Originally posted April 29, 2013, on IndySportsLegends.com.
Well, then. No more Legends and Leaders in college football.
If I had lowercased those “L’s” in the previous sentence, I think I could have been tarred and feathered, or at least considered as touched in the head. Instead, I’m among a lot of college football fans relieved to see the naming changes to the Big 10 conference.
Being a fan of the newest guy in town — that being Nebraska (I’m not counting Rutgers or Maryland as newbies until they actually start playing games in conference) — and probably because it’s how my brain is wired, I’m probably more wedded to a geographic alignment than others might be.
Having said that, I think the move makes sense from a rivalry perspective as well. The aforementioned Nebraska can still hook horns with next-door neighbor Iowa and have an annual clash with developing rival Wisconsin. Michigan, Ohio, Penn State? They can keep their rivalries without missing a year.
And allowances have been made for Indiana and Purdue, split by the new alignment, to play against each other in football each year. Other cross-division rivalries, however, won’t be played annually.
In all, there will be six division games and two cross-division games in 2014 and 2015. Come 2016, the number of cross-division contests will increase to three.
The aforementioned addition of Rutgers and Maryland has made for an interesting shift in philosophy among Big 10 leaders, or, shall we say, Commissioner Jim Delaney. When Nebraska was being wooed behind the scenes, the word was all about competitive balance. Geography was mentioned, but ultimately it wasn’t that big a factor in the finished alignment product. Now, though, it’s all about the geography. And this makes a lot of sense. There’s the rivalry aspect, but now there’s also the travel side of things both from a department budget and spectator standpoint.
There are some legitimate short-term concerns about how this impacts the conference’s in-house competitive balance, especially in football. Nebraska and Wisconsin are really the only powerhouses in the West, and you’re not sure what you will get out of teams like Iowa, Northwestern and Purdue from year to year…or game to game, for that matter. The West balance, if you can call it that, is in the middle of the pack. The East, though, is balanced at the top, with Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State and Penn State all on a close-to-level playing field. Once Rutgers gets added, it could add itself to the upper echelon of division teams, skewing the competitive balance between divisions even more.
The other big question? How that competitive imbalance may affect the conference’s chances of moving forward in the new playoff system.
The answers obviously won’t come for some time yet. But you can’t argue the thought process behind the changes.