In 2011, the Big Ten will be adding Nebraska as a 12th team. This means the Big Ten will be allowed to have a conference championship game and the conference will be divided into divisions. It seemed like a simple thing. Just draw a line at the Indiana/Illinois border and be done with it. The problem with the simple geographic division is the major balance issues that immediately arise. The Eastern half would be loaded with Penn State, Ohio State, and Michigan, which are not only elite Big Ten programs, but elite nationally.
Fortunately, The Big Ten isn't just looking at geography, but is also looking at data since the 1993 season(when Penn State joined the conference) to examine competitive balance for the new divisions. Here is that data:
Illinois, 75-121-1, 1 Big Ten Championship(2001)
Iowa 119-86-1, 2 Big Ten Championships(2002, 2004)
Michigan 146-64, 5 Big Ten Championships(1997, 1998, 2000, 2003, 2004,) 1 National Title (1997)
Michigan State 101-103-1
Northwestern 97-105-1, 3 Big Ten Championships(1995, 1996, 2000)
Ohio State 170-43-1, 9 Big Ten Championships(1993, 1996, 1998, 2002, 2005-2009,) 1 National Title(2002)
Penn State 147-62, 3 Big Ten Championships(1994, 2005, 2008)
Purdue 105-97-3, 1 Big Ten Championship(2000)
Wisconsin 145-65-4, 3 Big Ten Championships(1993, 1998, 1999)
Nebraska 165-52, 5 Conference Titles*(1993-1995, 1997, 1999,) 3 National Titles(1994, 1995, 1997)
*The Big 12 was the Big 8 prior to 1996.
With that Data, I believe there are 5 programs that can be considered top tier teams in the conference; Michigan, Nebraska, Ohio State, Penn State and Wisconsin.
5 programs have been good/average during this time period; Iowa, Michigan State, Minnesota, Northwestern and Purdue.
2 programs have been poor; Illinois and Indiana.
With this data in mind and some concern given to geography and rivalries here's my proposal for alignment. I'm calling the divisions the 1 division and the zero division.
The 1 Division
The Zero Division
It is almost impossible to keep all rivalries within the same division, but considering that there will be at least 3* non-division games and a conference championship game a lot of rivalries will be strong across division lines.
There really isn't and ideal way to divide the conference, but this is the best I can come up with. There may still be a slight competitive inbalance, but I feel that these two divisions would be pretty competitive with each other. I hope the Big Ten avoids turning one of the divisions into what the Big 12 South became.
Well there you have it. What do you think?
Thanks for reading and please comment.
*The Big Ten will likely switch to a 9 game conference schedule in the next several years(2012 at the earliest.)