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The Big 16 – Once It’s Set, How It Could Work

Lots of gossip on Monday about the Big Ten (maybe, maybe not) extending offers to Missouri, Nebraska, Notre Dame, and Rutgers to join their little league. There are countless possibilities in how this could all play out and the ripple effects left on the other leagues (bad news, Big East & Big XII). But I’ll try and follow up with those once something actually happens. Gotta let that first domino fall before we go too crazy.

But, in all the madness, we haven’t actually spent too much time on how this thing will actually work. You know, like, how will they divide up divisions, do you play everyone in the division, how many permanent non-division rivals will there be, how many rotating opponents, rules for division/conference champions, where will the championship game be played… so many questions.

Lucky for you, I have answers. Or at least ideas.

The four schools that were mentioned in the report Monday are all fine by me. No problem with Missouri (which is probably a lock), Nebraska (which, the longer I think about it, makes more and more sense), or Rutgers (why not). And of course, Notre Dame should have joined the Big Ten long ago.

And I say they’re all in. Welcome.

But that only gives us 15. And that’s never the number mentioned in these expansions, because 15 is a bad number when it comes to scheduling and evening out divisions. So, we need one more, and I’m going to choose…

Pittsburgh. Geographic fit, a strong football program, a top-notch men’s basketball program and outstanding academics. Not only do we have instant revitalization in the Pittsburgh/Penn State rivalry, but Pittsburgh is also only three hours away from Columbus. Pretty good deal.

I give you your new Big 16: Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, Notre Dame, Northwestern, Ohio State, Penn State, Pittsburgh, Purdue, Rutgers, and Wisconsin.

Lot of teams. But how will it work?

Many are just assuming the league will go to two 8 team divisions with seven intra-divisional games and two inter-divisional games a year (one permanent, one rotating). Nine conference games? That’d be something new. This is fine, and also, b-o-r-i-n-g.

Under this model, Nebraska could go as many as twelve years without – in the regular season – playing Penn State, or Ohio State, or really anyone else on the eastern side should that be how they group up the divisions. To me, this doesn’t make for a cohesive football league, and definitely provides no platform towards developing new rivalries, and likely destroys established ones.

So Wisconsin fans could say, “Wait, we got all excited about expanding the conference, and now we won’t see Ohio State again until my 6th grader is out of graduate school?”

Other models could include a revamped schedule where you don’t play everyone in your division, increasing the number of interdivisional matchups. I’m also not thrilled with a situation where two schools could potentially be tied for their conference/divisional title without having played. ‘Co-divisional champions’ can be saved for college basketball.

But in all this talk, and with all these questions, there is one that I haven’t heard…

Who said we HAVE to have two divisions?

Why not four?

Allow me to sprinkle some knowledge on college football. Here’s how I would draw up the Big 16.

Four divisions, divided more or less by geography and potential rivals:

Northwest: Nebraska, Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota
Great Lakes: Northwestern, Michigan, Michigan State, Purdue
Southern: Illinois, Indiana, Notre Dame, Missouri
Rust Belt: Ohio State, Pittsburgh, Penn State, Rutgers

(I had considered calling the Northwest division ‘Fargo’, but then you’d of thought I wasn’t serious about all this. Rust Belt was going to be the ‘Dunder-Mifflin’.)

The schedule:
Your 3 intra-divisional opponents, alternating years on 1-2 & 2-1 on home-aways
2 permanent rivals, one home/one away
3 rotating inter-divisional opponents, opposite of that season’s intra-divisonal home-away

That gives you 8 games: 4 home, 4 away. Works pretty well for the SEC. And with this model, it doesn’t take forever to play everyone. (Only 5 years max after the first rotation is completed.)

And before we talk conference championship, what about the current rivalries? Surely this model would destroy those…

Depends on which one you think is important. The Big 16’s permanent rivals:

Nebraska: Michigan State, Missouri
Wisconsin: Pittsburgh, Indiana
Iowa: Missouri, Ohio State
Minnesota: Rutgers, Illinois

Northwestern: Illinois, Rutgers
Michigan: Ohio State, Penn State
Michigan State: Nebraska, Pitt
Purdue: Indiana, Notre Dame

Illinois: Northwestern, Minnesota
Indiana: Purdue, Wisconsin
Notre Dame: Penn State, Purdue
Missouri: Iowa, Nebraska

Pittsburgh: Wisconsin, Michigan State
Penn State: Notre Dame, Michigan
Rutgers: Minnesota, Northwestern
Ohio State: Michigan, Iowa

There you have it. Penn State ends up with what could be a tough go, with having to play Ohio State, Michigan, and Notre Dame every year. But what rivalries did we lose (at least for every year)?

Michigan State/Penn State. According to Wikipedia, that’s all I missed.

So how is a conference champion determined? With a championship game, of course.

But with four divisions in the conference, how can you fairly decide who is in the championship game?

Here’s where my genius (and the Big Ten’s tendency to finish the regular season before Thanksgiving) kicks in…

Can you imagine a pair of semifinal games deciding who will play in the Big 16 Championship Game? Played over Thanksgiving Weekend??? (********TV RATINGS********)

Followed up by a championship game the following weekend rotating between domed stadiums in Detroit, Indianapolis, and St. Louis? (What, you want Soldier Field in the mix, too? And the new Giants Stadium? Okay, fine with me.)

That’s what I’d do. If the Big 10/16 truly wants to be a trend-setter and outside of the box, go ahead and give football fans what they’ve been clamoring for: a mini-playoff.

The Big 16 doesn’t need to tie itself to the conventional when it is attempting to do otherwise.

The Big 16? I’ll take it. But slice mine four ways.

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May 10, 2010 - Posted by | NCAA Football

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