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COLUMBUS — The Big Ten nodded to its heritage two years ago with the ambiguously named Legends and Leaders divisions.
Now, the widely ridiculed designations soon could be history.
Big Ten presidents and chancellors are prepared to vote on proposals of geographically redistributed — and rebranded — divisions and a new nine-game conference schedule, Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith confirmed to The Blade.
With Rutgers and Maryland joining the Big Ten in 2014, the conference is expected to move to two, seven-team divisions cleaved along an east-west split, which most significantly means Ohio State and Michigan would be in the same grouping.
The East division would have OSU, UM, Indiana, Maryland, Michigan State, Penn State, and Rutgers. The West division would be Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, Northwestern, Purdue, and Wisconsin.
The Big Ten also appears set to expand to a nine-game conference schedule beginning in 2016.
“Everybody’s leaning that way,” Smith said, “but we haven’t finalized it.”
The proposals and impending vote, which could come as early as this week, were first reported by ESPN.com.
For the Big Ten, it marks a major reversal of field. While the divisions put in place for the 2011 season ignored geography in favor of competitive balance — and separated Ohio State (Leaders) and Michigan (Legends) — officials chose to draw a dividing line down the middle of the conference.
The final debate centered on where to put Indiana and Purdue, with league administrators leaning toward having the Hoosiers in the East, Smith said. ESPN.com reported Indiana and Purdue will be the only protected “crossover” game — the same way OSU-UM and other league rivalries are in the current setup.
Ohio State and Michigan would meet with the stakes raised even further — a berth in the Big Ten championship game the likely prize more often than not.
Smith said he has attended Big Ten meetings open “to what’s best for the league,” but he and Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon said they preferred the two titans to be in the same division, which would eliminate the prospect of back-to-back showdowns in the regular-season finale and league title game.
As for the expanded schedule, the move from eight league games to nine represents an agreeable common ground.
Smith and others were initially intrigued by moving into uncharted grounds with a 10-game conference schedule. That would eliminate the home-road imbalance of the nine-game model, maximize the value of the Big Ten’s next national TV contract (the current $100 million-per-year deal with ABC/ESPN expires after the 2016 season), and help fill out schedules at a time when non-conference home games are becoming increasingly expensive to arrange.
Brandon has said the business models at Michigan and Ohio State depend on averaging seven home games per season.
Ultimately, though, nine conference games was seen as more practical.
At least for now. The old-guard conference has never been more open to change.
Contact David Briggs at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6084, or on Twitter @ DBriggsBlade.