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B1G Thoughts: What could a Big Ten without divisions look like?

Lets take a look at one possible iteration we could see as early as 2023.

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NCAA Football: Big Ten Football Championship-Iowa vs Michigan Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

According to The Athletics’ Scott Dochterman, the Big Ten is considering getting rid of divisions for football as early as the 2023 season. If you have been following along with B1G Thoughts or “The I-70 Football Show,” you would know that this is something that I believe in wholeheartedly. Why, you ask? Mainly because the conference’s divisions are naturally uneven; aside from Wisconsin, all of the best programs are in the East. Since the creation of the conference championship game, an East division school has won every year.

When you add in the inevitability playoff expansion — where the imperative should be to put your conference in the best position to get two or three teams into the field — division-less football just makes the most sense. The idea is that in a division-less conference, the two teams with the best records would be selected to play in the Big Ten Championship Game. In 2021, that would have meant that we would have had a rematch between Ohio State and Michigan, instead of yet another East vs. West bloodbath.

The Big Ten is also considering going from nine conference games to eight, and while I am not on board with that part of this decision, let’s focus on what’s important here. If they got rid of divisions, how would scheduling work?

The most popular option is to protect three “rivalry” games for each school so they played them every year and then to rotate the rest of the conference teams so that they would all play each other every two to three years. The Big Ten is a conference that loves its history and boasts many trophy games. Selecting which three games to protect won’t always be easy, but it will maintain many of those iconic matchups.

Another consideration that the Big Ten will have balance is how much weight do they want to give to protecting rivalries, and how much they want to give to satisfying their TV partners? Do you give your blue bloods — Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State, Wisconsin — a few protected cupcake games to boost their resumes, or do you essentially round robin the protected games of the best five or six teams so you are guaranteeing as many marquee matchups as possible? What do you do with teams like Maryland, Nebraska and Rutgers who have no historic rivalries?

The Big Ten will have to answer all these questions and more if they are going to proceed with this plan. Below is my attempt to create a pod system that makes the most sense for all involved. The main factors that I considered are rivalries and location. I decided to give each major program at least one cupcake game. I don’t get paid when the Big Ten signs a TV contract, so that money didn’t factor into my decision.

Lastly, the Big Ten has 14 teams, so the math is a little awkward, but protecting three rivals and playing six other games a year will allow the each school to play the 10 non-protected rivalry schools other six times over a 10-year span. That is much better then the current landscape where Ohio State and Iowa have faced each other once since 2013. This is not the only example of a lopsided schedule. Illinois has not played a game in Bloomington in nine years. That is unacceptable for a conference of this magnitude with so many historic rivalries and intriguing games.

B1G Thoughts Proposed Protected Games

Team Protected 1 Protected 2 Protected 3
Team Protected 1 Protected 2 Protected 3
Illinois Indiana Northwestern Purdue
Indiana Illinois Michigan State Purdue
Iowa Minnesota Nebraska Wisconsin
Maryland Ohio State Penn State Rutgers
Michigan Michigan State Northwestern Ohio State
Michigan State Indiana Michigan Penn State
Minnesota Iowa Nebraska Wisconsin
Nebraska Iowa Minnesota Wisconsin
Northwestern Illinois Michigan Purdue
Ohio State Maryland Michigan Penn State
Penn State Michigan State Ohio State Rutgers
Purdue Illinois Indiana Michigan State
Rutgers Maryland Ohio State Penn State
Wisconsin Iowa Minnesota Nebraska

This is not perfect, but the point is that this is simple; the Big Ten does not need to overthink this. I would hope that they go with their gut, protect the important rivalries, and think more about the fans and less about the TV networks. A division-less Big Ten is what’s best for all. Let’s hope they don’t find a way to mess it up.