As the Big Ten Conference’s May meetings of athletic directors approaches, the biggest looming question remains how the conference plans to accommodate the addition of Rutgers and Maryland in its football divisions.
And oh, how the rumors are swirling. Since the announcement of the conference’s expansion, anyone with a pen or a keyboard has offered his or her plan for “fair” divisions within the conference. But as the date for the official meetings draws nearer, one plan seems to be arising as the likely reality for the Big Ten heading into the 2014 season.
As Marc Morehouse of The Gazette reports, it seems as though the new football divisions in the Big Ten will be based primarily on geography. This model would leave Nebraska, Iowa, Wisconsin, Northwestern, Illinois, Minnesota and either Indiana or Purdue in the west division.
A knee-jerk reaction from any Husker fan would be mild exuberance over the Cornhuskers’ chances in this new division. Although many of those programs come and go from the national spotlight, the only real contender at present would be Wisconsin, which will have its hands full in the midst of a coaching transition.
Of course, to be the best you have to beat the best. Even so, most Nebraska fans would take a few “sure” wins a year at the expense of lesser programs like Indiana and Minnesota. So, from a competitive standpoint, the Big Red would have to be pleased with this new divisional alignment in football.
The game against Wisconsin, and every once in a while those against Northwestern and Iowa), would be virtual play-in games for the Big Ten Championship Game. And particularly after the gauntlet Nebraska had to endure the last two seasons, it would be a welcomed change.
But one must wonder if this would be a good, long-term change for the Huskers. While there would obviously be a few rotating cross-divisional matchups, the Huskers would certainly hurt in the long run from a lack of games against Ohio State, Michigan and other eastern heavyweights.
Ten-win seasons and conference championship games are wonderful, but not at the expense of notable matchups with the best of the Big Ten. Those games garner interest from the fringes of the fanbase as well as attract national attention to the program and university.
And it is simply difficult to gain that national renown or inject as much enthusiasm into the football program with annual matchups with the Boilermakers or Illini.
It may be tempting to fall into the excitement of assumed success given the schedule of this rumored Big Ten divisional realignment. But rest assured, the annual dates with powers like Michigan and Michigan State would be missed if this scenario should in fact play out.