Michigan-Ohio State to remain at season's end?


Confirming rumors that have been running rampant over the past 24 hours, the Big Ten released a statement earlier today that they would be announcing Wednesday night the shape of their two six-team divisions, which will go into effect when Nebraska joins the conference in 2011.

What is somewhat unknown right now is what schools will be placed where.  Fortunately, word has begun to filter out as to exactly how the divisions will be structured.

And, we’ll be damned if they don’t look exactly the way we placed them just a couple of hours ago.

Scott Dochterman of the Cedar Rapids Gazette, ESPN.com‘s Andy Katz and many, many others are reporting this afternoon that the two divisions the Big Ten will announce tonight will look as follows:

• Michigan, Nebraska, Iowa, Michigan State, Northwestern and Minnesota.

• Ohio State, Penn State, Wisconsin, Purdue, Indiana and Illinois.

While nothing is official, and won’t be until some point after 7 p.m. ET, the above seems to be the way most sources who are leaking tidbits like BP does oil are reading the divisional tea leaves.  There’s another angle — and at least two reports addressing said angle — that could very well be the biggest news of the evening for a good chunk of the Big Ten’s fan base and college football fans in general.

According to both the Associated Press and a radio station in Michigan, Ohio State and Michigan will indeed be placed in separate divisions.  However, the two long-time rivals will continue to play annually in a protected cross-over rivalry and, contrary to the innuendo floated in the past couple of weeks by key members of both schools and the conference, The Game will remain the final regular season game for the two schools.

The mere discussion of moving arguably the greatest rivalry in sports and a game that’s been played at the end of the regular season for over 70 years caused a more-than-minor uproar amongst both sets of fan bases and the the media.  It’s quite possible that the uproar had an effect on the decision makers and forced them to deviate off a course that had seemed set in stone less than a week ago.

What this also would mean, though, is the possibility, however remote, that Michigan and Ohio State could meet in both the regular-season finale and the Big Ten title game a week later.  The two schools playing back-to-back games was one of the arguments proffered by those in favor of moving The Game to late October/early November, although the likelihood of such an occurrence would seem to be slim most years and, based on recent history, would be something that could possibly, maybe happen once or twice a decade at most.

Getting back to the divisional split, and if the rumors come to fruition, it will create several unique and potentially compelling rivalries while at the same time preserving arguably the conference’s greater property.

Based on the assumption that each team will play every other team in their division, the three “new” rivalries that are now guaranteed to occur annually and just jump off the screen are Nebraska-Michigan, Ohio State-Penn State and Iowa-Nebraska, with the potential for Wisconsin-Nebraska — at the expense of Paul Bunyan’s Axe — to be a protected cross-over rivalry if the Badgers get their rumored way.

Add to that Michigan-Michigan State and Ohio State-Wisconsin, and Iowa-Michigan for that matter, playing each and every year, it sets up a tough gauntlet for the top schools to run through just to make it to a title game.  That could serve the conference well in preparing and “toughening” them for the postseason, whether it be the BcS or ultimately a playoff.

The downside, though, is the fact that such a split, should all of the schools stay around their current level of competitiveness, could conceivably make it tougher to grab a second BcS slot as the conference has done multiple times in this era.  

In the end, if the Big Ten is able to protect the sanctity of The Game while at the same time creating compelling new divisional rivalries that are guaranteed to be played annually and saving the vast majority of the traditional rivalries — which this rumored split does — then the conference should be heartily applauded regardless of the downsides.

And, then, I will gladly withdraw my proposal for the two divisions to carry the names “Avarice” and “Gluttony”.  It’s the least I could do.

UPDATED 5:11 p.m. ET: Love, hate or ambivalent to the rumored Big Ten split of divisions?  You can voice and vote your opinion by clicking HERE.