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Big Ten choosing sides

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McClatchy Tribune
August 6, 2010

Most of the talk regarding Big Ten divisions has centered on the need to split up the “big four”—Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State and Nebraska.


But that thinking might be flawed. Perhaps it’s the “big six”—adding Wisconsin and Iowa—that needs to be chopped up.


“You have six teams that have separated themselves,” Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez said. “You can’t have four in one division.”


That thinking could pave the way for having Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State anchor the east (with Michigan State, Purdue and Indiana), while Nebraska, Wisconsin and Iowa man the west (joined by Northwestern, Illinois and Minnesota).


Alvarez said Big Ten officials and athletic directors have been analyzing “everything—overall record, conference record, opponents, opponents’ records, BCS ratings, Sagarin ratings” in an effort to achieve what commissioner Jim Delany calls “competitive fairness.”


That’s the first criterion the Big Ten will use. Second is preserving rivalries. Third is geography, though Delany did acknowledge travel concerns at Big Ten media days.


Some projections have Penn State joining Nebraska as pillars of the west, but would that be fair to fans who wish to drive to road games?


There’s no debating that 1993 is the starting point for analyzing data. That’s Penn State’s first Big Ten football season and the beginning of the “modern Big Ten,” in Delany parlance.


Using overall victories, Wisconsin (145) barely trails Michigan (146) and Penn State (147). Ohio State (170) and Nebraska (165) are tops.


Going by victories in conference games, it’s fairly easy to divide the teams into four “clusters,” as Alvarez called them:


Group 1: Ohio State (106), Nebraska (98 in Big 12), Michigan (94).


Group 2: Penn State (86), Wisconsin (79), Iowa (71).


Group 3: Purdue (63), Michigan State (63), Northwestern (59).


Group 4: Illinois (45), Minnesota (44), Indiana (33).


So the questions become: Which criteria are most important? And should the Big Ten assume Michigan (3-13 in Big Ten play over the last two seasons) will rise from the dead?


Delany said he hopes to have the divisions determined by mid-September.



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