Mike Carmin Lafayette Journal & Courier
Published 3:37 PM EDT Aug 1, 2019
WEST LAFAYETTE – It’s an annual discussion heading to each football season.
Let’s blow up the division setup in the Big Ten and start over. The East is strong. The West is weak. It must be changed, or the football universe will explode.
Heading into the 2019 season, the league might be as balanced as it’s been in several seasons.
The East is perceived as stronger because it has more teams in the College Football Playoff discussion. The West hasn’t been part of that conversation. Granted, the East has won each conference championship games since switching to a geography alignment.
Do you want to go back to Legends and Leaders? That alignment didn’t last long and splitting the Big Ten based on geography was the right move.
Athletic director Mike Bobinski takes in the first day of spring football practice Monday, February 27, 2017, inside the Mollenkopf Athletic Center on the campus of Purdue University.
John Terhune/Journal & Courier
There is no next move. This is how it should be. The only way it changes is if we see more expansion, which is always possible. Check back in the early 2020s when the Big Ten’s current media deal expires.
While reconfiguring the divisions is a hot topic at Big Ten Media Day among those who cover the league, it usually doesn’t carry the same importance with the decision-makers.
“It’s not an evergreen item on our agenda,” Purdue athletic director Mike Bobinski said. “It’s not something that we say we’re going to dig in and tackle this. Someone raises an issue – typically when someone new comes in – and says, ‘Hey, why is it this way?’
At that point, Jim Delany – the outgoing commissioner – becomes the storyteller and walks everybody through the evolution of how the conference decided to split the 14 teams and why Purdue and Indiana play each season, despite residing in different divisions.
It doesn’t mean the subject hasn’t been discussed at length. It has, but as you can tell, we’re still in the same alignment.
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“We talked about it once with some degree of depth to it and at the end of the day, everybody saluted and said, ‘Let’s carry on,’ ” Bobinski said. “It’s not something I see today as imminent.”
And it shouldn’t be a front-burner issue until the conference adds more teams, if at all. Now, the new commissioner – Kevin Moore – might have his own ideas of how he wants the divisions to work. He takes over in January.
In the beginning, the East’s top teams were considered the superpower and kept pushing the West all over the field and even in the recruiting world. But last year, the East posted an 11-10 record against the West. The trend is more than just a one-year snapshot.
Each team in the West won at least one game against the East last year. The East had two teams – Rutgers and Indiana – posted 0-3 records against the other side.
“We hear all of that and we look at the crossover records and some of that would fly in the face of what perception is,” Bobinski said. “You have high-profile traditional powers on one side and you have really good, improving football teams on our side.”
The high-profile programs won’t change. Michigan is Michigan. Ohio State is Ohio State. But Nebraska can become Nebraska again and Wisconsin isn’t far removed from consistently winning the West.
But programs from the West have demonstrated they can play and compete. The coaching has improved. Recruiting is on the upswing. Schools are committing more resources to field a better product.
There’s no consensus favorite in the West this season. Throw a blanket over everyone but Illinois and no one would be surprised if the other six teams won the division.
In fact, the Amway/USA Today Coaches Preseason poll was released Thursday. Five of the seven teams in the West received votes. Wisconsin, Iowa, Northwestern, Nebraska and Minnesota. The teams from the East to receive votes? Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State and Michigan State.
The West is more recognizable to the outside world than ever before and keeping the divisions intact only helps grow what is currently happening. Granted, it would help if the West won a Big Ten championship game to quiet those who want to see Michigan and Ohio State play in back-to-back weeks.
The case can be made that the West might be the most competitive division among the Power 5 conferences this season.
“It’s not the best yet, but it could be extremely competitive, and I think at the end of the day, that’s pretty compelling,” Bobinski said.
Mike Carmin covers Purdue football for the Journal & Courier. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow on Twitter @carmin_jc
Published 3:37 PM EDT Aug 1, 2019
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