New Big Ten Set-Up Works Out Well for Hawks

After a long summer of predictions and speculation, the Big Ten released its new divisional alignment and league schedules for 2011-12. Things turned out well for Iowa. Wisconsin? Not so much.

IOWA CITY, Ia. - Yes. The "protected" crossover game against Purdue is laughable. From what I'm reading and hearing, a lot of folks are enjoying the joke.

Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz will complete in 12th season as head man this fall. In that time, the Hawkeyes will have faced the Boilermakers eight times. Not exactly an important game if history is your guide.

It's not the kind of "rivalry" like say, oh, I don't know, Michigan-Ohio State. It's probably not even West Des Moines Dowling versus Valley.

OK. We agree. Calling that a rivalry is a larger stretch than White Sox's announcer Hawk Harrelson urging a good guy‘s fly ball over the fence. Let's move on.

Wednesday turned out to be a very good hump day for Iowa. While other schools felt screwed, the Hawkeyes landed in a division with Nebraska, Minnesota, Michigan, Michigan State and Northwestern.

I'm not saying that's five lay-ups every year. Heck, national public perception likely would rate the Wildcats as a softie. Hawkeye fans know better.

Logistically, it's a pretty good deal. Every school in the division is within reasonable driving distance. Nebraska, Minnesota and Northwestern are convenient day trips for fans and the players aren‘t faced will cross-country flights to Ohio and Pennsylvania.

Wisconsin A.D. Barry Alvarez couldn't turn down an interview during the expansion/divisional alignment process. Some called it campaigning. Truth be told, his school got worked over. The Badgers and their fans are looking at weekend trips to Penn State and Ohio State. They were not happy as you can read here.

Competively, the Big Ten did a good job breaking up the teams. This analysis has done a nice job in evaluating the alignment in terms of "fairness."

I talked with Iowa AD Gary Barta about competitive balance in divisional alignment when he was on our radio show last week. I got the sense that the league did a lot of research going back 20 years.

Things do move cyclically, however. Illinois might be a two-time BCS representative in the last decade but I'm sure Iowa fans would jump at the chance to play the Illini ahead of Northwestern next season.

The important thing to remember here is that Commissioner Jim Delaney and conference officials weren't going to make everyone happy. Goofy things like Iowa-Purdue and Michigan State-Indiana as protected crossover games were going to happy. When Nebraska came on board this summer, a very traditional league changed more than it ever had in its storied history.

It stinks to lose Wisconsin from the schedule. Iowa will miss the Badgers in 2011 and 2012. That will be weird. Whichever team wins this season will hold the Heartland trophy for at least three years.

When you analyze it, however, it makes sense. The two schools boast very similar resumes much like Ohio State and Michigan, and Nebraska and Penn State, who also were split up.

I'm not sure why Wisconsin went East. If it was Iowa, we'd be screaming. That's life.

The traditional end-of-the-year game against Minnesota will change for the Hawkeyes after this fall. Iowa finishes ‘11 and ‘12 against Nebraska. That will take some getting used to even though we experienced it a few years back in closing the year with Wisconsin.

In addition to playing Purdue, the Hawkeyes meet Indiana and Penn State in crossover games in the first two years of the new setup. They're at Penn State and Purdue next season and get Indiana at home. It will be reversed in ‘12.

Majority opinion on Wednesday seemed to be that the "East" division was the "loaded" side in the alignment. I didn't see it that way.

Sure, the division with Ohio State will be viewed as stronger. I won't argue that. But it also has Indiana, Purdue and Illinois. Not exactly murderers' row these days.

Michigan will be back. Nebraska is rising again. Iowa is coming off back to back January bowl wins. Northwestern and Michigan State rank ahead of the other side's bottom three.

I agree with Kirk Ferentz. We're all probably putting too much time into analyzing this alignment and scheduling. You play who is put in front of you and it's not like these divisions look lopsided like the Big 12 North and South.

Big things were expected of the Hawkeyes in 2007 when Ohio State and Michigan were off the schedule. It turned out to be the only year since ‘00 that the Hawkeyes missed the postseason.

What looks like an easy game now, might be a lot different when it's played on the field in two years. That's reality.

So, again, the Big Ten did a nice job in this alignment. Iowa benefited by getting a better draw than did Wisconsin in terms of travel and missing Ohio State.

Now, let's move on and play some football. We can decide things in the stadiums on Saturdays in the fall.


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