Andrew Holleran / Photo editor
The Ohio State Buckeyes and Michigan Wolverines, two of college football’s fiercest rivals, could meet one another in the Big Ten Football Championship Game at the conclusion of the 2013 regular season.
That will no longer be a possibility in 2014, when OSU and Michigan will be realigned to the same division of the Big Ten, according to a report from ESPN.
ESPN reported that the conference plans to vote this week to approve a new divisional alignment when the conference expands to 14 teams from 12 in 2014, along with new division names and an expansion of the conference schedule.
Under the reported alignment, the often-criticized Legends and Leaders division names will be replaced by geographic designations East and West. OSU and Michigan will both be placed in the East division along with Michigan State, Penn State, Indiana and the conference’s two new additions, Maryland and Rutgers.
The West division will consist of Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, Northwestern, Purdue and Wisconsin, according to the report.
Brett McMurphy, one of the reporters who broke the story for ESPN, told The Lantern in an email that “it’s not surprising” the conference plans to change the names of its divisions because of negative feedback to those names.
“(With) the fact you could split the league in half geographically, it was a fairly easy decision,” McMurphy said. “I think it’s a great long-term decision to split the divisions into East and West.”
McMurphy said he does not believe rivalries or competitive balance played a role in the restructuring of the Big Ten but was simply based upon geography.
“Some would argue that East is much stronger than West (in college football), but in all conferences one division is usually stronger than the other,” McMurphy said.
During a February interview with The Lantern, OSU athletic director Gene Smith said there was a “real lean toward geography” in realigning the conference for 14 teams but added that both he and Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon thought it would be “beneficial to the conference” to have both teams in the same division.
The Big Ten did not immediately respond to The Lantern’s request for comment.
OSU football historian Jack Park said in February he thought it would be a positive for the Big Ten to have OSU and Michigan in the same division.
“I really think it would be good to do that,” Park said. “I think you’re going to have enough balance with the other good teams that wouldn’t be a problem, although maybe some of the other teams that are in that particular division wouldn’t like that (playing in the same division as both OSU and Michigan).”
Not all fans are in favor of OSU and Michigan being on the same side of the conference.
“If we (OSU) had a chance to be in a (Big Ten) championship game against them, that would be probably the ultimate game,” said Alex Davidson, a second-year in agricultural engineering.
ESPN also reports that the Big Ten plans to expand its conference football game schedule to nine games from eight, which would allow each team to play all six teams in its division plus three from the opposite division each year.
Smith said in February that the conference was considering expansion to either a nine- or 10-game conference schedule, but a nine-game schedule was more realistic for the purposes of scheduling stronger non-conference opponents.
“We have to have seven home games for our local budget, so there’s a management issue there if you go to 10,” Smith said. “Nine gives us that flexibility to do that, and schedule up, which is what we were doing.
Under the proposed schedule expansion, Big Ten teams would alternate between playing five conference games at home and four conference games on the road, and five on the road and four at home, each year.
By limiting the schedule expansion to only nine games, Big Ten teams can still schedule a non-conference game on the road in years when they have five conference games and still have seven home games.