The first two Big Ten division dominoes have fallen.
Although league commissioner Jim Delany doesn't expect to announce divisions and the 2011 schedule until mid September, one piece of the puzzle has been revealed. Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez tells the Wisconsin State Journal that Wisconsin and Iowa will be placed in different divisions when the plan comes out.
Alvarez didn't reveal more specifics but said it's pretty obvious to decipher the divisions based on the selection criteria, which examines performance since 1993, the year when Penn State began competing in the Big Ten.
Alvarez implied that it shouldn't be hard to figure out how the 12 schools will be arranged in the two divisions. He said there are four distinct tiers of teams, led by the four that have won national championships in the past 25 years: Ohio State, Michigan, Nebraska and Penn State.
The next level has UW and Iowa "within a hair" of one another, according to Alvarez.
Using comparative data compiled since 1993 when Penn State made its Big Ten football debut, Northwestern and Purdue would likely lead the next grouping, followed by some mixing and matching of Illinois, Indiana, Michigan State and Minnesota.
Given Alvarez's revelation and the recent buzz about Michigan and Ohio State, it seems pretty obvious which direction the Big Ten is headed with division alignment. The protected crossovers will allow the league to put some rivals (not all) in different divisions, maintain their annual games and also create the possibility for rematches in the Big Ten championship game, which needs attractive matchups for TV to compete with other contests on the same day (SEC, Big 12, ACC, Pac-10).
You can make a strong case that the Big Ten is prioritizing the championship game, a likely cash cow, ahead of tradition.
Wisconsin and Iowa currently play every season as protected rivals. The teams have met 85 times since 1894. It's a good bet that their matchup will be protected through a crossover. But as I brought up a while back, it's hard to preserve the Wisconsin-Iowa-Minnesota rivalry bloc and grow the league.
Given this new information and what we know about the selection criteria, here's my best guess at the divisions:
I'm not sure of the crossovers, aside from Michigan-Ohio State and most likely Penn State-Nebraska.
Your final regular-season Saturday, which almost certainly would feature intra-division games, could look like this: Michigan-Michigan State, Iowa-Nebraska, Illinois-Northwestern, Ohio State-Penn State, Wisconsin-Minnesota and Purdue-Indiana.