UCLA Bruins and USC Trojans will officially join the Big Ten Conference in 2024
Despite the major shifts in college athletic conference realignment triggered by Texas and Oklahoma last summer, the Big Ten has thus far not made any firm moves besides announcing an ambiguous “alliance” with the Atlantic Coast Conference and Pac-12 Conference last August.
Fans of the 14-team Big Ten Conference can now expect some news about realignment of the league soon, according to Michigan State athletic director Allan Haller, per MLive’s Matt Wenzel.
Asked about conference realignment, Alan Haller says some changes are coming to the Big Ten.— Matt Wenzel (@mwenzel2) May 23, 2022
Speaking on Monday afternoon alongside head coaches Mel Tucker (football) and Tom Izzo (men’s basketball) at a Detroit Economic Club meeting at the MotorCity Casino, Haller answered a question about whether the Big Ten will have any conference realignment by confirming “There will be. We’re working through them.”
Haller is coming off of a two-day meeting with other Big Ten athletic directors last week at the league headquarters in Rosemont, Illinois. However, beyond confirming that changes of some kind regarding conference realignment will happen, Haller did not elaborate further and was not made available for questions following his remarks.
The relative stability of late in conference realignment over the past several years was shattered last year when it came out that heavyweights Oklahoma and Texas were bolting the Big 12 for the SEC. The ACC and Pac-12 later announced an informal alliance with the Big Ten that might someday lead to greater scheduling frequency in football and other sports between the three power conferences. Meanwhile, the Big 12 almost immediately scrambled for the best programs it could get, gobbling up Cincinnati, UCF, Houston, and BYU as new members (beginning with BYU in 2023, with the other programs all joining by 2024).
Further changes have arisen now as just last week, the NCAA moved to loosen rules around FBS conference championship games. As a result of that change, divisions are no longer needed regardless of league size and the two teams with the highest conference winning percentage can now play against one another in the championship game instead of requiring the two division winners to square off against one another. The Pac-12 has already dissolved its North and South divisions for the upcoming 2022 football season as a result and will pit its two winningest teams against one another for the league title.
It is unclear what the exact changes will be in terms of Big Ten realignment, but fans can expect to hear more news soon. It may be that the conference will expand yet again to 16-teams to keep pace with the Southeastern Conference.
Then again, it may just simply return to a division realignment that aims to bring the competitive balance that was the goal of the Legends and Leaders divisions from 2011 to 2013 after Nebraska joined instead of geographic proximity of East and West used since 2014.
Another option would be to do away with divisions entirely like the Pac-12 did and move to something more akin to a pod schedule with some number of annual opponents (rivals) and rotate through the rest of the conference in some fashion. Either option is also on the table if the Big Ten expands as well.
Since the Big Ten’s most recent expansion in 2014, the Big Ten East Division is 8-0 in Big Ten Championship matchups. While many pundits love to highlight that fact, there is also no clear guarantee the teams winning the title would be any different in a new arrangement as the four current East Division schools of Michigan State, Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State all remain best poised for the league crown even in a realigned Big Ten.
“Michigan State has a seat at the table during this national college realignment, landscape changes because of our history — academic performance, competition performance and then what we do in the community,” Haller said, via MLive. “So while we have that seat at the table, it’s important for me as the athletic director to make sure we stay at that table because what you see next year at this time will be much different than what we’re doing right now. I’m focused on making sure Michigan State’s name is still at the table, we stay at the table with all these changes. There will be changes, quite a bit of them.”
At the very least, fans should know that the 2023 through 2025 football schedules as originally released in 2018 have been tossed into the recycling bin as a result of changes made in 2020. According to internet sleuths last night, all 14 athletic departments have officially removed the future schedules from their respective websites for now.
When the official news about the Big Ten’s plans finally breaks, we will be sure to update you then. In the meantime, let us know what you want to have happen in the comments! Bonus points if you have any good name proposals for potential reworked divisions.