The funniest thing to come out of the Big Ten's expansion and the Big XII's contraction is the reaction of the college football talking heads. Watching ESPN yesterday, the pundits were actually coming out and saying that the Big XII losing its championship game was a goodthing for the conference so that its teams don't have to face the possibility of an upset before being selected for a possible BCS berth.
I'm sorry, what?
So, after years of everyone telling the Big Ten that it's behind the times and isn't competitive because it doesn't have a conference championship all of a sudden not having one is a benefit!? Man, I bet the SEC wishes they knew that. After all those years of having a conference championship game where the best team won and went on to win their bowl games, who knew they were putting themselves at a disadvantage. Jeebus guys, what you're saying is the Big XII wasn't that good. It's okay to say it. If the league favorite constantly gets upset in it's championship game, well, the league favorite wasn't that good. Look at the SEC. The favorite usually comes through and wins the damn game and we praise the system they have in place as the best in the business. And it's the same damn system. The Big XII is now, at best, a stripped down league with two good teams, three decent ones, and a boat load of average to bad squads.
Look, this isn't the ACC. People will actually watch and attend a championship game. Adding a championship game in this era of college football is a good thing. That's why the Pac 11 and Big Ten wanted one so badly.
But now that we have a Big Ten championship game we've got twelve teams. And with twelve teams there's no way to play a round robin, so we've got to split the league into two divisions. Six teams a piece, 5 intra-division games and 3 inter-division games.
I'm not going to try to divy up the league or make arguments for the a complete realignment. That's already been done. What I am going to do is support Black Shoe Diaries and Penn State, the Lions belong with Michigan and Ohio State in an Eastern Division. It doesn't make sense any other way.
I've heard a lot about competitive balance in the league, but none of it seems to be based in reality. If we go geographically, way the conference shakes out is in the block to the right.
Frankly, that's a pretty even split. Nebraska-Iowa-Wisconsin are equal to Ohio State-Penn State-Michigan. The only reason to consider otherwise is based on historical prejudices rather than the facts in front of you. Ohio State is the conference's big dog at the moment, and their presence in either division swings the balance of power toward that conference irrespective of the other players. If competition is truly the goal, then Penn State stays in a Michigan/Ohio State division.
As much as Nittany Lion and Buckeye fans want to yip at one another, the last two years the road to the Conference crown has run through Iowa City and Columbus, not Happy Valley. This dreamed up Big Ten "axis of power" between Happy Valley and Columbus is not only untrue, but it's maybe two years old. Since 2000 Penn State is 3-7 against Ohio State and 2-6 against Michigan. Conversely they've dominated MSU, Purdue and Indiana in that same time frame. Basically, they've fared just as well as Wisconsin against Michigan, OSU and the rest of the Eastern division. So it's not like shipping them out west dramatically alters the the balance of power.
Competitiveness aside, are we really going to force Penn State to travel that much to preserve the Michigan/Ohio State power structure? As a college football fan that's honestly kind of insulting. We just saw what happens when a team or two dictate terms to everyone else in the Big XII, and I'd prefer my conference not go that route. Additionally, isn't it better that Michigan and Penn State, Ohio State and Penn State, Michigan State and Penn State play each other every year? The animosity between the fan bases makes for great crowds and better games. It also means that after 20 years in the Big Ten, Penn State is finally settled in. They're a part of the conference and a part of its culture based on these rivalries that have developed between these schools. Moving them out west to play teams with whom they have limited to no bad blood against simply sets the whole conference back two decades.
For Wolverine and Ohio State fans we should want to play Penn State every year. It's a fun game, it's a good rivalry, and usually we win. For Penn State fans, the ability to play Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State every year has to be a positive draw as well.
If competitiveness and geography are really important to the Big Ten, keep Penn State in the East.