CHICAGO – First, there was Legends and Leaders. Now, there is East and West. Soon, there will be … nothing?
Outgoing Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany said as recently as after this past season that maybe the conference will do away with divisions altogether, instead opting to have the two best teams play each other in the championship instead of the winner of each division.
Conference realignment was a hot topic at Big Ten Media Days in Chicago on Thursday, with several coaches weighing in on what that might look like.
The thought is that a no-division system would help future Big Ten teams make the College Football Playoff. That’s because the East has been so dominate, winning all five Big Ten Championships since converting to a geographical alignment in 2014, and playing a lesser-ranked West team in the final game hasn’t helped improve the conference champion’s national ranking. Thus, the Big Ten has missed out on the past two national postseasons and has only three appearances total compared to the SEC with six.
But Gophers coach P.J. Fleck said all this talk of the West as the weak link might not remain true for much longer.
“Everybody’s talking about this conference alignment. And let’s just give it a few years, just let it play out with some of the [coaches] that have just got jobs, and we’ll see how, I think, both sides elevate,” Fleck said. “That’s what everybody wants whether you’re in the West or the East. We all want the Big Ten to succeed. We want the Big Ten represented in the playoffs.”
Fleck added he likes the alignment as it currently stands for the easy travel. It also preserves regional rivalries, though Fleck said teams being in different divisions wouldn’t necessarily bar rivals from still playing each other.
Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said where his team plays doesn’t really make a difference.
“We’ve won the East. We’ve won the Big Ten Championship from there. And we’ve won it from the Legends,” he said. “So I think on both sides of the spectrum, we’ve become successful.”
And ultimately, the coaches won’t have much say either way.
“Bottom line is, those are decisions that I have nothing to do with,” Indiana coach Tom Allen said. “I’ve been in multiple conferences when you have cyclical opportunities for teams to rise up and have a certain level of play on the field. And so I think we play in a great league that is highly competitive, and we play teams from both divisions.
“That’s a decision that others might make. If it changes, it changes. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t. But we just play the teams that show up on game day.”