So, big picture, the process of arriving at Big Ten divisions can be summed up as follows:
- Step 1: Maximize the odds that Michigan and Ohio State meet in the title game by putting them in opposite divisions and precisely balancing the two divisions based on post-1993 performance.
- Step 2: Guarantee that, should the outcome you want from Step 1 actually occur, there will be at least some level of anticlimax associated with the outcome since the two teams in question will be playing in back-to-back weeks. As a bonus, you reduce the odds of getting semifinal-type games in the final week of the regular season and stick several teams with decided non-rival Rivalry Week opponents. And, that's not enough, every Big Ten team will miss playing one conference opponent for a full four-year period starting next season.
So, like, smashing success, boys. So much more interesting (and revenue maximizing!) than a simple geographic split.
Moving right along: Within the context of the jury-rigged framework Jim Delany et al. have created, MSU comes out looking pretty good. Our primary rival is in our division, Nebraska and Iowa are somewhat less frightening than Ohio State and Penn State as divisional foes, and fixed cross-divisional rivals don't come much friendlier than Indiana (as artificially-generated as that rivalry may be, Brass Spittoon or not). (Bonus: Mark Hollis gets his regular trips to Chicago to play Northwestern.) If/when MSU puts itself in a position to make a run at a Big Ten title, odds are we won't be able to complain about schedule imbalances as a major obstacle.
Of course, the two non-fixed cross-divisional opponents we drew for the first two years of 12-team play both came up "CONTENDER": Ohio State and Wisconsin. There was a decent chance we'd draw two teams from the OSU/PSU/Wisconsin group, 30%, but that does take the short-term sheen off the IU thing. (By the way, there was some sort of a random draw, right? Right? Who am I kidding? Probably not.)
Other observations (many of them lifted from LVS and Pete):
- Not sure why there's any reason not to just go with "North" and "South" for the division names. Close enough:
(Image Credit: This guy.)
- If we're not using "North" and "South," then please, pleeeease let it be "Rotel" and "Barbasol." (Frank the Tank: "Wisconsin is going to put more miles on the road than the Barbasol truck driver.")
- On that parenthetical note: For as much information as Barry Alvarez leaked to the public, you'd have thought he'd have more influence on the process. Wisconsin gets pretty clearly the worst deal in the league, missing out on regular games against 2 of its 3 obvious preferred choices (Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska). Delany called it being "geographically stretched." I think most Badgers fans will call it being "hosed."
- Cross-divisional games count just like the divisional ones. So at least one disturbing rumor was wrong. In the immortal words of Jack Shephard: "All of this matters!" [/LOST geekery]
- Tie-breakers are fairly sensible: head-to-head if it's a two-team tie, division record if it's three teams (BCS ranking if still tied).
- Killer start to the 2011 conference slate for MSU: @OSU, Michigan, Wisconsin, @Nebraska. No worries about the traditional fast MSU start followed by a late-season collapse next year.
- 2012 is the year to sign up for season tickets: Notre Dame, Ohio State, Iowa, Nebraska, and Northwestern at home. If nothing else, you'll be able to make a handy profit off those first four fan bases. (Note: Don't actually do this.)
- For 2013 and 2014, one or both of Illinois and Purdue will replace Ohio State and Wisconsin (Penn State is the third option). Feel free to start daydreaming about a Maxwell/Gholston/Thomas-led run to the title game in 2013.
- No divisions for basketball. Which is a good thing. As much as using the football divisions would have paved the way for MSU Big Ten regular season basketball championships to infinity and beyond, they'd also have damaged our RPI and greatly reduced the number of clashes with other Big Ten contenders.