match their national hype, prevents USC & UCLA from going to the Eastern Time Zone for divisional games. Also makes Iowa play Purdue less. Protects most rivalries.

Cons: Eight teams in a division means just two games outside the division per year, taking four years for a team to play all of its Big Ten foes. As a result, will include way fewer games between USC/UCLA and Michigan/Ohio State than I think involved parties want. Will breakup historic Iowa-Purdue rivalry.


BoilerUp89: While I sure would like the opportunity to play OSU every other year at Ross Ade, I don't want to miss out on the Cannon. So hard pass

Kind of...: Warning: tangent ahead. This would be okay, but I don’t think it’s the best option. That said, once you get to 16 teams, there’s only so often teams can play each other. But the other variable is how many conference games you play. Why not 10? Part of the superconference possibility is that you build more of a wall around those teams. More teams inside; fewer games outside. 50 years ago, the SEC would play a six-game conference schedule. Alabama played Georgia in 1977 and then not again until 1984. Alabama split the national title in 1978 (with USC, who clearly deserved it more) and won it in 1979. Georgia won it in 1980 and played for it in 1982. That was back in simpler times when everything was allegedly better about the sport. Two divisions can work fine with 16 teams and no real rivalries need be diluted.

Non-regional Divisions

Oh yeah, time for the return of the legends and the leaders. Look, USC and UCLA are not going to fit nicely into the east/west split. They’re travelling 1500 miles for their closest games. And without east/west, the powers that be can focus more on optimal matchups and competitive balance between the divisions. Is this a good thing? Probably not.

But Atinat, you say, you listed this below regional divisions, meaning you like it more! Yes, that is true. I think this could be a better system. But I also think it’s way less likely. The conference is still wiping egg off its face from Legends/Leaders, and I don’t think they’re risking that again.

Pros: As said above, TV ratings are the big driver here. You can get better regular season matchups (who wants to see USC-Illinois?), and you can get more competitive conference championship games. Also, generally as a pro for divisions, you can allow rivalries with the newbies to generate a little more naturally than an open schedule, where they won’t play the same teams every year, or pods, where it feels forced with those few podmates.

Cons: How do you arrange this? With the aforementioned 7-2 schedule, you can’t split up any rivalries. You have to keep the whole quadrangle together. You have to keep OSU-Michigan together. You have to keep USC-UCLA together. And ideally, you want USC/UCLA with OSU/Michigan, but that would destroy competitive balance, no? Maybe you move Penn State and Michigan State to the “west,” and the Indiana teams to the “east” with UCLA and USC.


Kind of...: I see no advantage here that you couldn’t get with divisions or pods and some flex scheduling, especially if, again, you’re open to a 10-game conference schedule. For example: have two divisions as laid out above (i.e., nine scheduled games, play everybody is opposite direction every four years). 10th game is based on standings after nine games with East 2 vs. West 1 and West 2 vs. East 1 as semis to set up B1G championship game. By the time this gets instituted, CFP may well have been expanded, so have a double header on B1G championship day where the two semifinal losers play what is probably an elimination game for the expanded playoff.

No Divisions at All

Why do we need divisions, anyway? The ACC doesn’t. Protect the rivalries, ensure some balanced scheduling, and let the two best teams, regardless of locality, play for a conference title.

Pros: Lets the conference pick exactly who they want to play whom.

Cons: Lets the conference pick exactly who they want to play whom.

Seriously, this is a scheduling nightmare. You could institute some rules like “must play four games against top-half teams,” but then you’re changing schedules year to year. Obviously you’re going to have to protect rivalries, but then how do you make sure you’re seeing every other team regularly in a 16-team league? The ACC is doing a 3-5-5 schedule, wherein each team has three protected opponents and then plays half the remaining teams every other year. In my mind, in order to make sure everything is predictable and fair, you’re basically gonna have to do quads anyways.


BoilerUp89: For 16 teams, you can do a 3-6-6 format. 3 permanent rivals, rotate the other 12 teams each year. It's not as clean as pods (you could theoretically have more than 2 undefeated teams), but it preserves the rivalries the best.

