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Tuesday, March 19, 2013
Big Ten mailblog

By Adam Rittenberg

To your emails ...

Mel from Cincinnati writes: Adam,I really enjoy reading the blog, thanks for all you do. First of all, I'm really glad to see an East/West alignment. Purdue in the West makes sense for football, although I think Indiana would be OK as well. Have you heard whether or not other sports e.g. basketball would also be using a divisional alignment? If so then I would think Indiana would be a much better choice for the West Division, to provide at least some balance in that sport. Right now from a basketball standpoint, the proposed divisions would put most of the traditionally strong basketball teams in the East.

Adam Rittenberg: For the record, this isn't my uncle Mel in Cincinnati (although I do have one). Basketball divisions don't appear to be on the table because all teams qualify for the Big Ten tournament, so there's really no point. I know athletic directors are seriously considering increasing the number of conference games in hoops so teams can play each other as much as possible in an expanded league. But all of the division discussions taking place pertain only to football.


Dave from Plymouth Meeting, Pa., writes: I would prefer seeing MSU move to the west to give a little more balance. That said, I think the BIG needs to look at what has happened over the years with the SEC. When they first went to divisional play, I can remember Florida, Georgia, and Tennessee were consider the top of the SEC and all were in the east. Then once the sanctions were over for Alabama and Auburn, the west division has been dominant mainly with Bama and LSU deciding the SEC champ. I am not sure what the answer is, but I can see initially the east being the dominate division, but who knows 5 years down the road maybe the west then takes over for a number of years.What is also tough with any divisional alignment is the non-powerhouse teams in the conference. It becomes harder for them to break through and build their programs if they do not have the opportunity in some years to play 3 or 4 teams in the conference that are at or below their level (i.e. 3 or 4 conference wins). That is what boost interest for the fan base and gives hope for the future of those schools.

Adam Rittenberg: Dave, I think the Big Ten brass sees it similarly, as things tend to be cyclical with a few exceptions. Certainly the proposed East division looks stronger than the West, but things tend to shift with coaching changes, personnel changes and other factors. What if Purdue goes to the West and regains its form from the late 1990s/2000? What if Northwestern becomes more like Stanford with improved recruiting efforts? What if Michigan State takes a step backward? Or Penn State struggles more with the sanctions? There are a lot of unknowns. You're right that it makes it tough for the non-traditional powers, but we've seen more parity in the Big Ten in the past 25 years. These teams can compete with the right recruiting/coaching efforts.


Sam from Nashville writes: The decision on whether to put Indiana or Purdue in the West seems clear: Indiana. First, let me say what everyone is thinking: It doesn't really matter either way. The balance of power between divisions is not made or lost with these two teams (no offense intended...well, sort of). But there is another reality, and that is division realignment isn't easy on either the fans or the sports writers. The solution is all about acronyms. Putting Purdue in the East (Purdue, Penn St, Rutgers, Ohio St, Maryland, Michigan, Michigan State) gives us the "PROM" division. Think Brady Hoke in a tuxedo with Urban Meyer on his arm in scandalous evening dress. Putting Indiana in the West (Wisconsin, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, Northwestern, Minnesota) gives us the "WIN" division. I did not forget about Minnesota, because no one associates them with winning and naturally they should be left out of such an acronym. Thus, to remember the division alignments, we need only to think PROM, WIN, and what Minnesota will not do against (insert your favorite B1G team here).

Adam Rittenberg: Easy on the Gophers, Sam, but this is a creative way to remember the potential divisions. I have to get the Meyer-Hoke mental image out of my mind now. Thanks for that.


Buddy from Chicago writes: Looks like Nebraska will be winning the West for the forseeable future. Either MSU or UM should move to West to balance the power.

Adam Rittenberg: No disrespect to the Huskers, but how many division titles has Nebraska won in the past 15 years? It's far from a guarantee that the Huskers will be playing for the Big Ten championship every year. Wisconsin's track record indicates it will be in the division mix most seasons, and both Iowa and Northwestern have shown they can compete. Although Iowa needs to get back on track, Northwestern is definitely a program on the rise after five straight bowl appearances. It'll be important for Minnesota, Illinois and Purdue or Indiana to take steps with their programs.


Paul from Rapid City, S.D., writes: Horrible alignment! This reminds me of the Big 12. The geographical talent rich/based teams are in East divisions which will isolate the Western division teams (Big 12 South vs North). The West division will not be nearly competetive as the East, just like the Big 12 North; eventaully lost 3 teams Nebraska, Missouri, and Colorado.

Adam Rittenberg: Paul, some valid points there. You have to wonder how much the rest of the country would pay attention to the "West" division, especially if none of those teams are in contention for national titles. As I mentioned before, it's important that Northwestern continues to win eight or more games per year, for Iowa to get back to where it was in 2008-09 and for Minnesota and Illinois to start winning more consistently. I also think there are fewer guarantees -- aside from Ohio State and Michigan -- about the success of the "East" division teams.


DJ from Minneapolis writes: You can't include everyone, I get that and I am sure there were some tough exclusions. But with that said, how could you seriously leave Greg Eslinger off of this player tournament list? He won every award he could possibly win. You could even argue he is the best center the B1G has ever produced.

Adam Rittenberg: DJ, I strongly considered Eslinger for the list, and he would have been my next choice behind Robert Gallery. He had an exceptional career at Minnesota and will go down as one of the best offensive linemen in recent Big Ten history. Ultimately, I felt Gallery's dominance at left tackle for those Iowa teams gave him a slight edge, although the center position also carries extreme importance. If we went with one representative per team, Eslinger undoubtedly would have been the pick for Minnesota. But Gallery's accomplishments at Iowa resonated a little bit more in the region.