Maybe Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany was listening to James Franklin’s teleconference over the weekend. Or maybe common sense finally kicked in — at least a little.
Either way, the commissioner appeared to leave open the possibility Wednesday that the conference could, at some point, eliminate divisions and match up the Big Ten’s best two teams in the conference title game.
During Wednesday’s Sports Business Journal Intercollegiate Athletics Forum, Delany was asked if the Big Ten championship should match up the conference’s two best teams as opposed to division champs. “It’s an item that has been discussed before,” he said. “There is actually more discussion now than there was four years ago.”
That’s not exactly a change-is-in-the-making response. But it sure beats dismissing the question or saying such a tweak wouldn’t be under consideration — because, if the Big Ten wants a more efficient path to the playoff, that’s the way to do it.
Franklin hinted at the fact during a teleconference Sunday previewing the Citrus Bowl against Kentucky.
“As a conference, we have to look at what we’re doing,” the Penn State head coach said. “We have to look at our model and see if it makes sense, especially our side of the conference.”
It’s pretty clear the conference divisions are more lopsided than a Rutgers-Alabama game. Based on ESPN’s FPI, four of the conference’s five best teams this season are in the East. And calling such a number cyclical is simply disingenuous.
Based on the previous 10 seasons, teams from the West have combined to finish in the AP Top 25 on 18 occasions. By comparison, Ohio State and Michigan State alone have combined for 16 top-25 appearances. When it comes to top-10 appearances, the East has nearly a 3-to-1 edge over the West. And the West has two teams that have finished ranked at least four times in the previous 10 years; the East has double that.
In other words, it’s kind of hard to make the playoff when the best teams are beating up on each other every season. And the Big Ten East has the best teams.
This isn’t complicated. Eliminating the divisions would help send the Big Ten to the playoff, which it missed the last two years. Just look at this season: If Ohio State beat Michigan in the conference championship instead of Northwestern, wouldn’t that have made the Buckeyes’ playoff case stronger?
It’s not just the Big Ten’s best that would benefit from the elimination of divisions either. Indiana, Maryland and Rutgers might stand a fighting chance if maybe, one year, they played Illinois instead of Ohio State or Minnesota as opposed to Michigan.
Delany said Wednesday that other options are off the table, such as the nine-game conference schedule. (“That nine is sort of in cement,” he said.) So it means something that the elimination of divisions is at least being talked about.
It’s more fair. It’s more beneficial. And it should have been implemented yesterday.
Hopefully, the discussion leads to some action this time.