In the continuing pursuit of Big Ten football excellence, geography won.
In theory, Purdue got it easier, Indiana got it harder.
Big Ten officials announced a new division alignment (starting in 2014), plus a nine-game conference schedule (starting in 2016).
Purdue will be in the West Division along with Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Northwestern and Nebraska.
Indiana will be in the East Division along with Michigan, Ohio State, Michigan State, Penn State, Maryland and Rutgers.
The only cross-division rivalry game to be protected is the Oaken Bucket Game between the Boilers and the Hoosiers.
“It is an exciting time for the Big Ten and we are very appreciative to our leaders for maintaining the great Old Oaken Bucket rivalry we share with Indiana,” Purdue coach Darrell Hazell said in a university release.
One rivalry that won't be protected is Purdue's annual non-conference game with Notre Dame. In order to make the nine-game conference schedule fit, plus accommodate the Irish's move to the ACC (it's committed to playing five ACC games, plus USC, Navy and Stanford), something might have to go.
Hold that thought.
The new Big Ten format will begin in 2014 when Maryland and Rutgers begin conference play. Nine-game conference schedules, up one from the eight-game schedules used since 1984, will start in 2016 to allow teams time to adjust their schedules.
Teams must win their divisions to qualify for the Big Ten championship game. That winner will advance to either the Rose Bowl or the BCS title game.
Purdue's biggest division challenges would appear to come from Wisconsin and Nebraska, but there's vulnerability given the Badgers are transitioning to a new coach and the Cornhuskers have struggled to return to the program's former national-title winning glory.
IU has a more formidable task with Ohio State, Michigan and, perhaps, Michigan State. Ohio State seems poised for perennial national title contention under coach Urban Meyer, and Michigan shows similar signs under coach Brady Hoke. The Spartans have upgraded the talent -- and the success -- under coach Mike Dantonio.
While Penn State will struggle because of NCAA sanctions that have three years remaining, those struggles won't last forever.
The Hoosiers might have a very strong team and still have a hard time finishing with a winning Big Ten record.
You won't hear that from IU coach Kevin Wilson, who used twitter to praise the new division format:
“It's Official! #iufb will Be in New B1GTEN East starting 2014. Gr8 Fit 4 Our Program - Tremendous Opportunity 4 IU Athletics! #B1GTENEast”
IU athletic director Fred Glass said he was excited about the opportunity and the challenge.
Big Ten athletic directors recommended the changes and university presidents and chancellors unanimously passed them.
“We looked at lots of data and discussed multiple options,” Purdue athletic director Morgan Burke said in a university release. “The East/West split seemed to make the most sense as long as the Bucket game was protected.
“In addition, we have taken steps to enhance scheduling by adding a ninth conference game. This will create some challenges to nonconference games already scheduled, and we will be working on this issue in the days ahead.”
The big issue for Purdue is Notre Dame. The Boilers have to have seven home games a year for athletic department budget reasons. Starting in 2016 and in even-number years, Purdue will play four Big Ten home games and play at Notre Dame. That will leave the Boilers with just six home games, something that Burke can't do.
Purdue and Notre Dame have played every season since 1946. Their contract extends through the 2021 season.
Irish athletic director Jack Swarbrick and Burke will meet in the next two weeks to see what they can work out.
Also uncertain is the Boilers' two-game series with Missouri set for 2017 and 2018.
The Big Ten has used a Leaders and Legends division format in recent years once the league reached 12 teams with the addition of Nebraska. The decision to add Maryland and Rutgers forced conference officials to adjust that format. During that process, new division names were selected.
Each team will play the others in its divisions, plus two from the other division, until 2016, when it will play three from the other division.
“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,” Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany said in a release. “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.”
Starting in 2016, East Division teams will host five conference home games during even numbered years, while West Division teams will host five conference home games during odd-numbered years.
“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.”