(WXYZ) - Out with the Leaders and Legends! The Big Ten has finally decided what it will do with its divisional set-up once Maryland and Rutgers join in 2014.
According to reports from ESPN, the Big Ten will take a ruler to the geographic makeup of the conference and split its divisions right down the middle into East and West. Indiana, Maryland, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Penn State, and Rutgers will make up the East, and the West will consist of Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, Northwestern, Purdue and Wisconsin.
No longer will Big Ten fans need to double check if their team is in the Leaders or Legends division. There will no longer be a need for rivalry games built on decades of geographical hatred to be protected as cross-over games (except for Indiana-Purdue, which are in separate divisions and have a protected cross-over). The new divisions just seem to make sense, unless you’re looking for divisional parity that is.
By basing its divisions on geography and not a balance of power, the Big Ten has set itself up for the same problem that plagued the Big 12 before conference expansion became all the rage. The problem with the Big 12 was that the South has dominated during the 15-year run, going 11-4 in the conference championship game and winning the final seven.
The reality in college football is that power programs stay power programs. Yes, programs will have droughts of mediocrity (think Michigan during Rich Rod era, Alabama before Saban, and Notre Dame from Lou Holtz to Brian Kelly), but when you give yourself a big enough sample size, the power schools will be at the top.
The Big 12 placed two of their power programs, Oklahoma and Texas, in the South while only putting one power program, Nebraska, in the North. The South was also littered with schools that would occasionally put together a string of strong seasons, Texas A&M, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech, while the North was given Colorado and Kansas State.
The league was basing their competitive balance on Nebraska staying one of the most powerful programs in the nation.
Nebraska couldn’t stay at the top and went through a stretch of mediocrity that saw Oklahoma and Texas dominate the Big 12. Those two schools won the final seven Big 12 championship games. The Big 12 championship game, the staple of a conference with two divisions, was hindered because the best two teams were not playing in the game.
The Big Ten is now in the same boat the Big 12 was in 17 years ago, hoping Nebraska can keep the other half of the conference relevant. Nebraska hasn’t won a conference championship, in the Big 12 or Big Ten, since 1999.
Nebraska currently stands as the only power program in the West, while the East has Michigan, Ohio State, and Penn State.
Ohio State is coming off a 12-0 season and keeps raking in top recruits under Urban Meyer. There is no sign of the Buckeyes going away anytime soon.
Michigan went through its fair share of troubles during the Rich Rod era, but Brady Hoke is recruiting at a very high level and seems to have Michigan back on track with 19 wins in his first two seasons.
Penn State will start to feel the ramifications of their sanctions and scholarship losses in the next couple seasons, but once those sanctions are lifted, expect head coach Bill O’Brien to get Penn State back to a nationally competitive team. There is too much history and prestige in Happy Valley to keep the Nittany Lions down for long.
Michigan State is starting to establish itself as a power program under Mark Dantonio. While the Spartans are coming off a disappointing 7-6 season, they reached the ten-win mark the previous three seasons, and Dantonio has instilled a winning culture in East Lansing.
This leaves Wisconsin to help Nebraska carry the West. Wisconsin has been to three straight Rose Bowls, and lost, but they’re going through a coaching change and have yet to show they can compete consistently at a national championship level.
Northwestern is a program on the rise under Coach Fitzgerald, but can they really help carry a divisional banner? Iowa is currently trending the opposite direction of Northwestern, but they have had very successful seasons in the recent past - think 2010 Orange Bowl champs.
The West will need another program, or two, to step up and help Nebraska carry the banner. The conference needs this to happen so the championship game is front-and-center and competes with the SEC.
There is no guarantee that the East will dominate the West, but if the past is any indication of the future, the Big Ten could end up with a massive power gap between the two divisions.
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