Winds of change are blowing and blustery in Big Ten

  • Article by: DAVID BRIGGS , Toledo Blade
  • Updated: February 19, 2013 - 9:11 PM

In addition to expansion, realignment, expansion of conference schedules and night games are on the horizon.

As the Big Ten moves into a new era with the addition of Maryland and Rutgers in 2014, all indications from its conference meetings in Chicago suggest a league often criticized as a prisoner to tradition is prepared to make fundamental changes, especially in football.

More conference games. More night games -- even in November. Divisions rearranged along geographic lines.

All are on the table and gaining momentum, Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith said. He favors the proposals, including, yes, Ohio State and Michigan in the same division.

The leading option appears to be two seven-team divisions split between east and west. While concerns of competitive balance separated Ohio State (Leaders Division) and Michigan (Legends) in the current set-up, an eastern grouping likely would include Penn State, Maryland, Rutgers, OSU and UM.

For Ohio State and Michigan, that would only heighten The Game's stakes and eliminate the prospect of back-to-back rivalry showdowns in the regular-season finale and the league title game -- a novelty with potential diminishing returns.

"That's where I'm leaning, and that's where I think [Michigan athletic director] Dave Brandon is leaning," Smith said. "We always go into these meetings listening to what's best for the league, but our preference at this time is to be in the same division."

The other major push is to expand the conference schedule, likely beginning in 2016.

A 10-game schedule would eliminate the home-road imbalance inherent to nine league games and maximize the value of the Big Ten's next national TV contract. (The current deal with ABC/ESPN that pays the league $100 million per year expires after the 2016 season.) An Ohio State-Iowa game is naturally more attractive than one between OSU and Alabama-Birmingham, and a 10-game schedule with 14 teams would raise the number of conference games from 48 to 70.

The drawbacks of an inflated league schedule include the competitive demands -- no BCS league plays more than nine conference games -- and economic concerns.

Brandon said the business models at Michigan and OSU are driven by the programs playing seven home games annually.

"If we were to get into a circumstance where we were playing six home games that would be very problematic," Brandon said.

Other wishes include more games in prime time -- the Big Ten is open to previously off-limits November night games while Smith said he wants to play two home games per season under the lights --and more collegiality among coaches.

A 2012 calendar year that featured its share of contentiousness came to a head after Ohio State's victory at Michigan State. The schools publicly traded accusations, with MSU defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi complaining that OSU doctored the scouting film sent to the Spartans while Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer said his staff sent the league office tape of an alleged eye-gouging incident from the game.

Afterward, Delany sent the league's coaches a polite but firm e-mail.

"In a highly competitive and successful enterprise such as the Big Ten Conference, with millions of interested and passionate followers, it is difficult to consistently deliver the right message under the pressure of competition and emotion," Delany wrote in the Oct. 5 message. "However, I'm confident that you possess the intelligence, discipline and experience to excel in these areas.

"In every one of life's meaningful endeavors whether it be business, political or sports entertainment, conflict and competition dominate. This is not new and it will not change. Historically, we have had leaders who more often than not were successful in meeting this challenge. Meeting this challenge is incredibly important, difficult and is basic to building on traditions of fair play and mutual respect."

Welcome to the new Big Ten. Bigger ... and nicer?

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