The Big Ten liberally used protected crossovers to preserve rivalries in its initial division alignment.
As the league prepares to realign the divisions in the coming weeks and months, it should view the protected crossover as a last resort.
The crossover games allowed the Big Ten to maintain annual rivalries like Ohio State-Michigan, Minnesota-Wisconsin and Northwestern-Illinois, while meeting its top objective of competitive balance in the divisions. But some protected crossovers carried little to no value for the teams or fan bases involved -- Iowa-Purdue, anyone? Iowa fans understandably had a hard time coming to terms with a setup that had their Hawkeyes facing Purdue every year but not playing longtime rival Wisconsin in 2011 or 2012.
The Ohio State-Michigan crossover game remained in its traditional spot on the final regular-season Saturday, and other crossovers like Penn State-Nebraska, Northwestern-Illinois and, yes, Purdue-Iowa have taken place during November. This is the month where division races are heating up, when there’s "build," as Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany puts it. The crossover games take away some of the intrigue.
Big Ten athletic directors have strongly hinted that geography will be a more important factor in realigning the divisions. Here’s a suggestion for another priority: Maintain as many rivalries within the division structure as possible. It’s impossible to account for every "rivalry," and division crossovers should be used to keep the most valuable annual series. But the crossover should no longer be a crutch for the league.
"If you can accommodate the vast majority of the traditional rivalries within the divisional splits," Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon told ESPN.com, "you create a lot more flexibility when you do your crossovers to move to other places and have more variety and travel to more campuses. I would advocate that."
Who wouldn't? As the Big Ten gets larger, it also becomes less intimate. Teams are playing each other less often.
The league brass must keep a schedule rotation in mind when figuring out models for 14 teams (and possibly 16 teams in the near future). As Brandon said, a setup where a Big Ten player goes through his entire career without playing a league opponent "doesn't make a lot of sense."
"It may be virtually impossible to protect all the rivalries through the divisional split,” Brandon said, "and to the extent you can’t, you can entertain potentially a hybrid, where maybe you have a couple of crossover rivalry games that are protected every year. But if you were in a situation where you didn’t necessarily have one of those, maybe those games could do a little more of a rotational deal."
If Purdue and Indiana end up in opposite divisions, preserve the Bucket game with a protected crossover. Do the same thing for Michigan and Michigan State.
But every series isn’t worth preserving annually, especially at the expense of a weaker rotation. Here’s hoping the Big Ten takes a more conservative approach with crossovers this time around.