Big Ten's divisional overhaul OK'd

The Big Ten on Sunday approved new East and West divisions for the 2014 season as well as a nine-game conference schedule beginning in 2016.

The league's presidents and chancellors voted unanimously to approve the recommendations from the athletic directors Sunday morning during a conference call.

The division realignment coincides with the arrival of new conference members Maryland and Rutgers.

Gone are Legends and Leaders, the controversial division names the Big Ten adopted in 2011, as the league went with a clear geographical model and geographic names for its new alignment.

The Big Ten East will include: Indiana, Maryland, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Penn State and Rutgers. The Big Ten West will include: Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, Northwestern, Purdue and Wisconsin.

Every East division team is located in the Eastern time zone, while every West division team except Purdue is located in the Central time zone.

Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany told ESPN.com that geography was the first priority in aligning divisions, followed by preserving rivalries and then competitive balance. The Big Ten used competitive balance as its top priority in aligning the Legends and Leaders divisions in 2011.

"It's pure geography," Delany said. "Last time, we were a combination of competitive balance and geography being last. So those names weren't available to us last time. We didn't have a lot of discussion on it."

League athletic directors met six times to discuss the divisions after Maryland and Rutgers joined in November. The presidents and chancellors spent 15-20 minutes discussing the moves Sunday before voting.

The league considered the results of a Big Ten Network survey in December, asking fans about the new division alignment.

"We thought the geography was a good way to bind the conference together," Delany said. "We also wanted to preserve as much tradition as we could, and we do that through the protection of the rivalries. Everybody will play everybody at least once in a four-year cycle, even though it's a bigger conference.

"It's good for the fans, it's good for the players. It strengthens our schedule from the perspective of the postseason and binds the conference together in a powerful way."

Delany also said there have been no discussions about divisions in other sports but that basketball scheduling is next on their agenda.

The Big Ten will have a 31 percent increase in league games (from 48 to 63) despite adding just two new members.

Rivals Purdue and Indiana will play the league's only annual division crossover game. In the previous alignment, every Big Ten squad played one protected crossover each year. Although Purdue-Indiana is the only protected crossover, the league will have cross-division rotations.

"In the first 18 years, you're going to see a lot of competition between teams at the top of either division," Delany said. "We call that a bit of parity-based scheduling, so you'll see Wisconsin, Nebraska and Iowa playing a lot of competition against Penn State, Ohio State and Michigan. But it will rotate. Early on, we feel this gives the fans what they want."

The Big Ten will join the Pac-12 and Big 12 with a nine-game league schedule for 2016. The East division teams will have five conference home games in even-numbered years, and West division teams will have five conference home games in odd-numbered years. Big Ten teams will play all of the other conference squads at least once every four years.

Big Ten athletic directors discussed moving to a 10-game conference schedule, but it ultimately proved too difficult because many league teams need to play at least seven home games a year to meet their budgets.

"It was fully explored," Delany said of a 10-game league schedule. "It would have been nice, but we were having difficulty seeing 28 nonconference games and getting accomplished what we want in terms of major matchups. We felt we'd have a much harder time getting to seven home games.

"We just thought it was a reach. Who's to say in the future where we may go, but right now, we felt nine was the right place to be."

The Big Ten last played nine league games in a season in 1983-84.

The league's athletic directors and presidents also approved a scheduling model that includes at least one team from a major FBS conference per year and no FCS teams. Delany hopes the model will be in place league-wide by 2016.

The league approved a nine-game schedule in August 2011 but went back to eight after forming a scheduling partnership with the Pac-12. When the partnership fell apart last summer, the Big Ten decided to keep an eight-game league schedule, which will remain for the next three seasons.

The Big Ten's initial division alignment for the 2011 season was based primarily on competitive balance rather than geography. Teams such as Wisconsin and Illinois were moved in the opposite division from some of their rivals, and several top rivalries, such as Michigan-Ohio State, were protected with crossover games.