New Big Ten creates division of opinion

Ohio State talked a lot of smack about wanting to be separated from Michigan, with the school president remarking about how it would be great for the Buckeyes to beat their hated rivals twice. There might be a change of heart after the way the divisions have been aligned.

Michigan eventually will come back and be a superpower program again, but for now, being in the same division as Penn State and Wisconsin is the bigger problem. While OSU might have been given the rougher of the two divisions, Wisconsin really can’t be happy.

Not only do the Badgers have Penn State and the Ohio State to deal with year after year, but they also miss out on Nebraska, Barry Alvarez’s alma mater, which would’ve been a relatively decent geographic tie, and they lose a natural tie-in with Northwestern, which is 150 miles away. Instead, Badger fans will have to make long, long trips to Happy Valley and Columbus to see the top games.

Iowa and Nebraska being in the same division is a great geographic tie-in and should quickly become one of the biggest new rivalries. Fortunately, Minnesota will be guaranteed its game against Wisconsin and will keep the long-running battle for the Paul Bunyan Axe in the same division, and getting Iowa and Nebraska is a major plus. Husker and Hawkeye fans will invade Minneapolis when their teams play the Gophers. Michigan and Michigan State stay together, as do Indiana and Purdue.

Of course, the big part about all of this is the split of Michigan and Ohio State. What’s being overlooked is how the first Ohio State – Michigan game will totally and completely lose its luster. If there’s a rematch, then the first game will be completely insignificant, and if the two don’t play for the title, then the first game will be an afterthought.

The thought is that the two will end up playing for the Big Ten title in the very near future, but the ACC had the same thought when Miami joined the ACC and put Florida State in a separate division, but the two have yet to play for the title.

There was a time when the Canes-Noles showdown ruled the world, and now it’s just another early season game. Michigan vs. Ohio State has the potential to matter little beyond Columbus and Ann Arbor now that the two will play in late November, as always, and then could play again a few weeks later. Yeah, you’re right… yuck. And it’s assuming a lot to think they days of the Big Two, Little Eight will return any time soon.

Penn State, Iowa, Wisconsin, and now Nebraska, aren’t pushovers and the Big Ten is taking a big roll of the dice to assume that Michigan and Ohio State will happen to meet on a regular basis for the title game, if ever.

Try to forget about the idea of Ohio State-Michigan, enjoy the new big rivalries as they’re being set up, and be really, really happy, Iowa and Nebraska, because you’re getting Michigan and not Ohio State.

More opinions on the moves

Matt Zemek, CFN: Well, this isn’t perfect, but at least The Game will remain where The Game belongs. Michigan and Ohio State will play at the end of the regular season, just as Mother Nature, Woody Hayes, Bo Schembechler, and God all intended.

Tradition is an endangered species in college football, so it’s essential to preserve it wherever and whenever possible. Yes, the split-division format will surely create back-to-back weekends of Buckeye-Wolverine ball, but at least the regular season will retain some of its magic. Moreover, with Michigan mired in the muck right now, it’s not as though we’re going to see the Wolverines get off the deck in time to make the 2011 Big Ten Championship Game in Indianapolis.

Elsewhere in the Big Ten’s plans: The competitive balance between the divisions is certainly fair in football. The Ohio State-Penn State-Wisconsin troika is matched by the Iowa-Michigan-Nebraska triumvirate in the other division. Some newly-forced rivalries on the last day of the Big Ten regular season will not work -– see Penn State-Wisconsin -– but others will, such as Nebraska-Iowa.

The creation of a Penn State-Nebraska (divisional) crossover rivalry is a particular illustration of the problems facing college sports right now. It’s roughly 1,100 miles between University Park, Pennsylvania, and Lincoln, Nebraska, but gosh, that 1994 national title controversy was really good fun, wasn’t it? And oh, what about those early-1980s battles between Tom Osborne and Joe Paterno, still prominently involved in their respective football programs?

In a time when only 14 Football Bowl Subdivision programs are turning a profit, the creation of a long-distance rivalry at the edges of the Big Ten’s geographic footprint flies in the face of common sense. It spits venom at anyone clamoring for various belt-tightening reforms in the world of big-ticket collegiate athletics. Yet, it creates a sexy matchup fans will love. There has to be a way to satisfy the fan while doing things that are holistically and institutionally responsible. Big Ten institutions are almost entirely state institutions, meaning that their coaches are state employees. There is and has always been a public trust here, but you just don’t see concern about taxpayer dollars entering into debates about football arrangements.

The mixed bag of emotions and realities connected to the Penn State-Nebraska rivalry is entirely fitting. After all, a mixed bag is exactly the way to look at this Big Ten layout. Good and bad components exist at an even 1-to-1 ratio.

Richard Cirminiello: There’s tradition. And then there’s Big Ten tradition, which is so deep-rooted and extensive that it actually created a splitting headache for those in charge of splitting the league into two divisions. There was no possible way to make everyone happy in this process. Like any major change, that just wasn’t feasible.

In the end, the Big Ten did its best to maintain many of the league’s storied rivalries, while also keeping a close eye on the bottom line. In the instances where long-time rivals have been separated, like Michigan-Ohio State and Minnesota-Wisconsin, those schools will continue to play annually, so this process shouldn’t mess with tradition very much at all. Plus, it’s not as if any one particular match up has been dissolved for good. It just means that it might be on ice for a year, which has happened anyway ever since Penn State joined and created an unbalanced schedule.

The bottom line is that Big Ten officials did as good a job as could be expected, even preserving the Wolverines-Buckeyes on the final weekend of the regular season, which had created so much hand-wringing.