By Randy York
Nebraska football fans did not disappoint when asked for their take on the Big Ten Conference’s three-question survey regarding divisional alignment. The vast majority of those responding to The N-Sider favored an “East-West” divisional approach over an “Existing Divisions Plus 1” opportunity or an “Inner-Outer” option, which actually received one reasoned supporter in our electronic mailbag. Responses that came our way represented the East Coast, West Coast, Hawaii and virtually every state in the Big Ten Conference.
Harry Culpen, a 1965 Nebraska graduate, has two home bases for his architectural business – Stuart, Fla., and Greenwich, Conn. “It’s only logical to go with East and West divisions for travel considerations,” he wrote. “They are students, after all, and fan bases also must travel. East-West means more fans and more money. Isn’t that what it’s all about anyway? Plus, East-West can get rid of the Leaders and Legends names.”
Court Heye from Maui agreed with our East-West assessment. “I would make one change, however,” he said. “I would swap Michigan State to the West for Purdue to the East for better competitive balance. I’m assuming these changes won’t be installed until the other two teams are added to make 16.”
Alterations Would Help East-West Division
Tom Merten, a Big Red fan living in Jacksonville, Fla., favors both an East-West Division and dropping the names Leaders and Legends. “A realignment based on geography gives the Big Ten the perfect opportunity to correct a naming blunder while not admitting to the actual mistake,” he wrote. “The only problem I see with that option is the East Division being harder to win right now with the two Michigan teams, plus Ohio State and Penn State beating up on each other. That’s why I would consider moving Michigan State to the West and Purdue to the East.”
Earl Harman, a Lincoln native and self-described “displaced Husker” now living in the Seattle, Wash., area, also prefers splitting the divisions “right at the Illinois and Indiana state line” but would replace Purdue with Indiana instead of Michigan State.
Rick Whiteley, a 1978 Nebraska graduate from Forest Grove, Ore., asks two questions: 1) “Does anyone consider travel anymore?” and 2) “Wouldn’t it be awesome if fans could drive to every game in your own team’s division? Here’s a chance to make that happen. I agree with every point you made, but this point would rank pretty high for me. The ‘Outer Limits’ model must be a travel agent’s dream and a fan/team nightmare.”
John Rownd of Lincoln agrees with our choice for Big Ten divisions. “East-West seems like a ‘no-brainer’ to me,” he said before jabbing The N-Sider for showing a picture of throwback jerseys from Nebraska’s win over Wisconsin earlier this season. Black is not a school color, he said. Scarlet and cream are.
Opposing Views are Ripe for Discussion
Instead of rubber stamping our East-West vote, we offer up some interesting opposing viewpoints in this discussion. “Geographically, your East-West choice makes sense. Football power-wise, it does not,” wrote Duane Young of Laguna Beach, Calif. “East-West puts too much recent football power in the East, where you have Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan and Michigan State. In the West, you really just have Wisconsin and Nebraska and borderline Iowa and Northwestern.
“Your point about keeping rivalries is a big one, so keep Michigan-OSU and Nebraska-Wisconsin, but also keep Purdue-Indiana and Illinois-Northwestern,” Young said. “To do that, shift Penn State to the West and Purdue to the East. I’m just talking football and realize other sports/issues get the attention of college presidents. Football strength does change. How about Minnesota 60 years ago? But Michigan and OSU and Wisconsin and Nebraska aren’t leaving the gridiron.”
We shift from the West to the East Coast. Dennis Hannon, a 1971 Nebraska Medical School grad, lives in Brookeville, Md., where President James Madison retreated after the British invaded Washington and burned the White House.
“I am really against the East-West divisions,” Hannon wrote. “It reminds me of the North-South of the Big 12. Texas, Texas A&M, Oklahoma, and Oklahoma State all ended up in the South and absorbed ALL of everything. It was THE elite division, and I remember one sportswriter saying he had made an oath to himself NEVER to write about the Big 12 North.
