College football: Different direction for Big Ten

By The Columbus Dispatch  • 
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The Big Ten announced yesterday that in 2014, when it becomes a 14-team league, football will move to an East and West divisional format, sending the 3-year-old Leaders and Legends to the junk pile. And in 2016, it will adopt a nine-game conference schedule.

This coming season will be the last chance for Ohio State (Leaders) and Michigan (Legends) to stage an encore to The Game in the Big Ten title match the next week. In 2014, they will be part of the East, along with Indiana, Michigan State and Penn State, plus incoming partners Rutgers and Maryland. Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, Northwestern, Purdue and Wisconsin will be in the West.

“When we added Nebraska in 2011, we had competitive balance as our primary principle in dividing the conference,” Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith said. “After experiencing what we did, and listening to our fans, we found that geography needed to be our primary principle. … If you do a 20-year analysis, the East looks tougher, and that’s what happens when you sacrifice competitive balance for geography. So we gave up something to gain something.”

After several weeks of dealing with speculation about the changes, Smith finally could endorse them yesterday, pointing out what he sees as the highlights.

“No. 1, it protects the natural rivalries,” Smith said. “The only crossover we had to make an exception for was Indiana and Purdue. They will be in different divisions, but they will play each other every year.

“Then the other thing, with the move to the nine-game (conference schedule as opposed to the current eight) in 2016, we’ll be able to avoid having schedule situations where kids miss playing a school at least once during their college stay.”

For example, Nebraska and OSU played the past two seasons, but aren’t scheduled to meet again for four years. The move to nine games “eliminates that” long void, Smith said.

“And keep in mind, a lot of the impetus for this was to integrate Rutgers and Maryland. This helps those two schools to have that East division have a strong presence on the East Coast. There are a number of other things this helps, but that is certainly a main piece.”

In the nine-game format which begins in 2016, Ohio State and the other East members will play five league home games starting that year and continuing in even-numbered years, and four in the odd years. 

Smith has said many times the school needs at least seven home games to help maintain its athletic department budget, which is roughly $132 million this school year. That would mean in the odd years the Buckeyes’ three nonconference games will need to be home games, with perhaps a lucrative neutral-site game against a marquee intersectional opponent thrown in from time to time.

“We’re going to be fine,” Smith said. “We know which years we’ll have five (league home games) and which we’ll have four for the next 20 years, and we can plan accordingly.”

tmay@dispatch.com

@TIM_MAYsports

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