Shortly after Maryland and Rutgers announced their intent to join the Big Ten in 2012, the conference implemented its geographical East-West division split. It has been a fine system and was a positive change from the “Legends and Leaders” of the old once the conference expanded. However, although no conference organization strategy will ever make everyone happy, the East-West does have some drawbacks that could be fixed.
The biggest current issue is the trend of superiority the East has shown over the past few years. Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan State, and Michigan have performed like top-tier programs as of late.
Since the College Football Playoff started in the 2014-15 season, the end-of-season AP top 10 has had 9 east teams from the 4 aforementioned schools, compared to just 2 Wisconsin teams and the 2015 Iowa team. The East has also won all 4 Big Ten Championship matchups since that year and sent a team to the Playoff 3 times, whereas the West has yet to have a representative.
While initially controversial, clearly Alabama deserved their selection to the playoff last year over Ohio State, as they defeated SEC foe Georgia and walked out of Atlanta with the CFP trophy. But if the Big Ten wants to stay relevant nationally and get continued chances to compete with the other conferences, a change could be beneficial.
It is important to create balance in a sport where every win counts, from teams gunning for a national championship to programs trying to rebuild. One potential solution for this balance of power issue could be to scrap the Big Ten East and West divisions and play games on a rotating basis. This system wouldn’t have to ignore rivalries either, as teams such as Ohio State and Michigan could simply schedule protected annual games.
A potential Big Ten Championship of the two teams with the best record is worthy of consideration. Besides the value of getting to watch the two best teams in the conference play (conference championship rivalry games?), the Big Ten would also be more likely to send teams to the College Football Playoff every year. This is sort of a less extreme example of what happened in 2014, when Baylor and TCU were controversially ranked #5 and #6 and left out when the Big 12 did not have a conference championship at season’s-end. Sometimes borderline teams just need a little extra boost.
Under this tweaked system, top teams would stop racking up losses against each other in the east and the championship game would likely be more meaningful. Middle-tier teams wouldn’t have to run through a gauntlet to get to a bowl game. Fans would benefit from keeping their fun rivalry games and seeing their team on a more even playing field.
Sure, it may be a bit tougher to schedule, but the athletic directors should be able to establish a more balanced system and keep the Big Ten relevant on the national scene were this system implemented.