Jim Delany said last week the Big Ten has had discussions about realigning or eliminating its divisions.
Let’s be clear: Neither should happen.
Concerns about imbalance existed since the (welcome) switch to geographical divisions in 2014, but they ignored the possible positive outcome that has come to pass in four of the five years since.
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If the West winner gets to Indianapolis with a good record, it doesn’t matter if they didn’t beat anyone significant along the way — they will be highly ranked and become another “quality win” for the East champion’s playoff resume.
That’s really all you can ask for.
Conversely, if an unbeaten or one-loss West champ upsets the East champ, guess what? The West champ just picked up one of the best wins of anyone in the country and has its own strong case for making the playoff.
(This works because most of college football doesn’t understand the difference between a good team and a team with a good record. Search “Wisconsin, playoff contender” for proof.)
In 2014, 11th-ranked Wisconsin turned out to be Ohio State’s second-best win.
Ditto in 2015 for No. 4 Iowa with No. 5 Michigan State.
The Buckeyes and Spartans both made the College Football Playoff despite having a loss.
In ’16 and ’17, West winner Wisconsin was No. 6 and 3, respectively. The Badgers provided another major win for Penn State and Ohio State, but the league champion was left out of the playoff each year (rightly or wrongly) because it had two losses, one being a blowout in each case.
(This is probably why Delany said in July divisional realignment was unlikely.)
The 2018 season was the first in which no one from the West took care of business, but Northwestern still entered the game No. 21 despite having lost four games — just about the worst-case scenario.
The Big Ten missed the playoff this year because 2018 produced an unusually large number of undefeated teams and its champion wasn’t one of them. The Buckeyes still would have gotten in if they had showed up in West Lafayette in October.
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If this is all about the College Football Playoff, there is no case for eliminating or otherwise changing the divisions.
As far as producing resume-builders, 80 percent is a pretty good hit rate.
Every year of the East-West format, the Big Ten championship game has had the maximum positive effect on the conference’s playoff chances by putting the best team in the league up against the best team it had not already played.
On top of that, having Ohio State and Michigan playing again this year would have had no effect on the Big Ten’s playoff chances while Texas winning a rematch in the division-less Big 12’s title game over Oklahoma would have knocked the Sooners out and a win merely allowed them to hold serve.
Let’s not follow the bad habit of the BCS era and tweak the system every year to try to smooth out a problem that may or may not become a long-term issue.
(Expanding the playoff to eight teams would be more than a tweak, and it would be solving a problem that was always obvious as long as there are five power conferences.)
Don’t overthink this.
While divisions create some artificial competitiveness, that has actually been beneficial to the Big Ten so far.
If there has to be a conference championship game, this is the best way for the Big Ten to do it.
Eliminating the divisions and simply having the two best teams play at the end of the year is not appealing, either, and again this would have a more negative effect on Ohio State (and in this case Michigan) than the average league member.
Because it would create the real possibility of an Ohio State-Michigan rematch watering down the greatest rivalry in sports.
Again, let’s be clear: The Ohio State-Michigan game must be the regular season finale.
That is not negotiable.
The Game would be more like just another game if it were played at another time of the year because less would be at stake.
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The 2018 edition provided yet another example as once again one of the teams smashed the other's dreams and claimed them as their own.
That’s the way the Buckeyes and Wolverines roll, and that’s one of the biggest reasons so many people love this rivalry.
How different would the fallout have been if they were going to play again in a week on a neutral field?
Of all the traditions tarnished in the name of progress over the past 25 years, that would be the biggest loss in this conference if not beyond.
While divisions are problematic at times, they are no more so than conference championship games themselves.
In the case of the Big Ten, either keep them both or get rid of both, not one or the other.