Let's Help the Big Ten Figure Out Possible Divisions
Even if the Big Ten is done, the league has a major decision to make about its future. With 12 teams, it now has enough to conduct a football championship game. Not only does it have to figure out where it would look to play such a game (Detroit and Indianapolis come to mind immediately because of their indoor facilities), but it also has to decide how to align its divisions.
There are a number of options in front of Delany as the league moves toward a divisional format.
Option No. 1
East: Indiana, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Penn State, Purdue
West: Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, Northwestern, Wisconsin
It makes perfect geographic sense. Draws a line straight down the middle, and no one is outside of where common sense would place them. As long as Iowa and Wisconsin respond to annual dates against Nebraska and become more consistent programs, this should work from a standpoint of balance. This is especially true if Michigan doesn't regain anything remotely resembling its previous form. It also preserves many traditional rivalries (Michigan-Ohio State, Michigan-Michigan State, Indiana-Purdue, Illinois-Northwestern, Minnesota-Wisconsin, Iowa-Minnesota).
The league's signature programs are -- alphabetically -- Michigan, Nebraska, Ohio State and Penn State. Does the Big Ten really want three of those programs in the same division? The West doesn't set up quite as weak as the Big 12 North, but didn't Nebraska come here to get away from the Big 12 North?
Option No. 2
East: Indiana, Michigan, Michigan State, Northwestern, Penn State, Purdue
West: Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, Ohio State, Wisconsin
Solves the imbalance of perceived power in Option No. 1 by placing Ohio State in the West. Now, you don't have to count on Iowa and Wisconsin being the only serious foils for Nebraska. Guaranteeing a Nebraska-Ohio State game every year isn't exactly a bad idea. It also isn't totally nonsensical from a geographic perspective, as only Illinois and Ohio State are "out of place."
It breaks up the league's marquee rivals (Michigan and Ohio State). If you're looking at the league's present-day strengths, it's way too West-heavy. It could easily be argued that four of the Big Ten's five best programs right now -- Iowa, Nebraska, Ohio State and Wisconsin -- all reside in the West. Nebraska might like the challenge, but it looks alarmingly like the Big 12 with an awful competitive balance.
Option No. 1
North: Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Wisconsin
South: Indiana, Nebraska, Northwestern, Ohio State, Penn State, Purdue
Again, this makes perfect geographic sense, as if you drew a line and just plucked the teams based on what side of the line they fall on. Preserves a few traditional rivalries, and opens the door for some really good ones to start, especially involving Nebraska.
This isn't a disaster from a standpoint of balance, but it also isn't ideal. Nebraska, Ohio State and Penn State are grouped together, and there will be a lot of years they are the league's best three teams. You lose Michigan-Ohio State unless the schedule format is set up to protect it.
Option No. 2
North: Iowa, Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Nebraska, Wisconsin
South: Illinois, Indiana, Northwestern, Ohio State, Penn State, Purdue
Nebraska's presence gives the North more bite, and it divides both the perennial and current powers up pretty evenly. You still have Michigan-Michigan State, Minnesota-Wisconsin and Indiana-Purdue paired together. Nebraska and Illinois are out of place geographically, but not by much.
Again, if Michigan decides to regain their spot as a football power, you have a great competitive imbalance in the divisions. It doesn't help that the two programs currently weakest in the league -- Illinois and Indiana -- are in the same division, but we get around that for now because Northwestern is pretty decent, and you assume Purdue won't be down forever.
Outside of the uncertain future for Michigan (powerhouse, consistent contender or something worse), there aren't a lot of issues with putting divisions together. Delany and his cohorts have plenty of favorable options here, and it shouldn't be that hard to satisfy both those looking for geographic sense or tradition in divisions and those who want the divisions to be drawn with a sense of competitive balance in mind.