Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany held a teleconference tonight with media members about the league's new division alignment, which goes into effect for the 2011 season.
Here are some of the highlights:
As the league examined data from 1993 until now, three tiers of teams emerged, based solely on performance. Tier 1: Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State, Nebraska. Tier 2: Wisconsin and Iowa. Tier 3: Purdue, Northwestern, Michigan State, Indiana, Illinois, Minnesota. The league went about dividing each tier to form divisions. "We went in the room together, we had differences from time to time, but we came out of the room together," Delany said.
Delany said fan input mattered during the process, especially regarding the Ohio State-Michigan game. Nebraska athletic director Tom Osborne said on the Big Ten Network that he was beginning to take heat from fans asserting that he was destroying the league's top rivalry. "We heard the fans," Delany said. "There's no doubt about that their voice mattered." Athletic directors Gene Smith (Ohio State) and Dave Brandon (Michigan) both looked relieved that The Game is staying put. Delany also shot down the notion that the Big Ten was putting out trial balloons to gauge the reaction to a possible Ohio State-Michigan move.
Division champions will be determined by all games played within the league. If two teams tie for the division lead, the head-to-head winner goes to the league title game. If there's a three-way tie, the team with the best record against the rest of the division goes to the championship. If there's still a tie, the Big Ten will use the BCS standings in some form that's still to be determined.
Delany said teams were evaluated based purely on performance, not as brand names. "How successfully they were financially didn't factor," he said. Also, he downplayed his ability to sell a potential Ohio State-Michigan meeting in the Big Ten championship to potential TV partners. "I'm convinced that whoever makes it to that championship game is going to do a great [rating]," Delany said. "I'm not worried about repeats for Ohio State-Michigan."
The Big Ten still needs to vote on a nine-game conference schedule, but if and when it happens, a second protected crossover is unlikely. Delany seems to favor having shorter gaps between when league members play one another. "That's probably the fairest way to go," he said. I think two protected crossovers solves a lot of problems, but it doesn't seem like they're heading in that direction.
Delany admitted that Wisconsin is "geographically stretched" in the new alignment, as the Badgers were split from the Iowa-Nebraska-Minnesota bloc on the western edge of the league. The good news is Wisconsin will play Nebraska in a cross-division matchup to open the Big Ten season in both 2011 and 2012. And the Minnesota rivalry will be preserved. "I think the Badgers are a national college football program in a great conference," Delany said. "[Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez] advocated hard for more regional representation, but he also said, 'Gentlemen, no matter where you are, you have to win games, and we got good by winning games.' He understood you're going to have to beat the very best." Wisconsin definitely has the biggest gripe of any program. The Badgers are victims of their own success.
Delany said there were no ulterior motives behind Nebraska's initial Big Ten schedule, which includes road games against Wisconsin, Michigan and Penn State, and home dates with both Ohio State and Iowa. But he also acknowledged, "They wanted to be in the league in 2011. We did back flips to make it happen."
The athletic directors only recommended one schedule to the presidents, but two ideas were in play. The one they didn't go with called for all rivalry/trophy games to be played in the first seven weeks of the season. The final two weeks would be reserved solely for divisional play. Ultimately, the big wigs felt hamstrung by keeping things solely within the divisions in the final two weeks. "What we're going to see is rivalry and trophy games being played in eight of our nine weeks," Delany said. "We said we wanted to do tradition, we said we wanted to do equal competition. We felt we could do both with this move." Moving the Michigan-Ohio State game to October was never discussed, Delany said on the Big Ten Network.
The Big Ten's next steps are to name the divisions, the division championship trophies and the league championship trophy. Delany also hopes to get a logo and a long-term branding identity for the league in place by Dec. 1. The league likely won't examine a long-term plan for the football championship game until the spring, but Delany offered up this little nugget: "We are not closing our door to outdoor football."