I have been meaning to post my responses to the Big Ten Network’s conference expansion survey, but so much realignment news (such as the 7 Catholic schools in the Big East deciding to split off) has intervened that I’m only getting a chance to fill it out now. Here are my thoughts:
1. My favorite school is _____.
The University of Illinois, the ultimate drinking school with a football problem.
2. My favorite school is in the _______ Division.
The Leaders Division… I think. Let me Google this.
3. As the conference expands beyond 12 teams, should the new teams be added to an existing division or should new divisions be drawn from scratch?
These need to be blown up like the 2 versions of the Death Star.
4. What do you think of “Legends” and “Leaders” as division names? (Strongly Like to Strongly Dislike.)
Please see the answer to Question #3.
5. Should the B1G change or keep the current division names?
Please see the answer to Question #3.
6. If you think the division names should be changed, what should they be changed to?
Assuming that logic prevails and the Big Ten has something close to a geographical alignment (a very large assumption when dealing with university presidents and athletic directors that have managed to turn what ought to be a simple exercise into a massive internal political debate), it should be East-West or North-South. If an obsessive Big Ten sports fan like me still needs to stop and think about which school is in which division after two years, then the conference made a mistake. The theme, as I argued over and over again back when the Big Ten added Nebraska, should be K.I.S.S.: Keep It Simple Stupid.
7. If divisions were to be changed, what criteria should be used to determine them? (Rank by importance Competitive balance, geography, protect traditional rivalries.)
The #1 consideration by far should be to protect traditional rivalries, as those are at the heart of what makes college sports great. Close behind that should be geography, as that is a factor that will never change, whether it’s one year from now or two decades down the road. Competitive balance is honestly a minor factor for me. All programs inevitable go up and down on-the-field over time, so attempting to gerrymander divisions based on historical records virtually always ends up backfiring (see the Leaders Division this past season and numerous occasions with the ACC divisions). The Big Ten made a massive mistake in overweighting what it believed to be competitive balance in constructing the current divisions and I hope that they see the light this time around.
8. How important is it for IN-STATE rivals to be in the same division? (Very important to not important.)
It’s important, but there can be exceptions provided that those rivals are still playing each other annually.
9. How important is it for TRADITIONAL rivals to be in the same division? (Very important to not important.)
As with the answer to Question #8, it’s important, yet workarounds can be accommodated as long as the rivals continue to play each other on an annual basis. The main problem with the way that the Big Ten constructed the Leaders and Legends Divisions is that most of the Big Ten schools have multiple traditional rivals, which means that many of them inherently need to be in the same division in order for the maintenance of those rivalries to work. Wisconsin is getting completely screwed by not getting to play traditional rival Iowa and the Badgers are a natural school to help further integrate Nebraska into the conference. In my opinion, the Wisconsin/Iowa/Minnesota trifecta should have never been split up and Nebraska fits in there as the fourth wheel of that western flank perfectly.
10. Currently, the number of conference games the B1G plays is 8. Should this increase?
Yes, the number of conference games absolutely needs to increase to 9. This is even more important if the Big Ten continues to designate cross-division annual rivalries, where schools would only play their counterparts in the opposite division (excluding designated cross-division rivals) only 2 times in a 12 year period without a 9th conference game. That extra conference game at least turns it into a more tolerable 2 times in a 6 year period cycle (which still isn’t exactly optimal). While every school in the conference wants to maximize home game revenue by playing more MACrifice games, the Big Ten isn’t like the SEC, which has a history of having conference members going very long periods of time without playing each other and doesn’t think much of it. That won’t (or at least shouldn’t) fly in the Big Ten. The fact that the Big Ten had agreed to go to 9 conference games in a 12 school alignment prior to the now-defunct Big Ten/Pac-12 alliance gives me optimism that they’ll do so when it’s even more critical.
11. What is your preference on a B1G Basketball Tourney? (Every team qualifies, or 12 of 14 teams qualify.)
I’m a very large believer that every conference should have all teams qualify for its basketball tournament. Unlike the football conference championship game that only involves 2 teams, the basketball tournament is the one major conference event where the teams, fans and alums from all of the schools can gather together as a shared experience. For those that say that the conference tournament should be about merit, I would reply that leagues should eliminate conferences tournaments all together if people want to be truly merit-based (as the performance over the course of 3 months of regular season games should trump what occurs in 3 days of a conference tournament). Basketball tournaments are purely money-making machines for the power conferences, so you might as well let everyone participate. Plus, there’s the romantic idea that every single school still has one last shot to make it into the NCAA Tournament, which is inherently a more interesting aspect of watching conference tournaments compared to how they’re really just seeding exercises for the teams that already know that they’re going to make it to the Dance.
12. Currently, the B1G has no divisions for basketball. Should this be changed?
I don’t believe that basketball divisions are necessary as long as each school has at least 2 or 3 locked-in annual rivals (e.g. Indiana-Purdue, Michigan-Ohio State, etc.).
