Big Ten splits up Michigan, Ohio State

Any Michigan man will tell you, there is nothing quite like beating Ohio State. Every Buckeye agrees, a win over that team from up North is priority No. 1.

Well, now Michigan and Ohio State could get two chances in a season to beat their fiercest rival.

What would Woody and Bo have thought of that? A rematch!

The Big Ten announced its divisional breakdown Wednesday night and Ohio State and Michigan will be in different six-team divisions when the league expands to 12 members in 2011.

Neither division has been named but they break down like this: Michigan, Nebraska, Iowa, Michigan State, Minnesota and Northwestern in one. Ohio State, Penn State, Wisconsin, Illinois, Purdue and Indiana in the other.

Commissioner Jim Delany said creating divisions with competitive equality was the top priority and No. 2 was maintaining a cross-division rivalry game.

Michigan and Ohio State will be a cross-divisional rivalry and continue to play each other each year in the Big Ten regular-season finale, as they have since 1943. That means they could wind up meeting again for the conference championship a week or two later. Not in the Big House or the Horseshoe but on a neutral field. Maybe even a domed stadium.

”Basically, we decided to go with the final season date because that was a way to maintain the tradition,” Delany said. ”The conference has a wonderful history of not only rivalry games but also trophy games.”

Big Ten teams will play eight conference games the next two seasons, but that could increase in the future.

”The athletic directors have the intention of exploring a ninth conference game in 2015,” Delany said.

Nebraska will join the Big Ten as its 12th team next year, allowing the conference to split into two divisions and add a lucrative championship game. The first Big Ten football championship game will be played in Indianapolis at Lucas Oil Stadium, the indoor home of the NFL’s Colts.

The expansion put the conference in a delicate balancing act, trying to add to its coffers without diminishing its rich traditions, none bigger than Michigan vs. Ohio State.

”I’m very pleased that we came out of this with protected rivalries that will go on permanently with Ohio State and Michigan State,” Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon told The Associated Press. ”We’ll play Ohio State in the last game of the regular season, following a tradition that has lasted for decades. And if we both earn the right, we can play the Buckeyes again in the Big Ten championship game.”

For years, the matchup known simply as ”The Game” in Big Ten country has been the conference’s signature rivalry, one of the most storied and tradition-rich in all of sports. The Buckeyes and Wolverines have played 106 times since 1897.

Twenty-two times ”The Game” has determined whether Ohio State or Michigan won the Big Ten championship.

Never was the rivalry more intense or more significant than from the late 1960s through the ’70s, when Ohio State coach Woody Hayes and Michigan coach Bo Schembechler waged what has been dubbed ”the Ten-Year War.”

While ”The Game” will never be the same since the title won’t be at stake in the regular season, the league is still banking on it to be a big deal. And then there’s the tantalizing possibility of even bigger TV ratings if the maize and blue meet the scarlet and gray in the league championship less than a month later.

”I think it’s a great opportunity for both programs to win divisions and be in the championship games,” Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith said on the Big Ten Network, ”and if we do play back to back, and if you look back over history quite frankly it’s rare that happens, if it does happen it’s great for fans.”

Michigan-Ohio State wasn’t the only tradition for Big Ten officials to consider.

Illinois athletic director Ron Guenther confirmed Wednesday, before the Big Ten’s announcement, that Northwestern and the Illini would be matched up and face each other every year for The Land of Lincoln Trophy.

Longtime rivals such as Iowa and Minnesota, Michigan and Michigan State, and Purdue and Indiana wound up in the same division, while Wisconsin and Minnesota were split.

That means Iowa can still square off each fall with Minnesota for Floyd of Rosedale, a bronze statue of a pig, and Minnesota and Michigan can play for the Little Brown Jug every season.

But it’s not a given that there will be annual games for the Brass Spittoon (Indiana-Michigan State) or the Governor’s Victory Bell (Minnesota-Penn State).

Nebraska’s cross-divisional rival will be Penn State, pitting the Big Ten’s two newest members.

AP Sports Writers Larry Lage in Ann Arbor, Mich., Eric Olson in Omaha, Neb., and Andrew Seligman in Chicago, and Associated Press Writer David Merce in Champaign, Ill., contributed to this report.