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Big Ten Divisions: Land Grant Forever

Michael Rosenberg of the Detroit Free Press is a crafty dude. Without saying the Big Ten divisions should split geographically minus Penn State, he still found a way to advocate sending the Lions west for all of their divisional games.

After splitting up what he called the four "traditional superpowers" into pairs of Nebraska/Penn State and Ohio State/Michigan,  Rosenberg sells moving three western teams into the Nebraska/Penn State division on the following grounds:

Some more simple logic: Iowa is the only Big Ten state that borders Nebraska. Iowa's biggest rivalry game is against Minnesota (for Floyd of Rosedale). Minnesota's biggest rivalry game is against Wisconsin (for Paul Bunyan's Axe). Right now, Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin are protected rivalries -- each one plays the other two every year. I assume they want to keep that up. Plus they all share the same set of cows anyway. So those three join Penn State and Nebraska.

What about Penn State's protected rivalry with Michigan State?

Who cares? That was always a rivalry of convenience anyway. MSU cares far more about Michigan than it does about playing Penn State. That's why the Spartans go in the division with U-M and OSU.

...and Penn State cares way more about its game with Ohio State, a matchup that has decided the Big Ten BCS bid the last five years, than the contest with Michigan State, yet Rosenberg doesn't seem at all inclined to try and protect that game at all.

He then moves Indiana and Purdue to the Ohio State/Michigan division and splits Northwestern and Illinois among OSU/UM and PSU/NU respectively.

What results are defacto east and west divisions with Penn State as the ugly ducking.

It leaves Penn State and Illinois as the only two teams left without either of their protected rivalries intact and Penn State as the only one forced to play all of its divisional games across the geographical center of the conference from where it's located.

This makes about as much sense as putting the Pittsburgh Pirates in a division with the Houston Astros and St. Louis Cardinals.

While yes, what's about to become 18 consecutive losing seasons has done a lot to kill baseball interest in Pittsburgh, so has sticking the Bucs in a division with four teams located in a different time zone. There was a time when the Pirates' biggest rivalries were with the Philadelphia Phillies and the New York Mets as members of the N.L. East. No more. Today, all Bucco fans have are Dave Kerwin shirts and a largely meaningless rivalry with the Milwaukee Brewers while they wait for watered down series with the Mets and Phils at PNC Park once a year. Traditional rivalries with those teams have suffered greatly, and by extension, so has interest in divisional games.

I've said many times splitting up Penn State from Ohio State and Michigan is fine, though our own BSD Mike and likely many others would disagree. I tend to side with the Adam Rittenberg school of thought that you can't have three of your four biggest brands in the same division. That shouldn't be grounds for splitting the Lions off from the rest of the eastern teams, though. Champaign, which would be Penn State's nearest divisional city, is and eight hour drive from Pittsburgh let alone State College or Philadelphia.

When you're so alienated from the rest of your division, how can you really build rivalries between fans of other schools?

Look, it's understandable that not everybody can be happy with the splits and Rosenberg is hardly an outlier, as plenty of people support a model like his. You can't fault him for following his regional logic by A) Keeping Ohio State and Michigan together and B) Keeping Michigan and Michigan State in the same division.

In terms of giving everyone something to be happy about, though, it leaves Penn State lacking big time. While Penn State-Michigan State has always felt a little forced, both sides would probably agree it's gained a little traction in the last few years with the timeout fiasco in 2008 and the merciless beat down Penn State laid on Sparty in 2009 in vengeance. Why break up the party when it's finally gaining a little momentum?

Of course both schools have bigger rivals than each other, but there's no reason they can't build what they've started in a new Big Ten and still keep protected games with Ohio State and Michigan.

I'd be a big fan of trading Michigan State and Illinois between divisions in Rosenberg's proposal. That way, everyone in the conference comes away with this with at least one of its protected rivalries intact within its division and has someone else in the league relatively close by. If you wanted to, you could get every school a protected cross-divisional game, ensuring Penn State-Ohio State and Michigan State-Michigan stay together.

Again, it's far from a perfect plan, but it leaves everyone feeling like they came away with something, instead of just focusing on OMG TEH GAMEEE!!!11