It’s been nearly a full decade since the Big Ten Conference introduced divisions for the first time in its history. Having already been reworked once, the conference appears to be headed for yet another realignment.
Outside of whatever nonsensical thing Jim Harbaugh was talking about, divisional realignment was the hottest topic. There is a way for the conference to make things a little more even, and while no setup will be perfect, it doesn’t take too much work to find a better fit.
After scraping the initial Legends and Leaders divisions, which attempted to split the conference with an overly complicated process that attempted to keep rivals in the same division while still keeping things even, the Big Ten switched to the current East-West alignment in 2014. Since then, the Big Ten East has won every conference title game.
More than just the dominance in the championship game, the call from East teams argued that top-to-bottom their division was just more difficult. Honestly, it’s hard to argue against that point.
To set up the current divisions, the conference set an arbitrary line at roughly the southwestern tip of Michigan. The only in-state rivals to be split were Purdue and Indiana, which, fine. The next divisions could use a similarly arbitrary point but come up with a much better result.
Instead of splitting the conference between east and west, cutting it north-south would make for much more even divisions. Drawing the line through roughly the Indiana-Michigan border, with only one small adjustment, would give a perfect 7 and 7.
These divisions would break up the cluster at the top of the east, putting Michigan and Michigan State in one division and Ohio State and Penn State in the other. The North is likely the deeper division, but the South should still see real competition to reach the championship game.
There are a few quirks to this system. Rutgers is technically south of Penn State. However, in an attempt to keep each side even, that will need to be ignored.
The biggest hurdle, however, would be to get Nebraska to sign-off. The South would have to deal with significantly more travel, the division would stretch from Lincoln, Nebraska to College Park Maryland. Nebraska would spend considerably more time in the eastern timezone. But in exchange for the longer travel, all teams in the South would be rewarded with a slightly easier seeming schedule.
Before the Big Ten “purists” get up in arms about breaking up rivalries, the conference has already gone to an nine-game conference schedule. This allows for three cross-divisional games. Meaning Michigan could play Ohio State every year and still have two rotating games. Or they could do what is actually best for their program and not force an unnecessarily difficult game every year. But hey, whatever works for them. Just know that there is no complaining, either the game is forced every year or schedules are fair across the conference.
This change appears to be coming sooner rather than later. Hopefully, whatever way the divisions are cut, it’s done so in a way where this discussion won’t be happening again in five years.