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You’re Nuts: What if the Big Ten had relegation?

Which team is out, and who is coming up to replace them?

NCAA Football: Illinois at Minnesota Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

Everybody knows that one of the best parts of being a sports fan is debating and dissecting the most (and least) important questions in the sporting world with your friends. So, we’re bringing that to the pages of LGHL with our favorite head-to-head column: You’re Nuts.

In You’re Nuts, two LGHL staff members will take differing sides of one question and argue their opinions passionately. Then, in the end, it’s up to you to determine who’s right and who’s nuts.

This week’s topic: What if the Big Ten had relegation?

Josh: Illinois out, MAC champ in

When Gene half-jokingly (but also with deadly serious intent) brought up relegation on last week’s pod – in response to our conference realignment discussion – I was instantly on board. I respect the heck out of my co-host, but I can no longer remember another idea he had before this one. It was his best idea ever, and he will likely never top it. Relegation and/or promotion would be the most exciting thing to happen to college football since the introduction of the triple option.

There are too many programs or teams in CFB that settle; content with collecting and cashing paychecks that are not earned or warranted. 3-9? Who cares, did you see the number of zeros in that stub from our television deal? Now to be fair, not every program can compete at the highest level. The disparity will only grow bigger with loose transfer rules, NIL, etc... But there are still dozens of programs retaining lame-duck coaches, refusing to invest in athletic facilities, making no effort to improve the experience of student athletes, and so on. Those teams need to go, or at least drop down a level, where they feel comfortable swimming in the shallow end.

On the flip side, you’ve got programs that just want to compete with the big boys on a regular basis. Even in defeat, their teams get up for the opportunity, fans travel well and support the team, and there is genuine excitement. That is what college football or any other sport should be about: competition, effort, and passion. If a team consistently wins at a lower level, give them a shot at the best. That’s where promotion comes into play.

I got a little creative with my choice(s)... or you could say I am dodging the question by not picking a specific team for promotion, but this is hypothetical make believe, so give me a break!

The team I would relegate from the Big Ten is Illinois. Are they the worst team? Not always... Are they second or third-worst on a regular basis? Yeah, most of the time they are. But I am not relegating them solely because of their record. Illinois is bad and boring. And they have been for a decade. They have no juice, nobody likes Bret Bielema, and I just don’t know what they are bringing to the table.

If you want to argue that they capture the Chicago market, try again. Northwestern has a more relevant football team. On top of that, NU receives national attention (due to their ability to compete) from time to time! So if the Fighting Illini aren’t bringing in viewers, can they at least scare some of the top teams on occasion? Eh, maybe you could say that. They beat Penn State last season, but the Nittany Lions were more of a paper tiger. No. 6 Wisconsin was a good win in 2019, but that was an anomaly. In most instances, Illinois gets taken to the woodshed by good teams. For example, Ohio State has beaten them by a combined score of 135-31 in their last three matchups.

The Fighting Illini just don’t put up much of a fight. They might sneak up on a ranked team every once in a while, but they never make a run at relevancy. NU has won a B1G West crown recently, Indiana was scary for a hot minute, and Rutgers at least has Greg Schiano. Illinois needs to make room for a more exciting or interesting option.

So which team would I promote? I don’t want to take another Power 5 team, because I don’t see that as a real promotion. The Big Ten is better than the ACC, but taking a school like North Carolina would just be straight-up conference realignment. I want to reward a lower level team with a bigger, better opportunity. That being said, how about some MACtion!?

I want the winner of the MAC to be promoted to the Big Ten for the following season — even if that means a new team every year. Winning the conference would incentivize competition (not that the MAC needs any help in that department), and provide a non-Power 5 team with a very exciting opportunity. If I wanted to get real wild, I would suggest that with potentially just a one-year window, this hypothetical MAC team could go all-in on the transfer portal or questionable NIL deals, and try to win the Big Ten — thus remaining in the conference! Because that is my only exception... If the former MAC team wins the Big Ten, they get to stay for at least a few seasons. Then Rutgers or Northwestern is banished as well.

