The Big Ten announced Tuesday night that when it splits into two divisions for the 2011 football season, traditional powers Ohio State and Michigan will be on opposite sides of the conference, but their long and bitter rivalry will be continued.
The breakdown for the as yet unnamed divisions has Ohio State, Penn State, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana and Purdue in one group, with Michigan, Michigan State, Iowa, Minnesota, Northwestern and incoming member Nebraska comprising the other division.
The Big Ten has had 11 members since admitting Penn State in 1993, and with the addition of Nebraska as its 12th member for next season, the conference can move to the divisional format and play a championship game pitting its divisional winners for the Big Ten title. Similar moves have proved very lucrative for the SEC and Big 12.
Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany said Wednesday night that the conference considered “competitive equality, rivalries and geography” when putting together its divisions.
“We considered multiple models and countless permutations in an effort to achieve the most competitively balanced divisions while at the same time respecting our traditions, preserving existing rivalries, and creating opportunities for the establishment and growth of new rivalries,” Delaney said.
“While we understand that no final alignments could possibly satisfy all of our constituents, we believe that we have achieved a very exciting result.”
Under the new format, each Big Ten school will face the five other teams in its division, and have one guaranteed cross-division game each season against a traditional rival. The eight-game conference schedule would be completed with two additional crossover games against rotating opponents.
Ohio State and Michigan are the “guaranteed” crossover game for each other, and it stays as the season finale for both for at least the next two years, according to Delaney.
“Basically, we decided to go with the final season date because that was a way to maintain the tradition,” Delany said.
Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon said last night that he was happy that the Wolverines would maintain their annual battles with both Michigan State and the Buckeyes.
“I'm very pleased that we came out of this with protected rivalries,” Brandon said.
OSU athletic director Gene Smith said he sees the new alignment as “a great opportunity” for Ohio State and Michigan to meet each season, and then potentially face off a second time in the Big Ten championship game. Smith added that he was not certain the Ohio State-Michigan meeting would remain in its traditional regular-season final game slot.
“I hope its permanent, but the one thing in life you know is constant is change,” Smith said. “I would love to say its permanent, but I can't promise that. When we go to nine games, if we go nine, which is a big if, then I don't know.”
Delaney said the Big Ten will consider moving to a nine-game schedule for the 2015 season. He added that the Big Ten divisions are for football only at this point, and that all conference games will count equally towards a team's record, whether against a division opponent or not.
Contact Matt Markey at:firstname.lastname@example.org 419-724-6510.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.