B1G Approves New Divisions
By Scott Dochterman
Geography, a devalued component in the previous round of Big Ten realignment, became the only principle that mattered in the Big Ten's latest divisional football layout.
The league's council of presidents and chancellors unanimously voted Sunday to split the 14-team league into Eastern and Western divisions beginning in 2014. The league will slice in half between West Lafayette, Ind., and Bloomington, Ind., which shifts Purdue to the west and Indiana to the east.
"Big Ten directors of athletics concluded four months of study and deliberation with unanimous approval of a future football structure that preserved rivalries and created divisions based on their primary principle of East/West geography," Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany said in a statement. "The directors of athletics also relied on the results of a fan survey commissioned by BTN last December to arrive at their recommendation, which is consistent with the public sentiment expressed in the poll."
Iowa will compete in the West Division against border schools Minnesota, Wisconsin, Nebraska, Illinois and Northwestern, as well as Purdue. The East Division consists of Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Penn State, Indiana and newcomers Maryland and Rutgers.
The league also trimmed permanent crossover rivalries to strictly the Indiana-Purdue game.
The foundation of each division was set when Maryland and Rutgers were accepted as new members beginning in 2014. The only question was whether Michigan State, Indiana or Purdue was going to join the West Division.
"We talked about a lot about whether Michigan State was in the loop or in that mix or Purdue or Indiana," Iowa Athletics Director Gary Barta said. "But in the end we just all came to the conclusion that Purdue-Indiana was probably the most logical split in the middle, and then just making sure we protected them by making sure they were going to be able to play on an annual basis."
In 2014-15, the league will maintain an eight-game league schedule (six divisional, two non-divisional). In 2016, the Big Ten will begin a nine-game league schedule, meaning every football player will compete against every other Big Ten school at least once in a four-year period.
The teams will play the other six schools in its division annually and play three others in the opposite division. Based on a 12-year average, the schools will face two non-divisional opponents six times, four non-divisional teams five teams and either Indiana or Purdue four times.
The league's East Division schools will have five home games in even-numbered years, while the West Division schools will play five home league games in odd-numbered years. That allows Iowa and Iowa State to continue their football series "as is," Iowa Sports Information Director Steve Roe confirmed Sunday.
Iowa Athletics Director Gary Barta said his school requires seven home football games each year for financial stability. Iowa is scheduled to play Iowa State at Kinnick Stadium on even-numbered years, which alleviates any issues with the scheduling.
When the Big Ten added Nebraska in 2011, the league split based primarily on competitive balance. Ohio State and Michigan were placed in opposite divisions, as were Penn State and Nebraska along with Iowa and Wisconsin. The unwieldy split was panned more for the divisional names Legends and Leaders than the competition, although many fans struggled to remember which teams were placed in each division.
The league also allowed Michigan and Ohio State to maintain their traditional season-ending clash despite competing in opposite divisions. That meant the teams could face twice in consecutive weeks, a scenario that could devalue either the rivalry or the league championship game. That's still a possibility this season.
"Big Ten directors of athletics met in person or by conference call six times from December to March to discuss a new Big Ten football model," Delany said. "The level of cooperation and collaboration was reflective of what we've come to expect from this group of administrators who have worked extremely well together on a number of complex matters over the past several years. We are all looking forward to ushering in this new era of Big Ten football."
Iowa now will reignite annual games with traditional rivals Wisconsin and Illinois. Iowa and Wisconsin have played 86 times, including 72 over the last 76 seasons. The only four seasons (1993-94, 2011-12) they didn't play was because of Big Ten expansion. The series is tied 42-42-2. The Iowa-Wisconsin rivalry was the only primary rivalry not preserved annually in the current alignment.
"I know the fans will appreciate having more of an East-West deal and so going to away football games will be easier," Barta said. "It will be nice to have Wisconsin back on the schedule every year and then just kind of all of our surrounding state rivals on the schedule annually."
Iowa and Illinois have not played since 2008, and the five-year playing gap is the league's longest among teams since Iowa and Illinois didn't play from 1953-1966. The Hawkeyes will keep its annual battle with most-played foe Minnesota and burgeoning rivalries with Northwestern and Nebraska. The Hawkeyes also will continue to meet Purdue, its current protected crossover opponent, each season.