New Divisions: Badgers Head West

Winners of the first two Big Ten championship games and the last three Big Ten titles, Wisconsin's road to more conference championships was laid out Sunday by the Big Ten conference.

Those opposed to the 'Legends' and 'Leaders' Division names can thank Maryland and Rutgers for joining the Big Ten in the 2014 season and reshuffling the conference.

The University of Wisconsin could be thanking a lot of people over the next several years, too.

The Big Ten conference announced Sunday football division alignments set to begin in 2014 and that split the conference into two divisions (West and East) and take the heavy hitters off of Wisconsin's schedule.

"Big Ten directors of athletics concluded four months of study and deliberation with unanimous approval of a future football structure that preserved rivalries and created divisions based on their primary principle of East/West geography," said Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany in a statement. "The directors of athletics also relied on the results of a fan survey commissioned by BTN last December to arrive at their recommendation, which is consistent with the public sentiment expressed in the poll."

The new division alignments will feature Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, Northwestern, Purdue and Wisconsin in the West Division.

Indiana, Maryland, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Penn State and Rutgers make up the East Division. All schools in the East Division are in the eastern time zone and all schools in the West Division are in the central time zone with the exception of Purdue.

Each school will play the other six schools in its division plus two teams from the other division in 2014 and 2015, which will serve as transitional years in which the schools will still be playing eight-game schedules. Beginning in 2016, each school will play three teams from the other division as part of its nine-game schedule. The cross-division games will include one protected matchup on an annual basis between Indiana and Purdue.

The Big Ten also approved a nine-game conference schedules set to start in 2016. With the start of the nine-game conference schedule, teams from the East Division will host five conference home games during even-numbered years, while teams from the West Division will host five conference home games during odd-numbered years. As a result of the nine-game conference schedule and the Big Ten's schedule rotation, every student-athlete will have the opportunity to play against every other team in the conference at least once during a four-year period.

The Big Ten is returning to a nine-game conference schedule for all teams for the first time since the 1983 and 1984 seasons.

"Big Ten directors of athletics met in person or by conference call six times from December to March to discuss a new Big Ten football model," Delany said. "The level of cooperation and collaboration was reflective of what we've come to expect from this group of administrators who have worked extremely well together on a number of complex matters over the past several years. We are all looking forward to ushering in this new era of Big Ten football."

The 118th season of Big Ten football kicks off Thursday, August 29, and culminates with the third annual Big Ten Football Championship Game on Saturday, Dec. 7, to be played at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis and televised by FOX. The winner of the title game will earn the Big Ten Championship and a chance to play in either the Rose Bowl Game or Bowl Championship Series National Championship Game.

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