Winners and losers in Big Ten realignment

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videoAs expected, Big Ten officials approved new East-West divisions for 2014, and a nine-game conference schedule beginning in 2016.

As with any big decision, there are some who benefit more than others. With that in mind, we take a look at the winners and losers of the Big Ten’s new plan going forward:

Winner: Wisconsin

The Badgers have won three straight Big Ten titles, so they hardly need much of a break. But there’s no denying that life is almost certainly going to be easier for Wisconsin in the West than it would have been in the East. It won’t have to compete with Michigan, Penn State or Ohio State for division titles, and will have only one traditional power (Nebraska) on its side. Plus, the Badgers will be grouped with traditional rivals Iowa and Minnesota.

Loser: Michigan State

Many, including me, thought putting the Spartans in the West made sense to balance out the divisions. But competitive balance wasn’t the top priority this time around for the Big Ten. So now, Michigan State will have to knock heads with Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State every year just in their own division. And the Spartans already have Alabama and Notre Dame on the 2016 schedule, which is shaping up to be a murderer’s row.

Neutral: Nebraska

On the one hand, the Huskers will play in what sure looks like the easier division. On the other hand, Nebraska fans didn’t think they’d be leaving the Big 12 only to not play Michigan, Ohio State or Penn State every year. Some Big Red supporters are worried the Big Ten West will turn into another version of the Big 12 North. The good news is that the Big Ten is sure to schedule crossover games between the Huskers and the Eastern powers as much as possible.

Winner: The Big Ten’s coffers

The nine-game schedule begins in the fall of 2016. Not coincidentally, the Big Ten’s current TV contract expires after the 2015-16 academic year. The league will have 63 conference games to offer to network executives for the next contract instead of the current 48. That’s what those in the business call “inventory,” and now the Big Ten has more to sell, as well as the additional large markets that Rutgers and Maryland bring.

Losers: The Little Brown Jug and Illibuck rivalries

No division alignment could have saved every one of the Big Ten’s trophy series. The two most notable victims in the East-West split are the annual Little Brown Jug game between Michigan and Minnesota, and the Illibuck series between Ohio State and Illinois. The Michigan-Minnesota rivalry has some cool history to it, but with only three Gophers’ victories since 1968, it hasn’t exactly been competitive. Few will miss the Illibuck game, either.

Winner: The Game

The Michigan-Ohio State game will naturally be continued on the last weekend of the regular season, and now it could often be a critical matchup for the East Division title. Maybe more importantly, this new alignment prevents the Big Ten’s top rivalry from being re-staged a week later in the conference championship game. While some would love to see the two teams play a rematch in Indianapolis, the rivalry will be stronger if it remains a once-a-year affair. This is the last year that the Buckeyes and Wolverines could potentially meet in back-to-back weeks.

Losers: The Big Ten’s bottom tier

Bad news for teams like Indiana, Maryland and others who will hope to sneak into a bowl at 6-6: life’s about to get rougher. The Big Ten’s scheduling model now leaves only three nonconference games, and FCS opponents will be taboo beginning in 2016. For a team like Purdue, which wants to play Notre Dame every year, there’s not much margin for error. Even if you schedule three non-league patsies, you have to win at least three Big Ten games, which won’t be easy in years where your team has five road conference contests. Indiana, for example, will also have to contend with Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State and Michigan State every year.

Winner: Our memories

No more need for mnemonic devices to remember which teams are in which division (M’s and N’s, plus Iowa …). Now, anyone with a basic understanding of geography can instantly figure out who’s where. If nothing else, the new alignment is simple and blessedly easy to comprehend.

Losers: Big Ten haters

Get your Legends and Leaders jokes in this year. Those oft-ridiculed names are going away after the 2013 season, and thankfully so. They made for easy punchlines by Twitter comedians and other critics of the league. Big Ten haters will have to work a little harder when East and West come aboard.

Winner: The SEC

The Big Ten joins the Pac-12 and Big 12 as major conferences playing nine conference games, and the ACC will have five of its teams play eight conference games plus Notre Dame every eyar. The SEC remains at eight games. Playing more conference games is great for fans and TV, but it also means more losses throughout the league and makes it harder for teams to go unbeaten — the Big Ten champ will have to run a gantlet of 10 conference games, including the title game. The SEC will continue to benefit from the perception that its teams beat each other up during league play while also playing fewer conference games. That could have big ramifications on the selection process for the upcoming College Football Playoff.

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