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Penn State Belongs In The East

When the news broke last week that Nebraska would be invited to join the Big Ten as the twelfth member, attention immediately turned to discussion over how the divisions would be split up. In fact, Jim Delany was asked about it during the announcement press conference and had this to say.

Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany said the league will adhere to three principles when it sets its divisions, likely sometime later this summer.

"First priority’s competitive fairness to me," Delany said last week. "Second priority is maintenance of rivalries, some of them are very important. They’re part of who we are and they’re not treated lightly. And then I think the third is what factor, if any, does geography play?"

So to recap, the criteria are

  1. Competive fairness
  2. Maintaining rivalries
  3. Geography

Recognizing this, people are speculating about what Delany is thinking. Dr. Saturday takes a stab at it, and he determines this means one thing: Michigan, Ohio State, and Penn State cannot be in the same division.

Divisions: How will they split them?Commissioner Jim Delany laid out three factors for determining divisions on Friday, in order of importance: 1. Competitive fairness, 2. Maintaining traditional rivalries, and 3. Geography. We can rewrite those priorities as:

1.Splitting up Ohio State, Penn State and Michigan, the three programs responsible for eight straight conference championships/automatic BCS berths and four of seven at-large BCS bids since 2002; and
2. Preserving the prominence of the Ohio State-Michigan game in the regular-season finale.

Dr. Saturday suggests putting Penn State in the west with Iowa, Nebraska, Illinois, Northwestern, and Minnesota. Meanwhile, the eastern division would host Michigan, Ohio State, Purdue, Michigan State, Indiana, and Wisconsin.

Brian at MGoBlog also concurs that this is the best option, except he leaves Wisconsin in the west and takes Northwestern in the East.

If you want to go straight geography for non-revenue sports, fine by me, but in football I think the Big Ten will align things in a a way likely to avoid the Big 12 problem, and putting Michigan/Ohio State opposite Nebraska/Wisconsin/Iowa/Penn State is the most likely way to get sexy championship games.

First of all, let me say I have a lot of respect for everyone in the Big Ten and being in a division with Nebraska, Wisconsin, and Iowa would be highly competitive and very entertaining. But personally, I think this solution stinks.

If you ask me, there is way too much emphasis being put on preserving "The Game" between Michigan and Ohio State. I want to see Michigan and Ohio State play every year. I think it's important that they do. But everyone says we can't have these guys playing each other two weeks in a row. Uh, why not? Just the addition of a conference championship game severely demotes the traditional rivalry game in importance. You would think two bitter rivals would jump at the chance to play each other as many times as possible, and especially when the Big Ten championship is on the line. Think of it as eight quarters of OMG TEH GAME FUTBAL!!! instead of just four.

I'm in favor of splitting the league through geography down the border between Illinois and Indiana. I think putting Penn State, Michigan, and Ohio State in the east with Nebraska, Iowa, and Wisconsin in the west provides a nice balance to the league. Under the scenario that MGoBlog and Dr. Saturday suggest, the winner of the Michigan/Ohio State game would punch their ticket to the conference championship game every year while Penn State, Nebraska, Iowa, and Wisconsin would be forced into this Battle Royale to sort it out. The end result after a decade would be the Big Two splitting ten appearances in the Big Ten Championship game while Iowa/PSU/Nebraska/Wisconsin would each get two or three appearances each. Is that competitive fairness?

The fact is that right now Michigan is down, and to say Penn State can't share a division with them and Ohio State is ridiculous. The Penn State-Ohio State rivalry has become one of the most highly contested in the league. If you cast off Penn State and Michigan doesn't come back, I hope you look forward to Ohio State playing in the conference championship game every single year, because nobody else is going to challenge them.

Though Ohio State fans look at Penn State as the nerd they don't want to be associated with in the cafeteria, the fact is that they know they have to beat Penn State in order to win the Big Ten Championship. It would be a shame to break that up just so we can give the Wolverines and Buckeyes an easier path to the conference championship.

What Dr. Saturday and MGoBlog are endorsing amounts to protecting the Big Two and the other guys status that the Wolverines and Buckeyes have enjoyed forever. Tossing Penn State to the west to compete against Iowa, Wisconsin, and Nebraska gives Michigan and Ohio State an easier path to play for the Big Ten Championship and earn a spot in the BCS. Stand true to your word, Mr. Delany, and make competitive fairness a priority. Put Penn State in the east.