We'll know the Big Ten division alignment in the next 3-4 weeks, and the scheduling for 2011 and beyond should be finalized shortly thereafter. The wait has been agonizing, but there were a few nuggets of information that came out Tuesday, courtesy of Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany.
Delany addressed the big-ticket topics in an interview with the Husker Sports Network in Nebraska.
After saying at Big Ten media days that he'd like to implement a nine-game conference schedule in the next 2-4 years, Delany backed off the claim a bit. "I’m sure that we won’t have a ninth game over the next four years," he said. So we're looking at 2015 at the earliest, which makes sense given how many scheduling contracts have been signed for the next few seasons.
He reiterated that competitive balance and the preservation of rivalries are the top two principles for determining divisions, while geography seems like a distant third criterion. "We didn’t think there’s any way we could achieve principle 1 and 2 if we were rigid about geographic contiguity," he said. "Some conferences do that, but we didn't think we could. We are aware of geography, but we’re not going to be driven by it.”
Asked about the likelihood of an East-West split with divisions, Delany said, "You can look at the principles and the rank order of the principles and you could pretty much rule that out, unless it produced something that had the competitive quality at the top." Looking at the teams' performance since 1993, you could make a case for an East-West split. But like I've said from the beginning, this is largely about branding, which Delany understands better than any of us. You don't put three of your four biggest brands in one division.
Delany said there's a "strong likelihood" the Big Ten will have protected crossover games between the two divisions.
Delany gave some insight on the process for determining divisions. The Big Ten will use the last 17 seasons, from the point when Penn State began competing as a league member, as the period to judge the teams and new member Nebraska. Said Delany: "We looked at won and loss record conference, [won-loss record] nonconference, national ranking, computer rankings, national championships, BCS games, nonconference records against BCS teams, and we tried to create, as comprehensively as we could, a picture of each school’s competitiveness."
He said that not all rivalry/trophy games can be preserved in the current form, but the league is trying to safeguard the most important ones to the institutions.
Big Ten presidents and athletic directors have been presented with a number of division models, which they've narrowed down a bit. Once a consensus begins to form, Delany will make a presentation to a subcommittee of Big Ten presidents, who will have opportunities to ask questions about the plan. Delany will target a recommendation from the subcommittee. In the interim, athletic directors will be briefing the coaches on what's happening. The final step is a vote by the Big Ten presidents. "Within 30 days, we’re going to be able to have our divisions, have the protected rivalries and be pretty close, if not there, with the 2011 actual schedule," Delany said.
The football divisions won't affect scheduling in basketball or other sports, Delany said.
On the addition of Nebraska, Delany said, "Inside [the league], very powerful, very positive. Outside, there’s a real recognition that when you look at the Big Ten … the expansion we’ve experienced is clearly as good or better than anyone else’s.”
Delany will be scoreboard watching this fall, as he tracks Nebraska's play in its final season in the Big 12.