13. If yes, why should there be divisions for basketball?
Please see answer to Question #12.
14. If no, why shouldn’t there be divisions for basketball?
Please see answer to Question #12.
15. When people reference “B1G”, do you recognize that to be the Big Ten Conference?
Yes, I do. At first, I wasn’t a large fan of the new Big Ten logo, but that has grown on me (unlike the division names). In the social media context, being able to refer to #B1G on Twitter and have people generally know what that means is extremely useful. That’s not a minor point in today’s world.
16. With 14 teams currently, should the B1G remain the “Big Ten”, or should its name be changed?
It should ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS be the Big Ten, even if it ends up with 16 schools or more. If the Big Ten didn’t change its name back when it added Penn State over two decades ago, it certainly shouldn’t do it now. There’s way too much name recognition and brand value with the conference name.
17. Do you have any further thoughts on B1G expansion?
Well, I’ve provided my thoughts on Florida State here. Otherwise, I don’t have a preternatural desire to see the Big Ten expand further. The 14 schools that the conference will have going forward fit together well academically and institutionally with geographic continuity across the Northern half of the United States. If there’s a legit football power in a top market such as Florida State available, then I think the Big Ten ought to be aggressive. However, there isn’t an overall need for the conference to expand for the sake of expanding. I’d be perfectly happy with staying at 14 members.
As for how the divisions should actually look, as I’ve stated before, I favor the K.I.S.S. approach. Realistically, I believe that the Big Ten will need the following requirements in any divisional structure at a minimum:
(a) Ohio State and Michigan must play annually – This is pretty obvious.
(b) Ohio State and Penn State must play annually – This might be less obvious to people outside the Big Ten (or even with some fans within the Big Ten), but trust me, this is a non-negotiable game.
(c) Penn State, Rutgers and Maryland must be in the same division – The entire crux of the Big Ten expansion to 14 is to solidify the league’s presence on the East Coast, which effectively mandates that they have to be together.
What’s evident here is that Ohio State and Penn State are really the keys to the new Big Ten divisional alignment. For instance, these parameters mean that there is no way that Ohio State can be in a division opposite of both Michigan and Penn State – the Buckeyes have to be in a division with at least one of those schools. The East Coast bloc of Penn State/Rutgers/Maryland also limits the league’s options. We also have to consider whether the divisions need to split up the four traditional powers (Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State and Nebraska) evenly or if 3 of them can be in one division. I personally believe that 3 of them can be in one division provided that the other side has more depth of non-bottom feeders top-to-bottom, but know that others (particularly athletic directors) may disagree with that.
Ultimately, I’m most in favor of going with an East/West split with Michigan going to the East and Michigan State in the West. It would look like the following (with cross-division rivals next to each other and rationale in parentheses):
EAST – WEST
Michigan – Michigan State (in-state rivalry)
Ohio State – Wisconsin (continuation of current Leaders divisional game)
Penn State – Nebraska (continuation of current cross-division king program game)
Indiana – Illinois (two schools in bordering states passing time until basketball season starts)
Purdue – Iowa (continuation of nonsensical cross-division game)
Rutgers – Northwestern (New York City vs. Chicago angle)
Maryland – Minnesota (they pulled the last two straws)
Even though three “King” programs are in the East, I believe that there is still a solid balance of schools with top notch fan bases in the West (Nebraska, Wisconsin, Michigan State, Iowa) to compensate for it. Most other ways of attempting to put two Kings in each division end up with wacky geography or one extremely strong division and the other being very weak. (Yes, I know that I’ve said that I don’t think that competitive balance should matter, but I’m realistic in believing that others believe it’s important.) Now, it’s understandable that the older members of the Big Ten West likely would not be happy only seeing Michigan and Ohio State 2 times every 6 years, so that could be a deal-killer.
The “Inner-Outer” setup that the BTN provided as a choice here is an interesting concept, as it groups the 4 western schools (Nebraska, Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota) with the 3 Eastern schools (Penn State, Rutgers, Maryland) in one division while the 7 other schools in the middle are in the opposite division. It’s terrible in terms of geography and the casual sports fan would look at it and say, “WTF?!”, but it does achieve the goal of preserving every single traditional rivalry as an intra-divisional game with the exception of Ohio State-Penn State. I’m not a fan of the Inner-Outer alignment personally (and most people that I know don’t like it either), yet I certainly wouldn’t put it past the Big Ten presidents and ADs to head down this road.
Classic Music Video of the Week – “12 Days of Christmas” by John Denver and The Muppets
The events of the past week really put back into focus what’s most important in life: friends and family. This video always brings back fond memories of my family popping in a VHS tape of the John Denver Christmas Special with The Muppets every year and my own kids now find The Muppets to be just as hilarious as I did. I hope that all of you and your loved ones have a wonderful holiday.
(Image from DigNittanyVolleyball)