College football underwent a seismic, tectonic shift on Wednesday when it was announced that Nebraska will accept an invitation to join the Big 10. I love this move, and I think the impending counter move by the Pac-10 was a bit of an over-reach. Yes, they have two very big fish in Texas and Oklahoma, but they have a cumbersome, 16 team conference spread out over three time zones, forced together by Texas politics...just like the Big XII. I can see this as another shotgun wedding, much like the old Big 8 and Southwest Conference was, and although everyone thought the Big XII was the new power conference, they are now on the ash heap of history. I just don't see this ending well for the Pac-16.
As for the benefits of the Big 10, It’s freaking Nebraska, one of the most storied programs in college football, with rich tradition and history. I’m all about living in the now, but there’s nothing wrong with respecting the past and honoring tradition. It’s one of the things that make college football so special. And Nebraska, with the Blackshirts, the Tom Osborne legacy, four national championships, and a rabid fan base every bit as passionate as what you’ll find in the Big 10, fits the bill perfectly. As for living in the now, they went through their own ‘Rich Rodriguez era’ with Bill Callahan, and have gone through the fire and come out on the other side with Bo Pelini (OSU alum, BTW), who guided them to two straight bowl games. They are definitely on the way up, and we are getting them to jolin as they are on the ascent.
And oh by the way, the wrestling program is top notch, and would add to the Big 10’s dominance in that sport. As far as basketball goes, it’s a mid-level program that last made an NCAA tournament appearance in 1998, but is consistently competitive. Those will be nice additions to the conference, but make no mistake that this is all about football.
Monetarily, it’s a boon for both the conference and the school. It means a conference championship game, it means playing later in the season, and all that adds up to is money. Nebraska in the Big 10 means more games on ESPN and ABC for Nebraska, as opposed to the Fox Sports Network, which helps national exposure and recruiting for the school and the conference. Quick, name the last time you saw Nebraska on TV, other than a bowl game?
So, how do we set up the Big 10 and separate into two divisions? I think the conference should be split geographically along an East West orientation, but let's call the divisions the Great Lakes and the Great Plains Division, because it's original and cool.
Now, let's look at what I think the best possible divisional alignments with Nebraska in the fold:
Great Plains (West):
Great Lakes (East):
In the Great Plains, you keep natural/trophy/historic rivals MN-IA, MN-WI, IA-WI, NU-IA and NU-IL. In the Great Lakes, you keep natural/historic/trophy games with UM-MSU, IN-MSU, MSU-PSU, The Game, and PU-IN. The only real rival/trophy games that stands out as one that is in yearly jeopardy is the UM-MN game for the Little Brown Jug, but you can easily schedule a UM-MN game on a yearly basis, even though they no longer play every year. The OSU-IL game for the Illibuck isn't a yearly game anymore, either, and there's no real rivalry there, as much as Illinois might think so.
The only drawback is that there aren't any rivalries that jump out for Nebraska in the Big 10, but Iowa and Wisconsin, the two strongest programs in that division, would quickly become top rivals with the Cornhuskers, based on talent and somewhat on geography. And this actually helps Minnesota as well. With a split into divisions, an east-west axis gives them the weaker draw, gives them a better chance to get to a conference championship game, and the ultimate goal, the Rose Bowl. It gives all Big 10 schools increased exposure, and an opportunity to land bigger recruits.
Now, for the conference championship game. It could be rotated throughout the Midwest, and there are some great facilities that can host it. Lucas Oil Field in Indianapolis, Soldier Field, Ford Field in Detroit, even the new Vikings stadium, if they ever build the damn thing. But how about, at least in the inagural championship game, you go to Lambeau Field?
You have the Mecca of football (and God I hate to say that) hosting one of the most historic games in college fottbal history.
It would make great theater.