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The big story over the weekend for the Big Ten was the announcement of the new football divisions starting in the 2014 season. They split the conference into East and West divisions and threw out the Legends and Leaders divisions that were so ridiculed by fans. However, one thing that did not receive much attention was the fact that these divisions were not specifically limited to football. Several people even went as far as to say that the divisions would be debated for each sport. They didn't say it was necessarily likely to happen, but with that in mind, it seemed like a good time to discuss the possibility of Big Ten basketball divisions.
The first thing to point out is that the possible basketball divisions would be identical to the football divisions. They would not get the option of switching teams over for "competitive balance" or to assure specific rivalry games. This is important because the announced divisions would be incredibly unbalanced for basketball, especially in the near future. Let's just take a look at the divisions and the conference records of each school. Also, for Maryland and Rutgers (who are not in the Big Ten yet), I have just listed their overall record:
- Michigan State
- Ohio State
- Penn State
This is an incredible advantage for the East. Not only would last year's Big Ten Champions be placed in the East division, but so would the teams that finished #2, #3, and #5 in the conference. Plus, the East would have an incredible advantage in recent postseason performances. Since 1998, the East would have 13 Final Four appearances including the two by Maryland in the early 2000s. On the other hand, the West would have just 2 appearances since 1998. This isn't just a slight advantage for the East, it's huge.
One thing also to consider would be the potential scheduling problems. If Big Ten basketball went to divisions, it would be assumed that each team would play every team in its division twice. The Big Ten currently has 18 conference games. This would mean that 12 games would be against divisional opponents and 6 games would be against the other division. This means that unlike the current setup, every Big Ten team would miss out on playing another Big Ten team in conference play. This probably isn't something that most fans would support and increasing the length of the schedule probably isn't the best option either. Very few conferences have more than 18 games and the Big Ten schedule is already brutal enough.
However, even considering the competitive unbalance and scheduling problems, there would be some major advantages. First, it would greatly reduce travel for teams. Teams like Maryland and Nebraska would rarely play, reducing those very long trips. Second, it would pretty much guarantee every rivalry gets played twice per year, which is currently not the case. For instance, Michigan would be guaranteed two games against OSU and MSU every year. This isn't something that's guaranteed in the current Big Ten. Finally, divisional games should get more intense and perhaps create even more interest for the conference since they will be so meaningful.
Ultimately, the problems of competitive unbalance and scheduling issues will probably be too big to overcome to create basketball divisions. If the Big Ten moves to 16 teams, this might become the best option, but for now, it's hard to imagine most people supporting this, even if it should reduce travel and guarantee most of the rivalries get two game series. Don't expect the Big Ten to approve the use of these anytime soon, but it could gain steam in the years to come.
Basketball Analyst For BTPowerhouse & Wolverine 247 - Follow me on Twitter: https://twitter.com/tbeindit
Football requires divisions because it's impossible to play everyone in a season. That's not true for basketball. In fact, with an 18 game schedule, you can play some schools more than once. And then you have a conference tournament to boot. There is no reason to have divisions in basketball.
Also, travel costs for football generally are much higher than for most other sports. You won't save that much money by having Nebraska travel to Madison instead of College Park to play basketball or soccer. OTOH if you really want Nebraska and UMD to feel like they are in the same conference, they need to interact as often as possible. Divisions will limit their interaction in football, so it's even more important they meet in other sports.
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