The Big Ten's complete division tiebreakers

September, 1, 2011
9/01/11
10:55
AM ET
The Big Ten on Thursday released its tiebreaker procedures for determining division winners. Included in the tiebreakers is the ruling that any team unable to play in a postseason bowl game because of Big Ten or NCAA sanctions is ineligible to participate in the Big Ten championship game.

Although Ohio State seems unlikely to be hit with a bowl ban, its fate for the Big Ten championship game rests with the NCAA's Committee on Infractions, which will rule on the school's case sometime in the next two months.

OK, let's get to the tiebreaker procedures.

Here's the basic one: When two teams tie atop the division, the winner of their head-to-head matchup goes to the league title game.

It gets more complex when three or more teams tie atop a division. The following seven methods will be used, in order, to determine a champion or reduce the group to two teams, where a head-to-head tiebreaker then can be used:
  • Records of the tied teams are compared with each other
  • Records of the tied teams are compared within the division
  • Records of the teams are compared against the next-highest teams within the division
  • Records are compared against all common conference opponents
  • The team ranked highest in the BCS standings after the regular season goes to the league championship game unless it is ranked within one spot of another tied team. In this case, the head-to-head result of the two teams determines the division champion
  • The team with the highest overall win percentage (outside of exempted games)
  • The division champion will be chosen by random draw

Here's hoping it never reaches the random draw stage (highly unlikely).

The item concerning the BCS standings is interesting. At the Big Ten spring meetings coaches and administrators discussed whether the BCS standings should play any role in determining division winners. Although the standings could determine division winners, they're not as high on the tiebreaker list as they were before. Plus, they're not determining BCS bowl berths any more, just the chance to earn one in the title game.

The BCS standings determined the Big Ten's automatic BCS bowl berth last year, as Wisconsin went to the Rose Bowl ahead of both Ohio State and Michigan State. Wisconsin finished No. 5 in the final BCS standings, one spot ahead of Ohio State and four spots ahead of Michigan State, which handed the Badgers their only regular-season loss. If the new format applied to these three teams, Wisconsin would go to the Big Ten title game because of its head-to-head win against Ohio State.

The complex tiebreakers also include procedures if a team ineligible for the championship game finishes atop the division standings.
  • If the ineligible team is tied for the division championship, the team it tied with shall be the Big Ten championship game representative.
  • If two or more teams are tied with an ineligible team for the division championship, the ineligible team is removed and the remaining teams revert to the tiebreak procedure.
  • The division runner-up shall be the Big Ten championship game representative.
  • If there is a division runner-up tie, then the tied teams shall revert to the tiebreak procedure.

Now I thought the dreaded "co-champions" tag died with the old Big Ten, but there's still a small chance it could be used. If for some odd reason the Big Ten title game can't be played, the two division winners will be labeled co-champs. The Big Ten's automatic BCS bowl berth then would be determined by the following tiebreakers:
  • Teams ranked either No. 1 or No. 2 in the final BCS poll will automatically be placed in the BCS championship game.
  • If the two divisional representatives met previously in the season and neither is ranked No. 1 or No. 2 in the final BCS standings, the team ranked highest in the final BCS standings shall be the representative to the BCS, unless the other team is ranked within five or fewer places of the higher ranked team. In this case, the head-to-head results of the two teams shall determine the conference’s BCS representative.
  • If the two divisional representatives did not meet previously during the season, the team ranked highest in the BCS standings shall be the BCS representative.
  • If the two teams are tied in the BCS standings, the team with the best overall Big Ten record shall be the BCS representative.
  • If the two teams remain tied, the team with the best combined record of the tied teams against all common Big Ten opponents each team played that season shall be the BCS representative.
  • If the two teams remain tied, the representative will be the team with the best overall winning percentage.
  • If the two teams remain tied, the representative will be the team furthest removed from BCS participation.
  • If the two teams remain tied, the representative shall be determined by a random draw.

Got all that?

The most likely scenario we'll see in the new Big Ten is three teams tying for the division lead. These tiebreaker procedures underscore the importance of division games, a point I've tried to stress for a while now. If all three tied teams are 1-1 against each other, the team or teams with the best division records are rewarded. Division games simply matter more, and while teams like Nebraska and Ohio State have tough crossover schedules this year, both squads benefit from playing top division opponents at home.

These procedures should help you start to look at the Big Ten a little differently. Teams can survive losses outside the division, but if they stumble within the division, they won't be going to Indy.

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