Don’t expect the Big Ten to wait long to finalize changes to the league.
On June 11, Nebraska officially joined the conference, effective in 2011, giving the Big Ten 12 members, which means dividing the schools into divisions, tweaking the schedule and likely adding a conference championship game.
Those decisions could be made by late August – after the athletic directors meet during the Big Ten football media days Aug. 2-3 in Chicago.
Ultimately, the school presidents will have the final vote.
Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany gave his top three priorities for making a shift: competitive fairness, maintaining rivalries and geography.
Here’s a look at how things could shake out.
The traditional thinking of splitting the schools into an East and a West division would sabotage Delany’s top consideration: It’d mean Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State would be in the same division. That’s three of the conference’s four traditional powers. A North-South split would balance that with Penn State and Ohio State together, but it’d also mean the Buckeyes and Wolverines in different divisions. So it’s hard to see that happening.
The most likely choice is one not based on geography. If Michigan and Ohio State are together, that’d push Penn State and Nebraska to the same division.
To fill the rest of the slots, it’d make sense to take a look at each program’s success over a long time frame. That would determine the competitiveness. Looking at each school’s record over the past 25 years, the rankings would break down like this: 1. Nebraska, 2. Ohio State, 3. Michigan, 4. Penn State, 5. Iowa, 6. Wisconsin, 7. Michigan State, 8. Purdue, 9. Minnesota, 10. Illinois, 11. Indiana, 12. Northwestern.
So how about this: Division A has Ohio State (2), Michigan (3), Wisconsin (6), Michigan State (7), Minnesota (9), Northwestern (12); and Division B has Nebraska (1), Penn State (4), Iowa (5), Purdue (8), Illinois (10), Indiana (11).
It’s likely the conference will play eight league games – a move to nine likely means the loss of a home non-conference game – so that’s five games inside the division and three outside. Schools could designate a “protected” team to play every season out of their division and then rotate the two other opponents yearly.
With the mock A and B divisions above, most of the rivalries could be preserved. For example, in its division, Michigan still has Ohio State, Michigan State and Minnesota. It could take Nebraska as its protected crossover. Purdue and Indiana would be in the same division to keep battling for the Bucket, then the Boilermakers could grab the Spartans for their yearly crossover team. In this setup, the Buckeyes would have to choose between protecting Penn State or Illinois as a yearly matchup.
It will be tough to keep every rivalry annual.
There’s no doubt the Cornhuskers provide a presence in football. The program has won more games than any other Division I school since 1970 and has five national titles. Memorial Stadium in Lincoln has sold out 304 consecutive games, the longest streak in the nation, and has averaged about 85,000 fans the last four seasons.
But Nebraska was a bit of a surprise expansion pick because it doesn’t give the Big Ten a major TV market, which was thought to be a crucial element in adding a school. The Omaha TV market ranks 76th in the U.S. by households.
But the Cornhuskers do provide another marquee matchup for nationally televised games.
The football program doesn’t have much history against the Big Ten but does have a winning record (79-68-10) against its new conference foes. The only two Big Ten schools Nebraska hasn’t beaten in football? Purdue (0-1) and Ohio State (0-2).
Championship game effect
Money matters, and this game would generate millions for the conference.
The SEC title game produced $14.5 million in revenue in 2009 and $14.3 million in 2008, according to the conference, to be shared among its schools. The Big Ten already paid out about $22 million per school, and having a championship game likely would boost that figure.
Adding a championship game also would prevent such a long layoff between the season finale and a bowl game.
But it also could see the loser getting knocked out of BCS contention – instead of moving into a slot by not playing the game.
Several facilities appear primed to play host. Lucas Oil Stadium and Ford Field in Detroit offer sparkling new indoor venues, but Chicago could want to play host at Soldier Field (a chilly option) and Minnesota at its Metrodome (an old option).