Resetting The Big Ten's Divisions

By Marc Morehouse, Reporter

Iowa Hawkeyes fullback Mark Weisman (45) is wrapped up by Iowa Hawkeyes defensive back B.J. Lowery (19) during an open practice Sunday, April 14, 2013 at Valley Stadium in West Des Moines. (Brian Ray/The Gazette-KCRG)

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By Grant Burkhardt

IOWA CITY, Iowa - While America watched a dazzling display of detective work and tactics from the Boston Police Department on Friday night -- I was awed and amazed how quickly the FBI and Boston police closed in, truly incredible -- the Big Ten let the news slip out.

Let's digest.

According to ESPN.com (Adam Rittenberg and Brett McMurphy), the Big Ten will split into geographical divisions (East and West).

-- Purdue will be slid into the West, with Indiana staying in East. (That didn't surprise me because of Indiana basketball. Why? It's competitive and the Big Ten is growing this east coast thing with the addition of Maryland and Rutgers.)

-- East and West will be the names of the divisions. Your "Legends and Leaders" T-shirts will be relics starting in 2014.

-- The six teams in the central time zone -- Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota, Nebraska, Northwestern and Wisconsin -- along with Purdue will be the West division. The East will be Indiana, Maryland, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Penn State and Rutgers.

-- This is all pending approval from the league's presidents and chancellors. That vote will happen this week, according to Rittenberg.

-- Rittenberg and the ESPN Big Ten blog reported last month that the only protected crossover from the divisions will be Indiana-Purdue. No more forced phony baloney ("OMHR" from the BHGP).

-- Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez told CBSsports.com that they are expected to approve a move to a nine-game conference schedule beginning in the 2016 season. (We've been Alvarez'd, yet again.)

"Legends and Leaders" valid for 2013. The eight-game league schedule remain for three more seasons.

You remember Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany preaching competitive balance when the Big Ten did this for the 2011 season. Where was that this time around?

In my opinion, the effort for competitive balance fell away for a couple of reasons:

1) Ohio State and Michigan are the big dogs and they demanded to be fed, meaning give us more Michigan State, Penn State and each other over middle-tier Big Ten. So, an Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota and Purdue will play at an Ohio State, based on average and at the most, three times in 12 years. And that's at most. Compare that to the six times in 12 years that Penn State and Michigan State will travel into Columbus.

Does Iowa belong in that foursome? Not the Orange Bowl and the 2002 to 2010 Iowa, but the Iowa from the last two seasons?

BTW, the math breakdown is two East-West teams will face each other six times in 12 years. Four teams will face each other five times in 12. The West teams will face Indiana four times in 12. That's "at most" and "on average."

2) Rivalry routed competitive balance in this round.

The short view could not have been summed up better than in this tweet from @AnthonySLong:

Every year from now until the Big Ten gets bored with this, the Hawkeyes will face five schools (Nebraska, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois and Northwestern) that border the state.

Competitive balance? There certainly is danger here. The Big Ten has four historic blue bloods in Ohio State, Michigan, Nebraska and Penn State. Three of those will call the east home beginning in 2014.

I still think this can work and be competitive. Nebraska, Wisconsin, Iowa and Northwestern will keep each other honest. They'll also keep each other relatively close. Nebraska might have a slight edge in the majesty of its following and facilities, but the others are quickly catching up. In the east, you'll have Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State and Michigan State. PSU is currently a ceremonial program. There is a lot of pressure on Michigan State to hold up its end of the deal.

In the west, the onus is on Iowa and Northwestern.

Nebraska is Nebraska. It won't allow another Steve Pederson-Bill Callahan debacle. They've had that disaster at Nebraska and now they know what to do or not do. Wisconsin has played in five Rose Bowls in the last 20 years. Iowa and Northwestern have combined to play in one Rose Bowl in the last 20 years.

Iowa and Northwestern have done and still do great things on the field. The Wildcats snapped a 63-year bowl victory drought last season. They also have one of the most dynamic offensive weapons in the conference in QB Kain Colter. There's also buzz surrounding the indoor facility that is scheduled to be built on Lake Michigan.

Iowa won the Orange Bowl in 2009. Iowa played for the Rose Bowl at Ohio State in '09. In '10, Iowa was a great team that last its way after a 1-point loss to Wisconsin at Kinnick Stadium. J.J. Watt blocked a PAT in that game. That was the margin for error.

Iowa is 14-17 since that loss, including last season's 4-8. Iowa is going to have to pick it up. It's going to have to hold up its end of the bargain. The Big Ten is a much more interesting place with "Bullies of the Big Ten" Iowa rather than the 4-8 high-wire act that showed up last fall.

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