The Big Ten Conference is shifting things up.
The league’s office announced Sunday new football division alignments that will begin in 2014 — in time for the arrival of Maryland and Rutgers as member schools. The new alignments, and later changing to nine-game conference schedules, were unanimously supported by the Big Ten Council of Presidents and Chancellors.
The changes were recommended after Big Ten athletic directors wrapped up four months of study relating to future conference structure with the two new schools. The Big Ten wanted to create division based on geography and also keep rivalries intact, Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany said in a release.
“Big Ten directors of athletics met in person or by conference call six times from December to March to discuss a new Big Ten football model,” Delany said in a statement. “The level of cooperation and collaboration was reflective of what we’ve come to expect from this group of administrators who have worked extremely well together on a number of complex matters over the past several years. We are all looking forward to ushering in this new era of Big Ten football.”
Penn State will join Indiana, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Rutgers and Maryland in the East Division. Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, Northwestern, Purdue and Wisconsin will play in the West Division.
The new model will replace the current Legends/Leaders Division format that was introduced with Nebraska joining the Big Ten for the 2011 season.
Under the Legends/Leaders format Penn State competed in the Leaders Division with Ohio State, Wisconsin, Purdue, Indiana and Illinois.
“We embrace the new divisional alignments and are excited to begin playing our East Division opponents starting in 2014,” Penn State Director of Athletics David Joyner said in a statement.
In addition, conference teams will begin playing nine-game Big Ten schedules in 2016, adding one conference game to each school’s schedule. In 2014 and 2015, teams will play six intradivisional games plus two teams from the other division. Beginning in 2016, each team will play three teams from the other division as part of its nine-game schedule.
A cross-division game between Indiana and Purdue will remain protected with the new divisional and schedule formats.
Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon said each school had to make compromises.
“Fourteen athletic directors came to the table with different objectives and our goal was to compromise to the point that we could move together with one plan,” he said. “Each of us had things that were extremely important and things on our wish list. I wanted us to play Michigan State and Ohio State every year and for the Michigan-Ohio State game to be the last one ever year. I’m pleased we’re going to be able to do those three things.
“But it’s not a perfect setup because no school got everything they wanted.”
East division teams will host five conference games during even-numbered years starting in 2016, with West teams hosting five Big Ten games in odd-numbered seasons. Under that format, teams will be guaranteed to play each other at least once every four years. Nebraska chancellor Harvey Perlman called that “an important feature” in a statement from te university.
He also praised the changes, saying they are “the best option” and “will serve us well.”
Brandon said a 10-game format was “carefully considered to even out the home-and-away problem,” but that would have hindered nonconference scheduling.
“If you take away another nonconference game, it would have a detrimental impact financially for everybody in the conference, and we would’ve taken the biggest hit because we have the largest stadium,” he said.
Nebraska coach Bo Pelini praised the division alignment and the nine-game format.
“Geography seems to be a logical way to determine the divisions, and it should allow for easier travel for our fans,” he said in a statement. “The nine-game conference schedule will help improve the strength of schedules across the board in the Big Ten, and I think everyone anticipates strength of schedule being a key component for choosing teams to participate in the new playoff system.”
A great deal of thought and discussion around the conference went into these changes.
“The directors of athletics also relied on the results of a fan survey commissioned by BTN (The Big Ten Network) last December to arrive at their recommendation, which is consistent with the public sentiment expressed in the poll,” Delany said.
Big Ten fans have criticized the “Legends” and “Leaders” division names ever since the league unveiled them in 2010. To many, they were confusing and didn’t help identify where teams play, but that won’t be an issue any more.
All schools in the East Division are in the Eastern time zone and all schools in the West Division are in the Central time zone with the exception of Purdue.