by Kevin Trahan (@k_trahan)
The Big Ten hasn't always been a beacon of transparency in its conference realignment moves. But thankfully, Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez keeps saying more than Jim Delany would probably like.
Alvarez announced that the Big Ten schools have agreed to stop scheduling FCS teams — one of many reforms in the new Big Ten. It's unclear when the "cut-off" will be and whether Big Ten teams will cancel future games with FCS teams, but my guess is probably not. Still, it's a big step up for a conference that has played underwhelming nonconference schedules for far too long. As Alvarez said, "The nonconference schedule in our league is ridiculous. It's not very appealing."
Then there's even bigger news: According to Alvarez, the "west" division appears almost set, and it looks like it will include Northwestern, along with many of the teams the Wildcats hoped to play on a yearly basis:
“If you went straight geography, let’s start west: Nebraska, Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Northwestern, Illinois and probably Purdue is the way it seems to break down.
“I know Michigan State was lobbying in the West Division instead of the East.”
This means the divisions will likely break down like this:
East: Indiana, Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State, Rutgers, Maryland, Purdue/Michigan State
West: Nebraska, Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Northwestern, Illinois, Purdue/Michigan State
My take? This is clearly a better way to break down the divisions than current Legends and Leaders setup. There was talk that the Big Ten wanted to put Northwestern in the East Division, but NU was expected to lobby to be in the West and has apparently done so successfully. That makes a lot more sense for the Wildcats, who wanted to maintain their games with Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska and Wisconsin. This setup also allows Wisconsin to play traditional rival Iowa every year — the two have a trophy game and a series tied 42-42-2, but didn't play the last two years — and gives the Badgers a better chance to establish a rivalry with Nebraska.
As far as the Purdue/Michigan State issue goes, it would probably make more sense to put Purdue in the East and Michigan State in the West. Michigan State does have traditional rivalries with Michigan and Penn State, but its games against Iowa, Wisconsin and Nebraska have been much more heated recently, and the Spartans have the potential to build rivalries with those teams. Purdue, meanwhile, has a rivalry with Indiana and no real ties to the West. For the sake of competitive balance, the Big Ten may want Purdue in the West — with Michigan State in the West, that division would be very deep, while the East would be top heavy — but MSU in the West wouldn't make the divisions that unfair.
Even if Purdue does go to the West, we could end up with this as the last weekend in the Big Ten:
That would be one helluva closing weekend, with nearly every team facing its biggest traditional rival — Iowa and Wisconsin may be the exception, but both teams would face major rivals in the last week and would still play each other every year.
The future of Big Ten scheduling certainly looks bright, and the new divisions look like they're headed in the right direction. What are your thoughts on the proposed divisions and doing away with FCS teams on the schedule?