Big Ten Thursday mailbag

Answering a few emails before I leave the great state of Nebraska ...

Rob from New York, NY, writes: Brian, one thing that's bothered me since Nebraska came into the league is the league's insistence on artificially creating "rivalries" for the school while not allowing others to develop organically. In particular, there is this insistence that Iowa is Nebraska's main B1G rival and vice versa. It makes sense, but I'm not sure either fan base actually feels that way -- their angst seems to be directed more so at Wisconsin than at each other. Am I just missing something here or is the Iowa/Nebraska rivalry actually overblown?

Brian Bennett: Rob, you can't blame the Big Ten or the two schools for starting an end-of-season trophy game. Iowa is the closest Big Ten school to Nebraska, and as border states they make natural rivals. The problem is that the Hawkeyes haven't been very good in the first two years of the Heroes Game, and the games haven't been that much fun to watch, either. You need a history of tight games and some bad blood to really get a rivalry going. The Wisconsin game has had much more on the line in the first two seasons of Nebraska's Big Ten membership, and with those two about to go into the same division, that rivalry should heat up. I still think Iowa-Nebraska can be a good rivalry; Iowa just has to hold up its end of the bargain.

JP from Washington, D.C., writes: It sounds like a lot of people are pretty upset with the proposed East-West alignment for conference divisions. I bet Nebraska fans in particular are upset since it looks like they're right back where they started in the Big 12 North. So, I'm going to ask AGAIN: Why is the B1G so set on a two-division structure? You can solve SO MANY problems by getting rid of the divisions completely. Relieved of the constraints of divisional alignment, it took me about 30 minutes to come up with a four-year league schedule that has every team in the B1G playing one team (their biggest rival) four times, four teams three times, and eight teams twice. Keeping an eight-game league schedule, every team can still visit every single stadium in the conference once every four years, and Michigan can still play Ohio State every year (and Michigan State three out of every four years). I bet there is even a creative way to hang on to the B1G Championship Game. All we have to do is get rid of the divisions. Why is nobody discussing this?

Brian Bennett: JP, I actually prefer divisions for football leagues that have 12 or more teams. You're never going to have truly balanced schedules, but by making sure everyone in the same division plays each other, at least you get a better representation of who the best team in that division is. By having no divisions, you're guaranteeing even more imbalanced schedules. And of course the divisions allow for a championship game, which is a cash cow for the power leagues, so that's not going away. It's different in basketball, where there are enough games that you can play everybody in the league at least once.

@pfac51 via Twitter writes: how many November nite games will the B1G have in 2013? (list of games/best guess?)

Brian Bennett: There's no guarantee we get any November night games this year, though the Big Ten seems more open to it and the conference won't stand in the way. Jim Delany told ESPN.com last month that Ohio State, Nebraska and Penn State were among the schools pushing for a November night game. Ohio State's November schedule features only one home game: against Indiana. Not exactly a TV bonanza, though the Big Ten Network could be interested. Nebraska at Penn State on Nov. 23 has the potential to be a really attractive night game, with Michigan State's trip to Nebraska a week earlier also qualifying as a possible one. Frankly, I'd be surprised if we saw more than a small handful this year as league schools experiment with the idea and see how it goes. Hopefully, no one will suffer frostbite.

@ChadDutcher via Twitter writes: Why is geography, and not competitive balance, so important with B1G divisions? Travel costs aren't an issue with football.

Brian Bennett: Travel costs are an issue with Maryland, which needs to borrow change just to ride the bus across town. But I see your point. With only a handful of road games per year, travel isn't really a problem for football. And the league went for competitive balance, not geography, in its first go-round with divisions two years ago. The difference now is that the Big Ten is adding two East Coast schools with an eye on increasing its fan base and changing the demographics of the conference footprint. To maximize that, it makes sense to group those two teams with schools in the eastern part of the league, like Ohio State and Penn State. The Big Ten recognizes that it made a mistake when it added Penn State, in isolating the Nittany Lions on their own island. It is determined not to do that again, especially with two football programs that might need a little boost. And though competitive balance may suffer, at least it will be a whole lot easier to remember which teams are in each division.

Jon from Evanston, Ill., writes: So it looks like Northwestern basketball has a new man in Chris Collins who shares several qualities with Fitz including being young and from Chicago. Can any NU basketball success yield further opportunities for NU football, or would the two sports be competition for attention?

Brian Bennett: I don't think basketball success has much at all to do with football results, or else Indiana, Kentucky and Duke would be a lot better in football. The little impact a better basketball team at Northwestern could serve is to provide a good atmosphere for recruits who come in on weekend visits during hoops season and possibly to raise the school's overall brand recognition. But I doubt it would affect much of what Pat Fitzgerald does.