DECKER: Big Ten Victorious in Realignment

Bloomington - With the conference realignment storm seemingly having passed (at least for the time being), the Big Ten appears to be the big winner from the early changes...

And Round One of conference expansion goes to…the Big Ten.

With Texas' Tuesday announcement that it intends to stay in the Big 12, two things have become apparent. The first is that Texas can do pretty much whatever it wants in the new 10-team Big 12, evidenced by the conference's willingness to sign off on the Longhorns launching their own television network. The second is that no other major conference shake-ups appear imminent.

So where does that leave us? There have been only three changes that have taken place:

June 4 – Boise State announces it is moving from the WAC to the Mountain West Conference in 2011-12

June 10 – Colorado announces its intentions to leave the Big 12 for the Pac-10 beginning in the 2012-13 season

June 11- Nebraska announces it is leaving the Big 12 and has agreed to join the Big Ten beginning in the 2011-12 season

A fourth change is likely, as the Pac-10 is still in need of a 12th team so it can play a football championship game at season's end. With its bid at gutting the Big 12 of six schools now over, most expect Utah to leave the Mountain West and join Colorado as the league's new additions.

So considering where things stand today, few could argue that the Big Ten has emerged victorious from the early changes. It's added a Midwestern school with a storied football tradition that clearly enhances the league's football reputation. It also has added a 12th school, freeing it up to play a conference championship game. While Nebraska isn't a name school on the level of Texas or Notre Dame, it's the biggest name among the schools that are switching leagues.

The Pac-10 appeared likely to be the big winner with its potential move to a 16-team league, but those plans fell through on the decision of Texas to stay put. That leaves the league with a new addition without much flash (Colorado), and a need to add another school which will likely have to come from a non-BCS conference (Utah).

The Mountain West Conference quietly enhanced its image significantly with the addition of Boise State, a program that has finished the season ranked in the nation's top 20 six times in the last eight years, including two times in the top five. It significantly enhances the league's chances of joining the BCS in a couple of years, although the potential loss of Utah will be a small hit in those efforts.

The Big 12 staved off extinction with its ability to keep Texas from bolting for the Pac-10 (which would have resulted in Oklahoma State, Oklahoma, Texas Tech and probably one more Big 12 school following suit), but it's hardly on solid ground. The University of Texas' ability to control the fate of the league doesn't bode well for its long-term viability – over time the remaining Big 12 schools figure to grow tired of the power that one program wields, something that undoubtedly contributed to Nebraska's eagerness to join the Big Ten.

As the dust settles on conference expansion for the time being, the wholesale changes that many anticipated didn't materialize. But considering the changes that did occur, the Big Ten has to be very happy with the end results.


Now that it's apparent that the Big 10 will have 12 (and only 12) teams beginning in the fall of 2011, how will the league be split up?

Based on geography, the league would seem to have the option of splitting the league into either East/West divisions or North/South divisions. Here is how those two choices would shape up:

East/West scenario:

West Division – Nebraska, Iowa, Minnesota, Illinois, Northwestern, Wisconsin East Division – Indiana, Purdue, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Penn State

North/South scenario:

North – Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Michigan State, Northwestern, Iowa

South – Illinois, Purdue, Indiana, Ohio State, Penn State, Nebraska

The more logical choice would be the North/South scenario in an effort to have a more equitable balance of power. A six-team division that included Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State isn't ideal. The North/South scenario still isn't ideal because three of the four long-term traditional football powers are in one division (OSU, PSU and Nebraska in the South; only Michigan in the north), but it still appears to be a better split. The success of Iowa and Wisconsin during the last 15-20 years coupled with the presence of Michigan State makes it a fairly even split.

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