“So here we go again with Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State and Penn State all in the East … another elite division that will control the whole Big Ten, even with a good Nebraska and a good Wisconsin team in the West,” Hannon said. “The Big Ten sun won’t shine much west of Michigan. Even though I live in Maryland, I grew up in Nebraska and know that the national sportswriters don’t see much beyond Michigan and Ohio State now…with Penn State thrown in. If we choose East-West, we choose near oblivion on the national stage, plus diminished recruiting.”
East-West Proponent Changes His Mind
Hannon is not alone. “East-West divisions initially made sense to me,” wrote Jon Stitzel of Columbia, Ill.. “But I’ve had some time to re-evaluate, and I think East-West may be a mistake. As Husker fans, we only have to remember back to 1996 and the formation of the Big 12 to realize how bad the conference politics can get when the two biggest bullies are both in the same division. You think the Texas/Oklahoma power block was a nightmare? Ohio State and Michigan could make us all look back with nostalgia.”
Ironically, Stitzel’s “better idea” is going to North-South divisions and maintaining standing cross-division games so the Buckeyes and Wolverines can have their fun every year,” he said. “Each division in a North-South arrangement would have two or three first or second-tier programs and keep the competitive balance intact. The North would include Minnesota, Wisconsin, Northwestern, Michigan, Michigan State, Rutgers and Maryland. The South would include Nebraska, Iowa, Illinois, Purdue, Indiana, Ohio State and Penn State.”
Rob Wyant of Skokie, Ill., realizes “that everyone likes rivalry games with Wisconsin, Iowa, and Minnesota,” he said. “But those games do nothing for recruiting or Nebraska’s national brand. Nebraska needs to play lots of games, establish rivalries and create high school relationships in New Jersey, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, and, to a lesser extent, Illinois. So whatever alignment places Nebraska in these states most frequently should be the No. 1 criteria in the alignment discussion.”
The problem with an East-West alignment is that West schools are deprived of the vast population base of Michigan, Ohio and the East Coast, according to Wyant, a senior VP of a leasing company. “Illinois, despite its large population, does not generate a commensurate level of D-1 athletes,” he said. “Recruiting is the foundation of success, and Nebraska needs a direct connection to the East Coast. The inner-outer or the present alignment plus 1 gives NU the greatest recruiting exposure.”
Larry Dandrow, a Nebraska fan living in Van Cleave, Miss., believes an East-West lineup “would be great” because it would be “like Nebraska in the old Big Eight days when the only team they had to beat was Oklahoma,” he said. “In this case, the team to beat would be Wisconsin. Don’t get me wrong. I’m a born and raised Cornhusker, but that option would be one that shows no confidence or gamesmanship. Oh, I understand it’s about the money and how a weaker conference keeps the team winning and makes it a false illusion that the team is better than it really is and therefore keeps the faithful followers traveling. I just think we should always play the best. Go Big Red!”
Purdue, Duke Grad Still a Husker at Heart
Patrick Booth, 57, is a Purdue undergraduate who received his graduate school degree from Duke. “I grew up in Omaha (Westside) and watched the Huskers become national champions in ’70 and ’71,” he said. “I worked on the East Coast for years before moving back to Omaha and now live in Fremont.
“I say yes to reduced East/West travel costs, so more fans (and parents) can and will go to more games, especially in the lesser sports – if they can go there by car!” Booth wrote. “I say yes to preserving key rivalry games every year – either because they’re in the same division or because they are planned crossover rivalry games. I say yes to staying at 14 teams and playing nine Big Ten games. That makes for a really nice and balanced rotation throughout the other division. My numbers indicate the crossover rivals. Each team would play the other six teams in its division, plus a crossover rivalry game as well as two of the other six teams from the other division on a three-year rotation, home and away.”
Booth envisions an East Division with Maryland, Rutgers, Penn State, Ohio State, Purdue, Indiana, and Illinois and a West Division consisting of Michigan State, Wisconsin, Nebraska, Michigan, Minnesota, Iowa, and Northwestern.
If you haven’t had enough of this discussion already, The N-Sider reminds all interested fans to check out the Big Ten Network’s “Football Report” beginning at 5:30 p.m. CT Monday. The results of the network’s three question survey will be revealed and dissected well beyond what you’ve just read here.
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