The Big Ten has outgrown far more than simply its name. In 2014, the 12-team league will swell to 14 with the additions of Maryland out of the Washington, DC area and Rutgers out of New Jersey.
With the two new East Coast programs entering the fray, the conference has been debating how best to organize the schools into two, seven-team divisions. The 2011 addition of Nebraska made six-team divisions possible and thus the first ever Big Ten championship game between the winners of the Legends and the Leaders divisions.
However, teams were seemingly dropped into the two divisions arbitrarily, making it exceedingly difficult to remember who was supposed to be playing whom each year. Further, the names themselves came under heavy criticism.
Thus, when asked, Barry Alvarez, who has been in the Big Ten as a player, coach and athletic director for decades, stated that he would prefer simpler, more geographically-oriented divisions in 2014. He wrote to the Varsity, Wisconsin’s official online magazine.
“When you add two teams from the East — Maryland and Rutgers — I think it’s important that you consider the option of determining the divisions by geography,” Alvarez wrote. “That only makes sense.
“I thought the Big Ten did a very good job in researching everything from the time that Penn State joined the league. It clearly showed that there were teams that separated themselves from the others. But I want to play Iowa every year. I didn’t like not playing Iowa the last two years. I know our fans didn’t like it either. I want to continue to play Minnesota every year. I also want to play Nebraska every year. That has turned into a natural rivalry for us. Those games are important to our fans because they can travel to the games.”
Historically speaking, no rivalry has been played more in the history of college football than Wisconsin-Minnesota. Not Harvard-Yale, Ohio State-Michigan, or Florida-Georgia. Losing that annual rivalry would be a serious blow to the historical prestige of both programs.
It is tough to see that rivalry go by the wayside. However, no program is going to be totally happy, no matter what decision is made regarding future divisional realignment.
Thus, conference commissioner Jim Delany, his staff, and representatives from every school are going to have to sit down and prioritize which rivalries are worth saving — and which, unfortunately, must go by the wayside.