To have divisions or not to have divisions. That is the question hanging over the Big Ten.
There has been much discussion over the years about the pros and cons of divisional play, which the Big Ten has had since hatching the infamous “Legends” and “Leaders” in 2011 that morphed into an East-West alignment in 2014.
The debate will rage a bit hotter now with Wednesday’s news that the NCAA’s Division I Council eliminated the rule requiring FBS conferences to split into divisions or play round-robin schedules in order to hold a conference championship game. The Pac-12 quickly announced it would be ditching its North-South divisions.
In the Big Ten, the balance of power has tilted to the East. Since the geographic divisional split, the East has won every Big Ten championship game.
No doubt, many things are being discussed by the Big Ten, especially with a new television deal which would begin in 2023 and could be worth a record-setting $1 billion per season set to be agreed upon soon.
Having no divisions would allow the conference to pair the teams with the two best records in the league title game–an enticing matchup. That hasn’t always happened over the years.
“There is some sense that, OK, you have maybe a more true one vs. two in your championship game,” Purdue A.D. Mike Bobinski told GoldandBlack.com.
“I mean, there’s lots of different things that you could do. But I think it’s all good conversation at this point. Again, we didn’t make any move (at Big Ten meetings earlier this week).”
Another possible benefit to not having divisions: Going division-less would give the Big Ten a better chance to get multiple teams in a coming expanded College Football Playoff that could include up to 12 teams. The bulked-up playoff will be here after the 2025 season, when the current 12-year deal on the four-team model ends.
“I’m not sure that anyone has been able to prove that in any real way,” said Bobinski. “That’s a theory, for sure. I think the other theory is that you would be in a position for your championship game to maybe more accurately pit the two best teams in the league in any given year.
“Again, schedules are gonna vary. People are going to play different schedules, the rotation is going to be what it’s going to be. So, someone will always find a reason to say, ‘Well, yeah, I know they finished first or second, but look at their schedule. They didn’t play this one or that one.’ Those arguments and claims are as old as time and they’ve never gone away.”
Another perceived bonus of dumping divisions: Schools could play each other more often.
“It’s important in your league to see as many teams as you can,” said Bobinski. “That’s one of the arguments for not having divisions is that you then have a chance to rotate through all the teams around the league on a more regular basis.”
• Purdue hasn’t played at Michigan since 2011
• Illinois hasn’t been to Indiana since 2013
• Iowa hasn’t been to Ohio State since 2013
• Minnesota hasn’t been to Michigan State since 2013
“That to me is probably the most compelling thing, that you get a chance to see other people in your stadiums and you get to visit, take your team to play in environments that ordinarily they may not see,” said Bobinski.
Would Purdue–a member of the West–be for or against divisions?
“Great question,” said Bobinski. “The thing that would benefit Purdue the most is building on last season and being a really good team in the future. That would be our best strategy. We have a lot of equity and a lot of familiarity with the schools that are in our division. And that’s fine.
“We would be perfectly OK with continuing the divisional structure but also willing to keep an open mind if someone could make a coherent argument as to why getting rid of divisions would benefit the league overall. At some point, you got to put your Big Ten hat on, too, and make sure that we’re protecting the overall brand and power of the league.”