Big Ten announces divisional alignment, 9-game schedule for 2016
Long-awaited news became official Sunday as the Big Ten at last confirmed (via Twitter) that it will switch to an East-West divisional alignment when Maryland and Rutgers join the league in 2014, and that the conference will transition to a nine-game schedule in 2016.
After the Legends and Leaders debacle and floating the idea of an inter-outer alignment that would have placed Northwestern and Michigan in the same division, but also gerrymandered Minnesota and Maryland as well as Nebraska and Rutgers as divisional bunk-mates, the Big Ten kept it simple for its intraconference realignment.
Geography buffs will note that the entire East Division lies in the Eastern time zone while the West Division (save for Purdue) sits in the Central Time Zone. Also, the Big Ten avoids the potentially awkward scenario of Michigan and Ohio State meeting in the regular-season finale and then playing again a week later in the league title game, as is a possibility in the current format.
The extra conference games joins the Big Ten with the Big 12 and Pac-12 among major conferences to employ a nine-game conference schedule. (The ACC, growing to 14 teams this fall with the additions of Pittsburgh and Syracuse, had also planned on playing a nine-game schedule until the partial-member agreement with Notre Dame came to fruition.) The Indiana-Purdue rivalry will be the only protected cross-over series, which allows the likes of Iowa and Minnesota the important opportunity to get Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State on campus as often as possible. As the conference noted Sunday, every player will have the opportunity to face every league foe at least once during a four-year career.
As is unavoidable with a nine-game schedule, half the league will be burdened with five away games and only four home games every other fall, however, the Big Ten has a smart plan to deal with that reality. East Division teams will host five games in even-numbered years, while West Division teams will take their turn in odd-numbered years. Though an extra road game is a disadvantage, as coaches will surely note, each squad will be at the same disadvantage as the teams it is fighting with to reach Indianapolis and the Big Ten title game.