Penn State will be unable to participate in a bowl game the next four years, and the scholarship reductions could harm the program's competitiveness for even longer. So is it time for the Big Ten to take a look at realigning its divisions for competitive balance?
Remember that the league came up with the constituency for the Leaders and Legends Divisions based on that very factor, not geography. Balancing out the divisions in terms of traditional powers and brands (Ohio State and Penn State on one side, Michigan and Nebraska on the other) was the main reason for the alignment in the first place.
So I asked Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany on today's conference call whether the league would now consider shaking things up in the wake of the Penn State sanctions. Here is what he said:
"We have not discussed that. Obviously, [Penn State] will be ineligible for postseason play and there are a number of other sanctions that would affect them. You never say never, but ... I don't think that we have any plans to realign teams and institutions.
"Our structure is set for decades and not years. It's based on decades of data and decades of competitiveness. Institutions' competitiveness ebbs and flows. Obviously, the sanctions will undermine [Penn State's] competitiveness in the short term and perhaps the mid term. But I don't think that will lead to serious discussion of realignment of divisions."
I also asked Delany how concerned he was about competitive balance this season, with only four Leaders Division teams eligible for the Big Ten championship game since Ohio State is serving a one-year postseason ban. His response:
"I think that clearly it will have a competitive impact. To say that it wouldn't would not be what I think. At the same time, we have divisions, we have schedules, we have reality. We will deal with it.
"It will have an impact, there's no doubt about it. When you have two teams in the same division ineligible and only have four teams competing for that division title, that's a very significant competitive effect. But I don't see us making any structural changes as we look forward to the 2012 season."
My take: There's obviously nothing the league can really do about the 2012 season at this late date. And the Big Ten shouldn't overreact and immediately change its division alignments. But if Penn State is crippled by these sanctions and becomes a lower-tier team in the league, then the conference is going to have to take a serious look at realignment in the near future to maintain fairness within the division setup.