The Big Ten's future division alignment is taking shape. Barring a late shift in the discussions between athletic directors and league officials, the only question to sort out is: Will Indiana or Purdue move West?
League sources have told ESPN.com that the Big Ten, as expected, will go with a geographic split for its divisions in 2014. As we first reported last month, time zones are expected to divide the divisions. The only problem: eight Big Ten schools are located in the Eastern time zone, including future members Maryland and Rutgers, while just six are located in the Central time zone.
One team needs to move West, and speculation has centered on three schools: Purdue, Indiana and Michigan State. But Michigan State isn't in play to move West, sources say, and the debate now is whether Indiana or Purdue enters the "West" division.
Although no announcement is imminent and discussions will continue, here's what the divisions are expected to look like (the division names have yet to be decided):
Purdue or Indiana
Purdue or Indiana
Before Hoosier fans and Boiler fans panic about their annual rivalry, rest assured that the Bucket game will be preserved with a protected crossover. Barring a change in the discussions, Indiana-Purdue will be the only protected crossover, as the Big Ten wants to create as much flexibility as possible with its schedules.
League sources tell ESPN.com that a 9-game conference schedule likely will go into effect for the 2016 season -- there's still some discussion about a 10-game league slate, but all signs point to nine -- and that the goal is for every pair of teams to play at least once every four years.
The proposed alignment likely will spark concern about whether the "East" division -- featuring Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State and Michigan State -- has too much firepower. You can make a good case (Brian Bennett did) that moving Michigan State to the West creates better competitive balance, but the sentiment among the power brokers is that the West still will have enough substance with Nebraska, Wisconsin, Iowa and an improving Northwestern program. Michigan State athletic director Mark Hollis recently talked about the advantages of being linked to the East Coast and reiterated his desire to play Michigan every year.
So it's almost certainly coming down to Purdue versus Indiana. Purdue has the richer football heritage, reaching 12 bowl games since the 1997 season. Indiana appears to be on the rise under coach Kevin Wilson but must overcome a history of losing. Both teams have trophy games against other Big Ten squads -- Purdue and Illinois play for the Purdue Cannon, while Indiana and Michigan State play for the Old Brass Spittoon -- but both series are, in our view, expendable.
My division alignment proposal had Purdue going West, and I'm sticking to it. Purdue is stronger historically and gives the West a program that not long ago was competing for league titles. Although Indiana certainly is headed in the right direction, Purdue is a safer pick to balance out the power in the East.
What do you think? Be sure to vote in the poll and send me your thoughts.