On Wednesday, the NCAA announced that conferences no longer need to feature the two division winners in their conference championship games, paving the way for the removal of divisions. While rumors about pod scheduling and protected opponents have been getting louder and louder, the Pac-12 made a splash by immediately announcing a change to their title game format:
NEWS: We've announced a change to the #Pac12FCG format.— Pac-12 Conference (@pac12) May 18, 2022
Starting in 2022, the two teams with the highest conference winning percentage will face off in the championship game.#Pac12FBhttps://t.co/Beg01ZV4od
In its press release, the Pac-12 noted that nearly half of its previous championship games would have been impacted by moving away from divisions and instead selecting the teams with the two best conference winning percentages. Like the Big Ten, the divisions have been extremely lopsided, with the North winning nine of the 11 matchups.
It is unclear if the Big Ten will follow suit so quickly (probably not), but I figured it would be interesting to see how past matchups would be changed assuming these rules. Two quick things to note for this exercise:
- I tried my best to follow the tiebreakers when necessary, typically coming down to common opponents
- The schedules are of course lopsided, but typically the top East teams have the better winning percentage anyway, despite having a tougher SOS
Big Ten Championship Games (CFP era)
2014: No. 5 Ohio State vs. No. 13 Wisconsin (unchanged)
2015: No. 5 Michigan State vs. No. 4 Iowa (unchanged)
2016: No. 7 Penn State vs. No. 6 Wisconsin -> No. 2 Ohio State replaces Wisconsin
2017: No. 8 Ohio State vs. No. 4 Wisconsin (unchanged)
2018: No. 6 Ohio State vs. No. 21 Northwestern -> No. 7 Michigan replaces Northwestern
2019: No. 1 Ohio State vs. No. 8 Wisconsin (unchanged)
2020: No. 4 Ohio State vs. No. 14 Northwestern (unchanged)
2021: No. 2 Michigan vs. No. 13 Iowa -> No. 7 Ohio State replaces Iowa
To sum it up, three of the eight games would have been changed, which is not insignificant. All three changes would swap out the West Division winner for the East runner-up. In terms of the CFP Rankings at the time, the changes would be:
2014: No. 6 -> No. 2
2018: No. 21 -> No. 7
2021: No. 13 -> No. 7
It is hard to argue that any of these swaps would be problematic from a competitive standpoint, with two teams outside the top 10 being replaced by much stronger schools instead. No one can state that 2018 Northwestern or 2021 Iowa was actually the second-best team in the conference, and their inclusion was entirely due to the divisional imbalance.
However, there might be some pushback from traditionalists, who do compromise a large portion of Big Ten fanbases. Both the 2018 (No. 6 Ohio State vs. No. 7 Michigan) and 2021 (No. 2 Michigan vs. No. 7 Ohio State) championship games would be direct rematches from the week before, potentially diluting the country’s greatest rivalry.
Still, I think this is a move the Big Ten needs to make. The best teams should be rewarded, and if that happens to be both Michigan and Ohio State then so be it. There is no world in which setting up a potential rematch the following week makes either team care any less about The Game during the regular season finale.