- Adam Rittenberg, ESPN Staff Writer
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Most Big Ten athletic directors entered their meetings Sunday and Monday at league headquarters thinking that geography would drive the discussion about the soon-to-be revamped football divisions.
When the ADs emerged from the meetings, their sentiment hadn't changed.
"This time, it's geography that's probably the No. 1 priority," Northwestern athletic director Jim Phillips told ESPN.com.
"We wanted to try and find a way to be geographic in our divisions," Ohio State AD Gene Smith said.
"There's nothing unanimous about this," added league commissioner Jim Delany, "but there's strong support for geography."
Although the Big Ten presented the athletic directors -- and several university presidents who came to the league office Sunday -- with several models for divisions, don't be surprised if the league decides to keep things simple with an East-West alignment following the additions of both Maryland and Rutgers in 2014. The simplest solution -- one the athletic directors are discussing -- is to assign teams based on their time zone (Eastern or Central).
The lone caveat: there will be eight Big Ten teams in the Eastern time zone -- Maryland, Rutgers, Penn State, Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State, Indiana and Purdue -- and only six in the Central time zone (Nebraska, Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Northwestern and Illinois). So one team from the Eastern time zone would need to move.
"Sometimes the best thing is to do the most logical thing," Phillips said. "It just makes logical sense to everybody. Let's try to make sure whoever we move over is the right institution, and it's good for them and good for their school, but it's hard to argue against that.
"We tried a variation last time with Wisconsin going over in that direction and Illinois. As we listen to everybody, it just makes sense to do it this way. Again, it's not finalized and nobody's declared anything that we know which seven is going to be where, but it certainly feels like we're moving in that direction."
The four schools located closest to the time zone border are Purdue, Indiana, Michigan State and Michigan, so it's not a stretch to think one of the four is likeliest to move to the Central time zone division. There are two meaningful rivalries between the foursome -- Indiana-Purdue and Michigan-Michigan State -- one of which could be preserved with an annual protected crossover.
Although my divisions proposal had Purdue moving to the West/Central division, keep an eye on Michigan State (Brian Bennett's pick). Athletic director Mark Hollis loves showcasing Michigan State in the Chicago market against Northwestern, and the Spartans and Wisconsin have formed a nice rivalry in recent years that would continue if the two schools are in the same division.
"We don't want to throw out competitive balance and those other important areas of rivalries," Phillips said, "but what's leading this ... is geography, what's best for our fans, what's the easiest travel for them and what makes the most sense."
5dDavid Ching and Edward Aschoff