Skip to main content

The Journal Gazette

Friday, November 10, 2017 1:00 am

Imbalance might be taking toll on Big Ten

TOM CANAVAN | Associated Press

The grind of playing in the East Division of the Big Ten has taken a toll on teams over the past four years, and this year the biggest hit might be on the conference itself.

The Big Ten might not have a team in the College Football Playoff for the first time since it started in 2014.

No. 6 Wisconsin, the leader in the West Division, is 9-0 and still very much a playoff contender. But the playoff selection committee has the Badgers ranked eighth because of a résumé light on marquee victories. Wisconsin plays only Michigan among the East's big four this regular season. Meanwhile, traditional Big Ten powers Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State and Michigan State each have two losses, in part because they have been beating up on each other.

“It's difficult, but that is the beauty of this conference,” said Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio, whose team has beaten both Michigan and Penn State – while losing to Northwestern from the West. “I have told players: 'If you want to play in the NFL, come play in the East side of this division, for that matter the Big Ten Conference, because you are going to play against great football teams and great programs and great coaches.' You see it every single weekend here. There are no hall passes.”

The Big Ten tried to set up its divisions based on competitive balance when the conference first expanded to add Nebraska. The divisions were named Legends and Leaders and Ohio State, Wisconsin and Penn State were in one division, while Michigan, Michigan State and Nebraska were in the other.

That lasted for three seasons, but when the conference expanded to 14 teams by adding Rutgers and Maryland it realigned to simply East and West. That put Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan State and Michigan together. With Nebraska struggling to find its way back to consistent top-20 status, it has left a concentration of power in the East that will be difficult to balance.

The top five teams in the Big Ten – the top four in the East and Wisconsin – have football revenues ranging from about $70 million to $97 million, with Michigan leading the pack.

Ohio State led the conference in spending on its athletic programs in 2016, shelling out $166.8 million, according to financial figures publicly available. Michigan was second at $157.8 million, followed by Wisconsin ($130.4 million), Penn State ($129.3 million) and Michigan State ($121.9 million). Purdue was last at about $79 million.

The SEC has experienced a similar issue with the West dominating the East in recent years, but traditionally Georgia, Florida and Tennessee have shown capable of stacking up with the West powers such as Alabama, LSU and Auburn.