Print and Go Back ESPN.com: Big Ten [Print without images]

Thursday, February 14, 2013
Stay or go? Assessing the Big Ten rivalries

By Adam Rittenberg and Brian Bennett

The Big Ten lays claim to several of the best rivalries in college sports and more trophy games than any other league. But not all rivalries are created equal.

As the league prepares for Round 2 of division alignment, athletic directors must make some difficult decisions about which rivalries to keep annually -- either through division play or with annual protected crossovers -- and which to play only from time to time, based on the schedule rotation. Even though the Big Ten plans to increase its league schedule to nine or 10 games, it's virtually impossible to align two seven-team divisions that preserve every single game considered a "rivalry."

We're here to help. We've assessed all the trophy games, the other rivalries and even some newish rivalries or ones we think have potential to grow in the coming years. (Note: We didn't consider incoming members Maryland and Rutgers for this exercise, though we felt Penn State-Rutgers and Rutgers-Maryland are natural rivalries). We've assigned them into four categories. The Big Ten ADs can thank us later.

Here we go ...

UNTOUCHABLE
Our take: As you might have guessed, these are games that shouldn't be touched. If so, there could be war. You don't need us to tell you what The Game means to Ohio State fans or Michigan fans. The Bucket game resonates similarly for those who love Indiana or Purdue. The Michigan-Michigan State game is the Big Ten's top in-state rivalry and has brought many memorable moments. Minnesota and Wisconsin have the longest-running rivalry in the FBS, first meeting back in 1890. No way that series is getting the axe. We debated whether or not to include Iowa-Minnesota here, but the rivalry's unique history and importance for fans of the bordering states gave it the nod. It doesn't hurt to have one of the best trophies (see right) in all of sports. Mmmm, bacon.

KEEPERS
Our take: These are games that league administrators should do their very best to keep on the schedule. Losing Iowa-Wisconsin and Iowa-Illinois as yearly rivalries two years ago was a shame and ought not be repeated. Iowa-Nebraska is new, but the Heroes Game looks like a winner. The Nebraska-Penn State series has a little bit of history and is growing, while Ohio State-Penn State makes sense from a tradition and geographic standpoint. While Illinois-Northwestern hasn't always featured the greatest games, in-state rivalries should be protected, and that clash appears to be getting more heated.

WOULD KEEP IF POSSIBLE
Our take: Although we won't throw a fit if these series aren't preserved, it would be nice to see as many of them remain on an annual basis. The Wisconsin-Ohio State series has blossomed in the past 15 years, as the Badgers have built their program to challenge the Buckeyes and the Big Ten's other traditional powers. Nebraska and Ohio State are two big brands and provide a nice showcase opportunity for the Big Ten (it's no mystery why their last two games have been in primetime on ABC/ESPN). Most Northwestern fans consider Iowa a bigger rival than Illinois, and while most Iowa fans don't consider Northwestern a true rival, they hate losing to the Wildcats as often as they have recently. The Wisconsin-Michigan State series certainly falls under the "new rivalry" label, as the teams have played some memorable close games in recent years. If possible, we'd like to see where this rivalry goes in the future.

EXPENDABLE
Our take: All five of these are trophy games, yet we wouldn't shed too many tears to see any of them become less regular meetings. The toughest call here is the Little Brown Jug series between the Gophers and Wolverines because it has a cool history. But that "rivalry" has been wildly one-sided in the past four decades, and not every series can be preserved. Illinois-Ohio State has been competitive at times recently, but the Illibuck often fails to resonate. There aren't enough compelling reasons to keep the Old Brass Spittoon and Cannon Trophy series an annual thing, and if the end of Michigan State-Penn State means we never have to see this monstrosity again, then good riddance.