I know most of the attention that’s gone the Big Ten’s way over its new divisional realignment has come in the form of mockery over abandoning Delany’s stupid “Legends” and “Leaders” nomenclature, but the real story for me as how that league has managed in a fairly short period to blow up some of its traditional rivalries, while preserving others. It’s a real case study.
To catch you up, the Big Ten announced it’s going to a nine-game conference schedule in a couple of years. In the meantime, the new conference schedule calls for two cross-divisional games, both of which will be scheduled on a rotating basis. When the league goes to nine games in 2016, the cross-division schedule will increase to three, but all the games will continue to be scheduled on rotation, except for one rivalry game, between Indiana and Purdue, that will be protected.
The conference managed to protect some longstanding rivalries on an annual basis, like Wisconsin/Minnesota and Michigan/Ohio State, by putting those schools in the same division – so much for trying to grease the skids for that special matchup in the conference championship – but the oldest trophy rivalry is gone, and so are a few others. (But, hey, welcome back one!)
I’m not saying there are any big lessons to be learned here. There’s no way to please everyone as you go from a round-robin arrangement to a cross-divisional one. And Delany has chosen the particularly messy course of division re-jiggering with this last round, as opposed to what the SEC did. But it could have been worse.
Which has me wondering – could the SEC do something similar that would work?
You’d have to put the two Mississippi schools in the same division, maybe along with Arkansas, TAMU and Missouri, none of which have any historical rivalries with SEC teams, but do at least have geographic cohesiveness and some historical common ties. The reason you’d have to do that on one side is because you’d have to put Alabama in the same division with its two oldest rivals, Auburn and Tennessee, which in turn would require Georgia’s presence for Auburn and then Florida would have to be a part of it for the Cocktail Party. Vanderbilt would go along with Tennessee and that puts you at six teams.
That leaves Kentucky, LSU and South Carolina left to sort out in the mix. I’ll leave you to take that where each needs to go, but the bottom line is that by moving the two Alabama schools eastwards, the conference could save a bunch of rivalry games and still get the benefit of rotating the cross-divisional ones. It sure makes staying with an eight-game conference schedule more palatable.