As we pull away from the images tonight of people burning Jim Delany UNC jerseys all across the state of Ohio and on a day that BYU officially declared its independence in football, joined the WCC for non-football sports and announced long-term deals with both ESPN and Notre Dame (with BYU killing off a self-termed “prenuptial agreement” with the WAC in the process, meaning that even Mormons know that it’s something that you need to have ‘cause when she leaves your ass, she’s gonna leave with half), the Big Ten has finally ended months of speculation by announcing the following division alignment:
PROTECTED CROSS-DIVISION RIVALRIES
Michigan – Ohio State
Nebraska – Penn State
Michigan State – Indiana
Iowa – Purdue
Northwestern – Illinois
Minnesota – Wisconsin (EDIT – Oops on somehow forgetting this one initially. Badger fans were already pretty raw.)
Let’s put aside the fact that the Big Ten has ignored my advice and legions of fans across the country and then called up my 13-month old twins to punch in random letters on a Garmin system for the geography of this division split. (On a side note, right when the Big Ten Network special about the divisions started, the twins simultaneously started screaming in sounds that I thought would only be possible if a hyena breeded with Mariah Carey. As a result, I apologize in advance if my writing is a little punchy.) Believe it or not, I don’t want to just be a hater that’s gonna hate. In fact, there are a few positives as to how the divisions shake out:
(1) Maximum Marquee Matchups – When Jim Delany continuously harped on “competitive balance” as the main factor determining the divisions, that was really code for “We need to split up Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State and Nebraska evenly.” Even though schools such as Iowa and Wisconsin have been quite strong performers on the field over the past 2 decades (making a KISS East/West split within, in my humble opinion, acceptably balanced) wasn’t as important as getting 2 of the 4 “marquee brands” into each of the divisions. I still believe that Michigan – Ohio State would’ve been better off as a division game, but at least the Big Ten made the wise decision to continue to make that into the final game of the season. The chances of a rematch in the championship game the week afterward is fairly weak (as Mr. SEC pointed out, cross-division rivals Alabama and Tennessee have never met in the SEC Championship Game) and even if it were to occur, the ESPN hype machine that makes Yankees – Red Sox Grapefruit League spring training games seem like Armageddon will run at full tilt. I also don’t believe that there’s any chance that, in the event that both Michigan and Ohio State already have their division games clinched heading into their rivalry game, the teams will mail it in like playoff-bound NFL teams in week 17 because the bowl system and BCS ranking criteria (whether for the national championship game or at-large berths) demand that schools don’t take any week off. Beyond that, the TV networks are going to be giddy over being able to broadcast Ohio State – Penn State, Michigan – Nebraska and Penn State – Nebraska. Whatever you may think of the division alignments right now, there’s no doubt that all of us Big Ten fans (and more importantly, sports fans across the country) are tuning in for those matchups.
(2) Setup for the Illini Dynasty – I try not to be an Illinois homer here, but when I see 2 division annual games Indiana and Purdue and the cross-divisional preservation of the LOL Trophy game with Northwestern (OMFG I miss the Sweet Sioux Tomahawk), the Illini might actually make it to consecutive bowl games within the next 4 decades. Will we fail despite being given a cupcake schedule (at least relative to other Big Ten teams), the largest alumni base of any school in the nation’s third largest market, and a prime recruiting location between Chicago and St. Louis? Absolutely! But, we can’t say that Jim Delany didn’t try to help a brother out.
(3) The Death of the Altoona Bowling League Trophy With a Lion Mold-a-Rama Pasted on the Side (AKA Land Grant Trophy) – YES, THAT TROPHY DESERVED TO DIE, AND I HOPE IT BURNS IN HELL!
Now, that’s not to say that there aren’t issues here. For one, Wisconsin is going to put more miles on the road than the Barbasol truck driver. Wisky has ended up being the only school that doesn’t have ANY current protected rival within its own division, lost the Heartland Trophy game with Iowa and aren’t getting the opportunity to start a natural annual rivalry with Nebraska. At the same time, hearing that Iowa and Purdue would have a protected rivalry felt like one of those reveals at the end of “Dating in the Dark” where the guy finds out the girl he’s been hitting on all week has back hair. (I have a preternatural love of all varieties of blind dating shows, just like all red-blooded American males. Am I right?! Hello? Anyone?) That matchup just sticks out badly.
Overall, I’m numb from the divisional alignment discussion, although I REALLY wish that I knew about the Big Ten Division Creator before today since it’s on the level of the NBA Trade Machine as a time waster. (Never fear – there is also a Pac-10 Division Creator.) Processing the division split over the course of the day (with the knowledge that the date of the Michigan – Ohio State game wouldn’t be moved), I’ve basically come to the conclusion that it could’ve been worse. It still smacks of the gerrymandered divisions of the ACC, but at least the setup allows for a full slate of compelling games on paper. Regardless, actual football games will be played tomorrow, so be sure to grab your Rotel and Velveeta.
(Follow Frank the Tank’s Slant on Twitter @frankthetank111)
(Image from mpopek’s Twitpic page)