March 22, 2013
The additions of Maryland and Rutgers in 2014 will push the Big Ten to 14 members, forcing the conference that may or may not drop from the FCS level (chuckle) to reshape the look of its two divisions.
In January, commissioner Jim Delany strongly hinted that the league would use this opportunity to divide the membership geographically. A couple of months later, that appears to be the direction in which the conference is headed.
ESPN.com writes that, "[b]arring a late shift in the discussions between athletic directors and league officials," the Big Ten "will go with a geographic split for its divisions in 2014." With eight members in the Eastern time zone — Indiana, Maryland, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Penn State, Purdue and Rutgers — and six in the Central — Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, Northwestern and Wisconsin — one of the former schools will be forced to move into what for now we'll call the West division.
It's expected, ESPN.com reports, that either Indiana or Purdue will move west, with their annual Old Oaken Bucket rivalry game protected in what's expected to become a nine-game conference schedule a couple of years down the road.
Regardless of whether it's the Hoosiers or Boilermakers, the Big Ten divisions will certainly take on a significantly different look if they are split geographically. Below is the current makeup of the Leaders and Legends divisions — those pretentious and self-serving names, incidentally, are expected to mercifully go the way of New Coke and Morton Downey Jr. — with their projected new divisions in parentheses:
Ohio State (East)
Penn State (East)
Michigan State (East)
*Maryland and Rutgers would be expected to join the "Eastern" teams upon entering the league next year
On paper, the balance of power football-wise would appear to heavily favor the East with Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State and Penn State compared to Nebraska and Wisconsin in the West. Given the cyclical nature of the sport, though, it would be prudent for the Big Ten to base its divisional split geographically and not worry which programs happen to be "up" at the moment.
Just when the Big Ten will announce how its two-division setup will look is not known, although ESPN.com notes that a decision is not imminent and that discussions will continue.