Kind of...: Agree with BoilerUp89. That works. It’s not as clean as pods, but it’s pretty close to the same scheduling principle and works better if you really care about competitive balance. And, to beat my dead horse, ju


Four four-team pods, with each team playing the three teams in their pod and two from each other pod. (This is basically what the SEC is eying, as they have signaled a move towards a 3-6-6 schedule like BU89 mentioned above). So what do those four pods look like? The quadrangle of hate has to be one. I’m sure the Big Ten would name it something lame, like the Upper Midwest pod or something. Ohio State and Michigan will be in one, but given how strong they are, they’ll probably be grouped in with some weaker teams. Maybe Illinois and Northwestern? I keep gravitating towards throwing Penn State and USC together, so maybe with Michigan State and UCLA. And then that’d leave Maryland, Rutgers, Purdue, and Indiana, because they can’t all be winners.

Now, this could just be scheduling. These don’t have to mean anything insofar as the conference championship game is concerned. But they can also take the two best pod winners. I suppose it is possible that someone gets a really pillow-soft schedule, managing to pick off the bottom two from every pod and sweeping their own weak group. But I think that’s fairly avoidable, as I don’t have to know who the 2024 Big Ten Champ will be to know it will NOT be Maryland or Illinois.

Pros: Super fun. Maintains most rivalries. Guarantees you’ll see a conference foe at least once every two years.

Cons: Can’t protect em all. Some rivalries are going to have to be broken up for competitive fairness. But they’ll just go to once every other year. And hopefully, this will allow teams that don’t really have a two-way prime rivalry (Michigan State, Penn State) to get one (in this case, each other).

Also, there’s a pretty good chance we’re gonna have 20 teams soon, and that will kill any chance of divisions, so pods (5 of 4 or 4 of 5) or nothing will be necessary.


BoilerUp89: So I thought the pod system was rotating divisions. You have your pod of 4 and you get matched with another pod each year (rotating thru pods in 3 year cycles) in the yearly makeshift division. That gives you 7 games. If you stick with a 9 conference system you could even still have a protected rival in each pod so that the pods can be balanced while maintaining rivals. I don't think any of this matters as I think the B1G is going to 20.

Kind of...: Pods make more sense IF B1G goes to 20. Pods of four feels a bit too much like MLB/NFL. Go barely .500 and still be a division champ! 2018 Northwestern is as close as I want to that scenario, and even that was because of their shitty non-conference. If winning the pod doesn’t get you anything, then the pod is meaningless. If if does, then you need to actually merit what you win. See the Big 12 in 2004 and 2005. And that was with 12 teams! [And, yes, the B1G has its own East/West imbalance already, if not as pronounced.]

MNW: I fyou are going to do four-team pods, just keep the quadrangle intact, add Illinois and Northwestern to USC and UCLA, put the Michigans with Indiana and Purdue, put Ohio State and Penn State with the Eastern stepchildren. Yeah then, since the entire point of this is to protect people’s bottom lines anyway, just create a protected crossover with Michigan and Ohio State. Who cares, anyway? That’s a lot of fun to see them treated like every other Big Ten program, right, Indiana?

Protect that game, if you want, through a crossover format in which you play your entire pod every year, play a full slate of games against another pod, and then play one game against a team from each of the two remaining pods. And then, for Michigan and Ohio State, any year that they would only have a single play against the other’s pod, they play each other.

Stew: Two things I want from pods:

  1. Quadrangle of hate pod
  2. UCLA, USC, Maryland, rugter. Sort the rest however you want it. If I had to do it, though:
  3. Michigan, Michigan St, PSU, Ohio State
  4. Indiana, Purdue, jNW, Illinois

Fuck competitive balance, give me hate and pettiness

He was a high school QB: Hate and pettiness is why we do this, isn’t it?

So, what do you think? Are pods inevitable, or is the Big Ten just gonna be lame and dissolve divisions and replace them with complicated and arbitrary scheduling? Also, how would YOU do pods? Is a conference tournament a must?