September 01, 2010
Unexpectedly good news today for Big Ten traditionalists worried that the conference's expansion to 12 teams next year threatened the sanctity of the Ohio State-Michigan rivalry in its traditional guise: The Buckeyes and Wolverines are expected to continue playing in the regular season finale after the league splits into two divisions, according to Detroit radio reporter Doug Karsch, preserving the 75-year run of "The Game" at the end of the schedule.
Now, the bad news for those of you who (like me) argued that preserving the rivalry also meant keeping OSU and Michigan in the same division: They're splitting them up. When the conference announces the new alignment tonight at 7 p.m. ET, ESPN says the new divisions will break down like so:
• Division 1: Iowa, Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Nebraska, Northwestern.
• Division 2: Illinois, Indiana, Ohio State, Penn State, Purdue, Wisconsin.
That gibes with the only other clue we had as to what the new divisions might look like, when Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez confirmed the Badgers would be separated from Iowa last week. But if you're looking for any particular pattern there in terms of rivalries or geography, don't bother: It could almost pass as a North-South divide if you swapped Nebraska and Wisconsin, but otherwise this look remains entirely beholden to "competitive balance." Well, and also to the extra million or two the conference can squeeze out of networks for the prospect of an Ohio State-Michigan rematch in the Big Ten Championship Game every few years.
We'll wait until it's official before resuming complaints about how that rematch – in back-to-back weeks, no less, in years that it happens – will do its part to undermine the intensity of the rivalry for no good reason, or how Wisconsin is totally screwed here regarding both its traditional rivalries (the Badgers are separated from Iowa and Minnesota) and the new one it wanted to start with Nebraska. But as long as the money's still good, it's safe to assume they can all learn to live with this.
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Matt Hinton is on Twitter: Follow him @DrSaturday.