Under Wednesday’s NCAA rule change, the Big Ten could stop splitting the football program into two divisions, which the Gophers can accept if one thing remains in the new setup.
“Whatever we end up doing, I just want us to protect those competitions because that’s a big part of who we are and what we’re going to be,” University of Minnesota athletics director Mark Coyle told ESPN’s Big Ten conference this week. Quote.
Pioneer Press understands that the mood in the Gophers football program is that this change is inevitable, and they also want the strong competitive game to stay the same.
For Minnesota, of course, it starts with a battle against Paul Bunyan’s Axe in Wisconsin and Rosedale Floyd in Iowa. The Gophers-Badgers have the most games played in the FBS since 1890, with 131 games, and both schools are politically demanding that games be rescheduled during the 2020 COVID-19 season hiatus. The Gophers-Hawkeyes have struck out 115 times since 1891.
U also has a long-running trophy, the Brown Jug, with Michigan State and a newer, governor’s victory bell, with Penn State. Jug dates back to 1903 and Bell dates back to 1993.
While changes are underway, don’t expect all 14 Big Ten teams to come together for the 2022 season.
The NCAA said this week’s meeting can now select two teams for their championship game in whatever way they see fit. The Pac-12 moved quickly on Wednesday and quickly announced that its championship game would feature the two teams with the best records.
The ACC model appears to be something that Gophers and their commitment to competition might be left behind. The 14-team ACC has been discussing a 3-5-5 format in which one school plays three specific opponents each year and then rotates among the other 10 teams. “School A” will play five teams one season and five other teams the following year.
In a 3-5-5 format, the Gophers’ games against Wisconsin and Iowa will be off the bench, but Game 3 will be harder to decide. Michigan makes sense historically, but facing Wolverine every year will be a constant, daunting challenge.
Two other thoughts are Purdue University, where a recent feud between head coaches PJ Fleck and Jeff Brohm, or Nebraska, where fans have flocked and worked to instill their own competitive trophy.
The Big Ten entered the division in 2011, setting up “Legends” and “Leaders.” When the University of Maryland and Rutgers joined the conference in 2014, the names were not well received and were eventually scuttled and replaced with the current East-West setup.
The Gophers have never won a division title, finishing runners-up in 2021, 2019 and 2014. Wisconsin leads the West with four Big Ten championship appearances, followed by Iowa and Northwestern with two each.
The Western champions also never beat the Eastern Conference champions in the Big Ten, 0-8 and suffered blowouts regularly.
SB Nation looked at what a conference title race since 2014 would have looked like if there were no divisions and the best two teams advanced, considering the tiebreaker. In three of the eight games in that span, a second Eastern Conference team will replace the Western Conference representative. That means in 37 percent of Big Ten title races since 2014, including last year, Ohio State would theoretically replace Iowa and rematch Michigan.
Since taking over the Gophers program in 2017, Flake is 15-14 against the West and 6-8 against the East. Here’s his record for each team:
Penn State: 1-0
Michigan State University: 0-1
Ohio State: 0-2
Iowa State: 0-5