Alvarez Wants to Play Iowa Every Year
Wisconsin Athletic Director Barry Alvarez says he wants to play Iowa every year. Michigan and Ohio State are OK being in the same division. Things are becoming more clear.
Let’s jump into the way back machine and spin it back to late 2009. That’s when the Big Ten Conference dropped a bomb on college athletics by releasing a statement saying the time was right to analyze restructuring and expansion.
During that time, Wisconsin Athletic Director Barry Alvarez spoke to a few media outlets and amplified the Big Ten’s statement, making it sound like expansion was going to be a reality, not just an investigation.
Then Missouri started to wave its hand saying ‘Pick us! Pick us!’ The Governor of the state was talking too much publicly and the Big 12 began to come unglued. That’s when Nebraska officials began to talk with Big Ten officials behind closed doors (in some remote cabin in the Midwest) and wound up coming together in the late spring of 2010.
Fast forward to 2012, where the Big Ten added Rutgers and Maryland to the league, growing its membership to 14 teams. Divisional realignment is now on the menu and everyone has an opinion on it, including Alvarez.
He wrote the following in a column in the January 31st issue of Wisconsin’s own athletics department magazine:
First of all, you want to preserve your natural rivalries. You want to maintain playing those rivals while striving for competitive balance within the divisions. I think the Big Ten did a very good job in researching everything from the time that penn State joined the league. It clearly showed that there were teams that separated themselves from others. But I want to play Iowa every year. I didn’t like not playing Iowa the last two years. I know our fans didn’t like it either. I want to continue to play Minnesota every year. I also want to play Nebraska every year. That has turned into a natural rivalry for us. Those games are important because fans can travel to them.
I am not going to tell ‘What Barry wants, Barry gets,’ because I don’t think he or Wisconsin carries that big of a stick and certainly not in the face of Jim Delany. However, Barry has been a Big Ten barometer over the past three-plus years on the expansion and realignment front.
Iowa AD Gary Barta shared some similar concepts on January 18th in an interview with The Gazette.
“I just want to make sure that if we do it, we’re not too far out of whack in terms of competitiveness. But I think if you look at what likely could be two or three scenarios related to geography, I think we have a chance. We’ll be doing that in several meetings here.”
So there are two similar statements from two of the 14 AD’s who will be a part of the process. The Big Ten took a fan vote last month on how to split of the Divisions. I think that was a trial balloon. With Barta and Alvarez talking about this, it’s another tea leaf. Then you have the Penn State AD saying similar things and many of the other AD’s are singing the same chorus:
When considering a geographic split the last time around, the biggest stumbling block there was the Michigan-Ohio State question; should they be in the same division? Would they want to be?
This time around, it seems that objection has been overcome behind closed doors, as Ohio State AD Gene Smith said he’d favor it and Michigan AD Dave Brandon saying he has no objections to it.
I read that as Delany has already had those conversations with them, whatever objections might have existed have now been overcome and Michigan and Ohio State are going to be in the same division. That will likely include Penn State, Maryland and Rutgers, as those three schools will absolutely be in the same division.
On the other side, I think Iowa, Nebraska, Minnesota and Wisconsin will be in the same division. So we now have nine of the 14 schools seemingly set in one division or another. Let’s illustrate that:
I think having Illinois and Northwestern in the same division makes sense, too. Indiana and Purdue in the same division makes sense. Can both of those things happen? I think so but then you have Michigan State as the outlier here. Their natural dancing partner is Michigan, but the Wolverine are tied to Ohio State. If Purdue and Indiana go into the East, that division is done. Michigan State into the West, along with Northwestern and Illinois can work. It can especially work if the league continues to have a protected crossover rivalry.
On the face, this is fine. If the league expands to a nine-game conference slate with a protected rival, it would mean you play six divisional games and three games against the other league. If one of those is protected annually, it means you would play each team in the other league two out of every six seasons…or have a gap of four years off and two years on with every team in the opposing league. That’s in line with where the league was prior to adding Maryland and Rutgers.
If you move to a 10 game league slate with a protected rivalry, you’d play each team in the opposite division for two years then have just two years off before you played them again, or two meetings every four years against each team in the opposite division, plus a protected rivalry game.
Delany has always mentioned his desire for Big Ten teams to play as often as possible. If the league really wants to do that, a ten game conference schedule is the best way to accomplish that objective, but it certainly has its drawbacks as we discussed earlier this week.
So what’s the takeaway? I think Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska and Wisconsin in the same division is a near lock. Ohio State and Michigan in the same division is a near lock and Penn State, Maryland and Rutgers in the same division IS a LOCK. The league will not put Michigan and Ohio State into the western four group, as that would create a total lack of competitive balance, so I believe five of the seven teams in the Eastern Division are set just as I believe four of the seven teams in the Western Division are set.
What is left for debate is Illinois, Northwestern, Michigan State, Indiana and Purdue as well as if the league will continue to have a protected crossover rival and just how many games the league will play in its conference schedule.