Published Monday, April 29, 2013 at 12:30 am / Updated at 11:26 am
Barfknecht: Big Ten East-West split inevitable, but it has its pluses and minuses

An idea that Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany floated five months ago has become policy.

The league voted Sunday to split into geographic divisions — East and West — starting in 2014 when Rutgers and Maryland join as the 13th and 14th members.

The six schools in the Central Time Zone (Nebraska, Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois and Northwestern) will hook up with Purdue in the West. The East will be the seven other Eastern Time Zone schools (Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Penn State, Indiana, Rutgers and Maryland.)

This isn't big news, folks, regardless of the breathless “scoops” some national media folks have claimed on this topic recently.

Big Ten divisions
Here's a look at the new Big Ten divisions that begin play in 2014. The nine-game conference football schedule starts in 2016.
East     West
Michigan StateNebraska
Ohio StateNorthwestern
Penn StatePurdue

Shortly after Rutgers and Maryland were revealed as new Big Ten members in late November, Delany talked about geography being the No. 1 priority in creating divisions. Last time, when Nebraska joined, competitive balance was first, maintaining rivalries was second and geography third.

The addition of two schools along the Atlantic seaboard created a natural geographic split in the Big Ten, with only Purdue and Indiana somewhat stuck in the middle.

So Delany's geography-based plan was inevitable. Husker fans, if you've learned anything about your new league, it's that whatever the Commish wants, the Commish gets.

Statements released Sunday indicate Nebraska's administration and athletic department are on board.

“It is the best option, and it will serve us well,” Chancellor Harvey Perlman said.

“These changes will have a positive impact on our great university, football program and Husker supporters,” Athletic Director Shawn Eichorst said.

The Big Ten release said the East-West Divisions and the move to a nine-game conference football schedule in 2016 were “unanimously recommended” by A.D.s and supported by the schools' CEOs.

Yeah, right.

I've loitered in too many hotel hallways at conference meetings to know there was a decent amount of dissent over time, if not some outright arguing.

(The best was when the Big 12 spent an entire afternoon deadlocked 6-6 on a vote for its first commissioner, then claimed to reporters it was “unanimous.” It didn't look that way, as some school officials confirmed while angrily marching down the hall away from the press conference.)

I asked Eichorst if all Big Ten schools were on board with East-West and nine games during Sunday's teleconference. His reply: “It was unanimous at the end of the day from my perspective.”

Also, there has been no discussion Eichorst is aware of to divide men's and women's basketball into divisions.

Get the latest Big Ten headlines from The World-Herald and from beat writers around the nation.

“And I would be surprised if we're headed in that direction,” he said.

The best news is that the words “Legends” and “Leaders” as division names will soon go into the scrapheap of history. Those two words as a pairing are outdone for dislike only by “eternal” and “damnation.”

So what do the new divisions mean for Nebraska football?

It looks like an easier path to the Big Ten championship game, but there is danger in getting mired in a mudhole that resembles the old Big 12 North.

Granted, you can jiggle statistics and come up with an argument that the West has been just as strong as the East since such-and-such a date. That may be true over the short term.

But a key element in measuring long-term success in college football is stadium size, especially what's known as “60,000-seat Stadium Syndrome.”

If your stadium is a decent amount bigger than 60,000 seats, you're in it to win it. You've shown commitment. If your stadium is smaller than that, you're mainly along for the ride.

Nebraska, at 92,000, has the biggest stadium in the West. But the stadiums that rank Nos. 1, 2, 3 and 6 in capacity in the Big Ten are in the East. NU at No. 4 and Wisconsin at No. 5 are the West's biggest.

This sets up another uneven division structure like the Big 12 had when the North and South were so out of balance — in commitment and results.

It matters more now because of the college football playoff, which starts in 2014. Strength of schedule will be a major component of the selection committee's deliberations. If you play in a weaker division, it will make it more difficult to get in the national title hunt.

For Husker fans, the travel in the new West will be somewhat easier.

But with fewer games in the future against Michigan, Ohio State and Michigan State, Nebraska isn't getting the marquee matchups it expected upon joining the Big Ten. And that's a big disappointment.

Contact the writer:


Contact the writer: Lee Barfknecht    |   402-444-1024    |  

Lee Barfknecht has won nine national writing awards from four separate organizations, and is a 12-time winner of the Nebraska sportswriter of the year award. He covers Big Ten football and basketball, Nebraska basketball and other college financial issues for The World-Herald.

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