The Big Ten is soliciting popular opinion on new division formats with the additions of Maryland and Rutgers. This seems to be a mere prelude to moving to an East/West alignment with Michigan and Ohio State together in the East.
The conference offered three possible formats in its public poll.
Option 1: Keep the present “Legends and Leaders” while adding Maryland and Rutgers.
Option 2: Move to an East/West alignment.
East: Maryland, Rutgers, Penn State, Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State, Indiana
West: Nebraska, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Northwestern, Illinois, Purdue
Option 3: Move to an Inner/Outer alignment.
Inner: Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Illinois, Indiana, Northwestern, Purdue
Outer: Penn State, Rutgers, Maryland, Nebraska, Iowa, Wisconsin, Minnesota
No inside knowledge here, but Option 2 is the only one that makes sense. Keeping the Legends/Leaders makes little sense logistically. It keeps the Michigan/Ohio State replay possibility intact (no one wants to see this). Having a public debate would only inflame criticism of the current alignment. There’s no point opening that can unless greasing the wheels for change.
The inner/outer alignment is convoluted and makes no sense from a business perspective. The whole purpose of expansion is to extend the Big Ten brand into the I-95 cable market. It would be silly to do that and then set up a division alignment where the conference’s two biggest programs, Michigan and Ohio State, only play there every few years.
Option 2, East/West, is the alignment the best option logistically and geographically. The one concern would be competitive balance – Michigan State could be screwed if Penn State rose again – though that could be rectified by swapping Purdue and Michigan State (with Michigan and Michigan State playing a fixed inter-division game).
While the winds of change are blowing, it’s worth noting one of the most high-profile opponents of the nine-game conference schedule just left. More valuable television inventory. Just saying.
[Photo via Getty]