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Harty: Big Ten should switch to geographical divisions

[ 36 ] May 22, 2012 |

The release of the 2015 and 2016 Big Ten football schedules is the latest reminder why it’s absurd to divide the conference by any means other than geography.

Any setup that keeps Iowa and Wisconsin from playing on a yearly basis in football is flawed, as is any setup that keeps Iowa and Illinois from playing for six consecutive seasons and makes Iowa versus Purdue a protected rivalry.

It’s bad enough that the two divisions are called the Legends and Leaders because it sounds more like a board game than a college football conference.

But it wouldn’t have to be that way if Big Ten officials, (read: Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany), would quit trying to appease Michigan and Ohio State and divide the conference at the Illinois/Indiana border.

That way you could call the six teams west of Indiana the West Division and the six teams east of Illinois the East Division.

This isn’t rocket science.

Using geography would eliminate any confusion over which teams are in each division – it took me until recently to remember the new alignment – and Iowa and Wisconsin would play on a yearly basis because they’d both be in the West Division.

Instead, Iowa and Wisconsin won’t face each other in 2015 or 2016, they didn’t face each other this past season and they won’t the next, either.

What’s now less than a three-hour road trip for Iowa and Wisconsin fans is a journey too far according to the Big Ten.

Why was it okay to form the Big Ten Conference and almost every other conference in the history of professional and amateur sports based on geography, but now Big Ten officials feel it doesn’t work for football?

It’s no secret that they feel that way because they don’t want Michigan and Ohio State in the same division — that would keep them from ever playing in the Big Ten Championship game.

It’s for that reason more than anything else why we have this impractical setup. Delany also doesn’t want to have the conference’s three traditional football powers – Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State – in the same division.

We as a society have learned to live without drive-in theaters, Elvis Presley, the Grateful Dead and more Rocky sequels — at least, I hope no more Rocky sequels. We can learn to live without Michigan and Ohio State playing for a Big Ten championship in football and we can learn to live with the big three traditional powers being in the same division.

Dividing the conference by geography would put pressure on the teams in the west to sustain success because tradition indicates there would be an imbalance of power in favor of the east. But what’s wrong with having a little pressure to succeed?

This era of conference realignment is making it harder to keep using geography to divide conferences, as evidenced by Missouri now being in the SEC, West Virginia being in the Big 12 and Colorado being in the Pac-12.

The Big Ten, on the other hand, has a well-defined area that starts in the west with Lincoln, Neb., and stretches east to State College, Pa.

Splitting the conference at the Illinois/Indiana border would create more of a rivalry atmosphere because it would match East versus West.

Big Ten officials should give geography a try just to see if it works. Give it five years to see if the teams in the west could hold their own.

If not, then switch back to the current setup and Iowa fans would learn to accept playing the Badgers on a limited basis.

Notre Dame joining the Big Ten would complicate things unless another school west of Indiana was added to provide balance. Missouri seemed a likely choice until it bolted for the SEC.

Another reason to use geography is it would put an end to those sappy commercials on the Big Ten Network in which a Big Ten football coach talks about the importance of honoring legends and developing leaders. Legends already have enough honors or they wouldn’t be legends; and isn’t the purpose of college to build leaders in the first place?

But since the Big Ten likely won’t budge on this issue, my next request would be to re-name the two divisions after Michigan and Ohio State. They’re all that matter anyway.

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Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football

About Pat Harty: Columnist Pat Harty has been covering the Iowa Hawkeyes for the Press-Citizen since 1991. Originally from Des Moines, he currently writes columns and covers Hawkeye men's basketball for Hawk Central. View author profile.

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