1. I'm not one to toss bouquets (of roses, in this case) at conference commissioners, but you have to give credit to the Big Ten's Jim Delany. Only last December did we first learn that the Big Ten was looking to expand in 18 months. Now, after a gestation period of half that time, the conference has added a most formidable new member (Nebraska ... this would be akin to a cappella masters Straight No Chaser -- Indiana alums, mind you -- adding Freddie Mercury), a lucrative championship game and a pair of divisions that for the most part preserve the spirit and tradition of the conference. For the most part (see No. 2). It's the type of Trading Spaces-like home renovation that would have perked up an already perky Paige Davis.
2. In transferring Michigan and Wisconsin across the conference's natural geographic border of Illinois-Indiana and Lake Michigan, competitive balance trumped geography. I'd argue, though, that the glamor factor trumped competitive balance.
The Wolverines were No. 1 in the nation in attendance last year, and the Big House boasts the nation's largest seating capacity (impressive for a venue that, if you drove past it, you might not notice; Michigan Stadium is built into a hillside). Michigan is also the winningest program in FBS history.
On the other hand, if you assess the overall win-loss records of Big Ten schools (and Nebraska) since 1993, the year that Penn State joined, you'll find that the Wolverines have won just one more game than Wisconsin in that span. The data (excluding ties):
Michigan has too much going for it to be mired in mediocrity much longer, with or without Rich Rodriguez. That, ultimately, is what persuaded Delany and company to inconvenience the Badgers and transfer them and the Wolverines across that natural geographic boundary. Because, strictly assessing their respective records over a 17-year period, a one-game difference out of 210 games would not be enough to justify that move.
3. Keeping the Michigan-Ohio State game in its last-weekend spot (as it has been since 1935) makes sense in every scenario except the most important one: when both programs are headed to the conference championship game anyway. Ordinarily, this game will provide one side or the other the chance to either play spoiler to their rival's unbeaten season or to knock them out of the conference championship game. However, in any season in which these two know they will meet twice in as many Saturdays, the former game will, to put it bluntly, blow. That's because each coach will know that only the latter contest will count. And if only one of those two is undefeated, that fan base is going to resent having to beat the same opponent twice in eight days to perhaps garner a spot in the BCS Championship Game.
4. The gang in Madison has the most legitimate gripe. Wisconsin loses a terrific rivalry game against Iowa, just a 176-mile bus ride away. Two schools whose cultures and places in the Big Ten pantheon are quite similar will now become relative strangers.
5. Again, let's credit the Big Ten for getting most of it right. Michigan-Ohio State has been preserved, despite the two schools being split into separate divisions. Likewise, the longest-played rivalry in FBS history, Minnesota and Wisconsin (Paul Bunyan's Axe, for you trophy-game fanatics), also survived despite those two schools being taken into custody by different divisions. It was funny, though, to listen to Iowa athletic director Gary Barta on the Kirk Ferentz Show on Wednesday evening attempt to explain how Iowa-Purdue is now a "natural rivalry". Barta stopped short of saying, "When all the cool kids chose their dance partners, we each looked across the gym floor and saw we were the only ones left." Essentially, though, that's exactly what happened.
6. Read the other "takes" on Big Ten divisional realignment, especially from a hometown paper perspective, and a humorous trend develops. The writer will note that the team he covers, __________, has a "brutal schedule" in the coming seasons. Greg Johnson of the Grand Rapids Press, for example, writes that for Michigan State, "the schedule for 2011 looks brutal with road games at Ohio State, Nebraska and Iowa."
I'm not knocking Johnson -- he's correct, of course -- but rather pointing out that the schedule just became that much more brutal for everyone in the Big Ten. You don't add one of the top five programs in college football history, plus an extra knockout game at season's end, and not make the path to a BCS Championship Game berth that much more difficult.
For us fans, the Big Ten regular season just became a whole lot more compelling. But for the coaches? Well, I'm not sure any Big Ten coach could ever survive to Joe Paterno's age under this new format.
To close, here's a FanHouse TV segment with columnist Terence Moore sharing his thoughts on the realignment.