June 26, 2010

Roundtable: Divisions for Big Ten, Pac-10

At the College Football Roundtable each week, we ask each member of the college football coverage staff for their opinion about a topic in college football.

TODAY'S QUESTION: The Big Ten and Pac-10 each now have 12 members. How would you divide them into divisions?

Olin Buchanan's answer:
At least to some degree, I think geography should be a factor in divisions. The ACC has no geographical guide in its set-up and that makes for some confusion. That said, I think it's OK to take a few liberties with geography to ensure a semblance of balance. For example, I'd have no issue with the Big Ten putting Michigan and Ohio State in different divisions, provided the conference adopts an interdivisional playing partner formula like the SEC uses to make sure traditional rivalries continue. The Big 12 was wrong not to do something similar to keep the Oklahoma-Nebraska game an annual event. We cannot lose the annual Ohio State-Michigan grudge match, even though I think it would be great if those teams also could play for the conference championship. Therefore, I'll assume the Big Ten will maintain interdivisional rivalries and set the division as such. In the East, it would be Penn State, Ohio State, Indiana, Purdue, Northwestern and Illinois. The West would have Michigan, Michigan State, Iowa, Nebraska, Wisconsin and Minnesota. As far as the Pac-10 goes, I think the four California schools should be split to keep open the possibility of an all-California championship game. So under my plan, the Pac-10 South would include USC, UCLA, Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado and Utah. The North would have Washington, Washington State, Oregon, Oregon State, California and Stanford. Unlike the Big Ten, I don't think the Pac-10 should be compelled to ensure annual interdivisional rivalries. In the Pac-10, each team's primary rival already would be in the same division.

Tom Dienhart's answer:
The Big Ten is a bigger issue, as it's difficult to draw true geographic boundaries that also maintain some type of competitive balance. Keeping major rivalries together while also trying to maintain competitive equality in divisions, here is how I would break down the Big Ten. In one division, I would have Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Purdue, Indiana and Northwestern. In the other, I would put Iowa, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Nebraska and Penn State. Penn State is the only geographic misfit, but you need to separate the Nittany Lions from Ohio State and Michigan to maintain competitive balance. To me, the Pac-10 is more cut and dried. In the North, it would be Oregon, Oregon State, Washington, Washington State, California and Stanford. In the South, it would be Arizona, Arizona State, USC, UCLA, Utah and Colorado.

David Fox's answer:
I just hope the Big Ten and Pac-10 don't look to the ACC for advice in splitting up the divisions. Five years later, it still takes a couple of minutes to recall the teams in the ACC Atlantic and ACC Coastal. Here's my advice: Split the teams geographically and give the divisions logical, directional names. Here's what I picked. In the Big Ten East, it would be Indiana, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Penn State and Purdue. In the Big Ten West, it would be Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, Northwestern and Wisconsin. The only important rivalry broken up is Michigan and Minnesota's game for the Little Brown Jug, but I would advise the Big Ten to adopt the SEC's model to preserve that rivalry and set up permanent inter-divisional games between Purdue-Illinois (for something called the Purdue Cannon), Penn State-Nebraska, Ohio State-Iowa, Michigan State-Wisconsin and Indiana-Northwestern. Sure, the Big Ten won't get an Ohio State-Michigan championship game, but I don't think playing in the same division has harmed Texas and Oklahoma or Alabama and Auburn. Meanwhile, the ACC is still waiting for a Miami-Florida State title game. In the Pac-10, I would have Arizona, Arizona State, Cal, Stanford, UCLA and USC in the South, and Colorado, Oregon, Oregon State, Washington, Washington State and Utah in the North. The Pac-10 currently works well as a set of five pairs. Utah and Colorado would be the only duo that doesn't share a state, but, hey, that's the price of joining the league in 2011. Unlike the Big Ten or the SEC, there's no reason to preserve divisional rivalries. The schedule-makers will be hard-pressed to make sure the North schools get into southern California for a road trip on a regular basis, however.

Mike Huguenin's answer:
The Big Ten can't do an East/West breakdown because the East -- which would have Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State -- would be too top-heavy. If the Big Ten is set on doing it by geography, there could be a North/South breakdown -- Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Northwestern, Penn State and Wisconsin in the "North," and Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, Purdue and Ohio State in the "South." The Big Ten also could follow the ACC's model and come up with mish-mash divisions. In my version, which I prefer, each team's "natural" rival actually would be in the other division and those teams would meet annually. In Division A, there would be Michigan, Nebraska, Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin and Michigan State; in Division B, it would be Ohio State, Iowa, Northwestern, Purdue, Minnesota and Penn State. To me, the Pac-10 is easy: California, Oregon, Oregon State, Stanford, Washington and Washington State in the North and Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado, UCLA, USC and Utah in the South. Technically, Cal/Stanford and Colorado/Utah could be switched, but from a recruiting fairness standpoint, it wouldn't be good to put all four California schools in the same division.

Steve Megargee's answer:
This was tough. For the Big Ten, I thought about splitting the teams geographically but couldn't come up with a plan that provided enough competitive balance between the divisions. So I decided to break up a bunch of traditional rivalries by going with a Schembechler Division (Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Michigan State, Nebraska and Wisconsin) and a Hayes Division (Iowa, Minnesota, Northwestern, Ohio State, Penn State and Purdue). We could keep the rivalries afloat by pairing each team with a partner in the other division that it would face every season. The partnerships would be Michigan-Ohio State, Michigan State-Penn State, Indiana-Purdue, Wisconsin-Minnesota, Illinois-Northwestern and Iowa-Nebraska. Of course, some rivalries such as Michigan-Ohio State would have to be moved from the end of the season to avoid the risk of a rematch the following week in the Big Ten championship game. As for the Pac-10, I broke USC and UCLA into separate divisions because I wanted each league team to have the chance of playing in the recruiting hotbed of Los Angeles at least every other season. I also wanted to keep the Southwestern teams from outside California together. So I created a division with Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado, Utah and UCLA. I also tried to keep most of the Pacific Northwest teams together, so I had the second division include California, Stanford, Oregon, Oregon State, Washington State and USC (we'll call it the John McKay Division). I evened things out by putting Washington in the division with the southwestern schools (let's call it the Don James Division), since I figured those teams would have a much easier time traveling to Seattle than Eugene, Corvallis or Pullman. I'd make sure USC continues to face UCLA and Washington continued to play Washington State every year, though those games couldn't be in the last week of the regular season.



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