And finally, it just makes geographical sense. I am a traditionalist, so I prefer the way it used to be. Big Ten schools are located in the midwest, Pac-12 teams on the West Coast — you get what I’m saying. I find it silly that a New England-area team could end up in the Big 12 or Mountain West Conference. CFB should probably have different levels of play altogether, or divide up into four or five super conferences, but that’s a different conversation for a different day.

To summarize my argument: Sorry Illinois fans, your team is out. Nobody will miss them. And get ready for some hot, dirty MACtion in the Big Ten!

Gene: Maryland out, Pitt in

Like my podcast cohost Josh, I like the regionality of college football and am a bit sad to see it slowly beginning to fade away before our eyes. Conference titles dont mean nearly as much as they used to, as the biggest teams in the Power Five among the likes of Ohio State, Alabama, Georgia, Clemson, etc. all have their sights set higher on the College Football Playoff. As a result, winning the B1G or the SEC feels more like a necessary step towards making the postseason rather than an accomplishment in itself. But, I digress...

While I can acknowledge some of the regionality of the sport is slipping away as I watch teams like BYU and Cincinnati with plans to travel south to join the Big 12, it doesn’t mean I can’t do my best to restore order in the Midwest given this hypothetical scenario. I think relegation in the Big Ten would be awesome, especially since the bottom feeders of the conference aren’t all that competitive. With Josh taking Illinois, it leaves me deciding between some of the other lesser teams in the bottom half of the B1G for whose getting the metaphorical boot.

In a real life relegation scenario, the end of the 2021 season would've likely seen Indiana dropped down a peg after an 0-9 record in-conference. However, the Hoosiers have at least been interesting and competitive enough under Tom Allen for me to keep them around. Nebraska and Northwestern each went 1-8, but as Josh said, the Wildcats have competed for Big Ten titles on more than one occasion, and while Scott Frost being relegated would be funny, I'm not gonna make that move. My real decision here is between Rutgers and Maryland, and with the Scarlet Knights at least beginning to recruit a bit better under Greg Schiano, I'm kicking out the Terps.

Even with the brother of Tua Tagovailoa at quarterback, Maryland has been non-competitive under Mike Locksley. It’s 3-6 mark in-conference included wins over just Illinois, Indiana and Rutgers, and they weren’t at all close to any of the upper echelon B1G schools. Against the four top-10 teams they played in conference, Maryland was beaten by an aggregate score of 216-70. It also doesn’t play in their favor that they are pretty far outside the footprint of the Big Ten geographically. Unlike Rutgers, there doesn’t really seem to be any sort of positive direction for the program or any signs of improvement anywhere on the horizon, so for me, the Terps have been chopped.

In my opinion, getting rid of one of the conference’s odd East Coast teams allows for some easy swapping here with the ACC. Getting “relegated” to another Power Five conference isn’t exactly a punishment here, but I think we can all agree that the ACC is at least a step or two below the Big Ten — and the TV contracts would reflect that. So, in order to satisfy my regional desires, sending Maryland to the ACC makes all too much sense here, and in there place could be a team that is at minimum Big Ten-country adjacent with some upside: Pitt.

Now, the Panthers aren’t the best team in the world by any stretch, but I'm not looking to turn the Big Ten into a super conference here. That being said, Pitt is coming off a phenomenal season, winning the ACC after finishing with an 7-1 mark — including a 27-17 win over Clemson — and defeating Wake Forest in the ACC Championship Game to secure the conference crown. While they are do for some heavy regression this season after Kenny Pickett left for the NFL and Jordan Addison is off to USC, I still think they make much more sense in the Big Ten than Maryland.

I guess in the end I wound up going the more conference realignment route rather than pure relegation. I dont want just a Big Ten-ACC pipeline here, because you’d very quickly have the likelihood of teams like Clemson and Miami (FL) becoming part of the Big Ten, which makes even less sense geographically than the Terps. However, in more of a one-and-done sort of relegation scenario, I think sending Maryland down to the ACC and bringing up Pitt to the Big Ten makes a whole lot of sense.