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Big Ten Realignment: The Case for Rotating Divisions

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Well that just doesn't work anymore...

With SCM and Dave both writing fantastic posts about the impending realignment, I figured I'd throw my own two cents in, albeit with a heavy disclaimer:  This will never happen.  Buuuuut, if the Big whatever.  If the New Big Ten (NBT) wants to be truly progressive, I believe that something like what I'm outlining here would do the trick, but would probably wreck havoc with travel schedules, etc.  Let's take it from the top:

The Reasoning

Now that the NBT has 12 teams, we're going to assume that there will be a championship game determined at a neutral site between the winners of two 6-team divisions.  These winners will be established by playing a true round-robin in each of the 6 team divisions.  The question becomes how to split the NBT into these segments.  Mr. Delany:


"First priority’s competitive fairness to me," Delany said last week. "Second priority is maintenance of rivalries, some of them are very important. They’re part of who we are and they’re not treated lightly. And then I think the third is what factor, if any, does geography play?"

Given that this is quite literally allwe have to go on in terms of "from the horses mouth" this quote has been tossed about by pretty much every interested blog.  The first priority, according to Mr. Delany, is this notion of "competitive fairness" which presumably means that each division should have an equal number of heavyweights to, erm, not-so-heavyweights.  The problem with this, and the root of much of the banter on this here site, is how do you determine who is a heavyweight, and how much bearing does this historical judgement have on the future?  The truth of the matter is that if you take the two divisions on sheer competitive fairness, you get two divisions that are fairly equal no matter how you slice it.  If you want to argue that Iowa is historically better than Wisconsin, well that's fine, just swap the two.  If you want to argue that Penn State is historically better than Nebraska, swap them out.  The year-to-year variations in team strength factor out where exactly everyone shakes out just so long as Indiana, Purdue, Northwestern, Minnesota, Illinois, and Ohio State don't end up in the same static division (Ohio State would presumably win that division 99% of the time...).  What might make things more interesting would be a rotating divisional lineup based off previous year's finish.

Hypothetical Situation

Take a start like this, designed to mirror what hypothetical 2010 Big Ten finish might look like, including Nebraska's W-L in the BXII as a place holder (Divisions named just to be a jerk...):

Osborn Paterno
Ohio State (1) Iowa (2)
Nebraska (3) Penn State(4)
Wisconsin (5) Michigan (6)
Michigan St. (7) Purdue (8)
Minnesota (9) Northwestern (10)
Illinois (11) Indiana (12)

Don't get all twisted over this order - it was done in about 5 minutes and is simply serving as a hypothetical starting point, and would in reality be based on the actual finish of this season.  In our little world, however, the first year of the NBT divisions would look like the above.  This would get some competitive balance based on actual competitiveness (is that a word?), and not derived from some inane historical period of time.  It serves Delany's first point - the point he's emphasized as being the most important - in "real time." 

More after the jump

How do you protect rivalries?

Admittedly, I don't have this worked out (comments welcome...).  Under the divisional system you've got 5 conference games built in, with 4 more out there to fill.  You'd fill these 4 games  by a formula of some sort that is determined by your finish in the NBT the previous year, and it would spit out the 4 teams that you'd play from the cross division (for example, if you finished 3rd you'd play teams 2, 6, 8, 12, ) or something similar.    2/3 of the time, you'd be playing your #1 rival at the very least, and in all cases there's the possibility of a championship game matchup.

So does this solve the protected rivalry quandary?  Not 100%.  But what it does do is give you some fluctuation year in and year out that would mean that if Michigan didn't end up playing Ohio State, then chances are good that they would the next year.  While this situation does take out the certainty of playing Ohio State every year (assuming we'd be in the same division) it also takes out the certainty of having a team like Penn State - should they end up permanetly cross-divisional - being rotated out every year. 

The Upshot

The upshot is that this will never happen.  However, I believe that it doessolve Mr. Delany's issue of competitive balance, which is subject to vast changes over the decades.  If you're looking at a sustainable model that doesn't EVER see a situation that the former BXII found themselves in, then this makes a lot of sense.  On top of that, you'd have a 75% chance every year that you'd be playing your major rival if you find yourself in opposite divisions.  There's also the chance that you'd meet up in the championship game anyways.

The fluctuating divisions allow for competitive balance in real time.  The rivalries will largely work themselves out, and if somebody smarter than me can figure it out, maybe there's a way to guarantee 1 rivalry between two teams regardless of division.  I can't figure out a way to make a "protected rivalry" game that doesn't involve a whole slew of really weird "rivalry rankings."  Under a static system, you're playing your cross-divisional rivals 2 years out of 3 on a guaranteed rotation.  Under this system, you're playing the odds at 2/3 of the time in exchange for what I'm calling "real time competitive fairness."

Does it work?  Probably not.  Will it be implemented?  Almost certainly not.  But it's kind of fun to tinker around with.  Can you figure out a better way?  Maybe a way to protect rivalries?  Hit me up.  It's the offseason, after all, the mind will wander...