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Division Alignment and 9 Game Conference Schedules Get Real

Confirming the already confirmed, Wisconsin AD Barry Alverez spoke to media yesterday saying that a 9-game Big Ten schedule will be adopted for the season of 2015.  Additionally, Alverez confirmed that rivals Iowa and Wisconsin will be placed in different divisions.  While official divisional alignments are not set to be announced until September, we can read the tea leaves from just that statement.  Let's take a look at what 9-game Big Ten schedules will do, then go over some of the permutations that exist when you put Wisconsin and Iowa in separate divisions.

The decision to go to a 9-game Big Ten schedule has been controversial amongst coaches, but almost universally applauded amongst fans.  Jim Tressel has been one of the more vocal critics, saying that the revenue lost from non-conference games could threaten non-revenue sports at the university.  Ron Zook sees a more difficult path to the post season for Big Ten teams which, in today's "gimme gimme gimme" attitude towards coaching, could make it more difficult for coaches to live up to expectations:

"It's going to cost (the conference) bowl berths. It's going to knock teams out of the postseason," Zook said. "And it could cost somebody their job....This is why they don't let coaches have a say in this. I understand the desire to keep more of our revenues inside the conference, and the fans' preference for conference games instead of lesser opponents. But you're adding six more losses to our records -- that hurts the league," Zook said. "I don't know of many coaches who will be in favor of this."

Of course, Mr. Zook, if the Big Ten - and college football as a whole - would actually give the fans and the sport the kind of out of conference scheduling that is needed, then this wouldn't be an issue.  Basically, Zook is complaining that the Big Ten can't schedule non-competitive and frankly stupid games against 1-aa teams and other pushovers that nobody wants to see.  In this case, the Big Ten is being proactive in giving the fans and (I'm guessing) the players what they want:  more competitive games.  He is correct that there will be 6 more losses spread out throughout the conference, but the overall impact on the Big Ten in terms of fan-interest, competitive football, and revenue is a plus.

Minnesota head coach Tim Brewster (GO WIN PANTS TREMENDOUS!) is, not surprisingly given his motivational turrets and general penchant for EXCEL, in favor of the move, stating it thusly:

"I'm definitely in favor. I think competition brings out the best in everybody. For us to elevate the status of Minnesota football, we want to play teams that bring value to us," Brewster said. "Beating Towson State, to me, that doesn't elevate your program. The goal here is not to win six games and go to a bowl -- the goal is to win a championship. And to do that, you've got to focus on beating your peers."

To me, this is the attitude that the coaches need to have for the good of the sport.  For the good of the sport rarely wins against "for the good of me" though, so it's no wonder that some coaches are against the move.

A 9 game conference schedule gives the fans what they want, and you can count me firmly in favor.  If the goal is indeed to win championships - and not just save your job - then you need to measure your team against the best competition that you can.  If your team is really good enough to win that championship - be it the Big Ten, the bowl game, or the National Title - then you're good enough to run through a 9 win Big Ten schedule.  If you're afraid to play one more game against stiffer competition, then what's going to happen when you go down and play LSU in your bowl game?  Ron Zook's mentality is short-sighted and, frankly, selfish. 

Additionally, as mgoblog points out in a now-outdated post, with athletic departments expecting more and more cash from ticket holders (PSL's, involuntary donations to remain on the list, etc.), the pressure to supply a more, ahem, compelling(?) home schedule for season ticket packages is huge, and with the decision now official, fans win once again.

Now let's take a look at what divisional alignments may look like with Iowa and Wisconsin in different divisions.  I won't pretend to have the answers - these are coming off the top of my head and if you've got some different ideas, please do comment.  The momentum towards having OSU and UM in different divisions with their rivalry being a "protected cross-divisional" game seems to be gaining, so let's start with divisional alignments with OSU and UM in different divisions:

Div. 1

Michigan, Nebraska, Wisconsin, MSU, Northwestern, Indiana

Div. 2

Ohio State, Penn State, Iowa, Minnesota, Purdue, Illinois

Paramount here is the notion of "competitive balance" which I believe this achieves.  Maybe - just maybe - you could make a historical case for Div. 2 being slightly more competitive due to Purdue and Illinois having at least stretches of being "good" whereas Northwestern and Indiana are traditionally in the cellar.  Switch IU and Illinois maybe?  That would allow the Oakn Bucket game to be played in-division.  If Michigan and Ohio State DO manage to stay in the same division, it would likely just swap out Penn State for Michigan, or Nebraska for Ohio State, and the above would remain.

I will bet dollars to donuts that the above is what ends up happening, at least with the "top 8" teams in the conference.  The bottom four of Northwestern, Indiana, Purdue and Illinois could really be deployed in any way. 

Again - I don't have the answers as to what is the right thing to do.  But I do think that the divisions I've got laid out above are going to end up being pretty accurate, at least given the information we have today.