Thursday, August 26, 2010

Dividing the Big Ten

Official word is supposed to come down in a few weeks about how the Big Ten will split into divisions come next year, when Nebraska joins and makes them the Really Big Ten. Different opinions on how this should shake out have, of course, been spouted since before Nebraska even joined, but the one thing everybody seemed to agree on was that they shouldn't split up that conference's showpiece rivals, Ohio State and Michigan.

But that's what they're (apparently) deciding to do.

Here's the Really Big Ten (map modified to include Nebraska by yours truly):

And, according to reports and rumors, here's how they want to cut it up:

I'm not a big fan, but it does have some merits. It's good that they don't split any of the pairs of schools that are in the same state. (And they don't split up the schools Wisconsin and Minnesota, which is basically the same state repeated, right next to itself.) And I suppose, although I haven't done the math, that the population breakdowns of the states that are put together aren't very disparate. (One argument for not splitting the conference east vs. west that I actually sort of buy is that the eastern states just have way more people(and therefore fans and TV sets) in them than the western states.) And there's not going to be any breakdown that satisfies everybody.

But messing with Ohio State-Michigan is really making people angry.

It's not that they won't play every year; of course they will. It's that a premium is being put on the conference championship game over all other considerations. This is short-sighted (read: dumb). They'll move the OSU-Michigan game, which has been played in the last week of the season for 75 years, up to the middle of the season. So if they meet in the championship game, it won't be two weekends in a row. They're being put in different divisions so they can meet in the championship game. The speculation is that Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany is negotiating a separate TV contract for the championship game so that there will be a bigger payout if the participants are OSU and Michigan.

Here's the thing: the Big Ten is learning the wrong lessons from the Big 12. The thing they have learned that they shouldn't have: geographic splits don't work. It's true that the disparity in divisions in the Big 12 contributed to its instability--but the North wasn't always so much weaker than the South, and it wouldn't have continued forever. College football doesn't work that way. Also, if you look at the sport's undisputed most successful conference, the SEC, you see a geographic split that works just fine. That's why I still think this

would be the best way to divide the Big Ten. Nothing is permanent in college sports--except geography.

This is what the Big Ten should have learned from the Big 12 but didn't: a game does not have to directly decide the conference championship to be a Big Deal. If they left the OSU-Michigan game as it was, and left the two schools in the same division, it would be the Big Ten's Red River Shootout. It gets tense enough when the game (probably) decides the division winner. Besides, no game involving Michigan is likely to decide anything important for the foreseeable future. There's no reason to think Michigan is going anywhere under Rich Rod, and no reason to think they can't whiff again the next time they hire a coach. And if they do get back on top, it certainly isn't a given Ohio State will still be up there. By planning everything around an OSU-Michigan title game, the Big Ten brass are planning around something that may not even come to pass for years and years and years.

Like I said, short-sighted. Which is to say, dumb.

1 comment:

  1. Astute are so much smarter than the dumb Big 10 folks.