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Thursday, September 1, 2011
The Big Ten's complete division tiebreakers

By Adam Rittenberg

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:
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.
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:
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.