Heartland Trophy
Wisconsin players carry the Heartland Trophy into their locker room after their victory over Iowa at Camp Randall Stadium in 2007. John Maniaci/Wisconsin State Journal

If you’re putting together the huge puzzle that is the realignment of the Big Ten Conference, here are two more pieces.

University of Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez confirmed Wednesday that when a two-division format for football is unveiled by league officials next month, UW and Iowa will be separated.

He also said the Big Ten will adopt a nine-game schedule for football, but it won’t go into effect until 2015, allowing member schools to address previously contracted games.

But on the heels of Big Ten meetings in Chicago earlier this week, Alvarez declined to offer any more specifics surrounding the addition of Nebraska as a 12th member starting in 2011.

“We’ve had our meetings,” he said of his fellow ADs and Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany. “We have a pretty good idea of what’s going down.”

In an interview Tuesday with ESPN, Delany said the league is 80 percent done with division alignments and that an announcement would likely come in mid-September.

A lot of speculation has surfaced recently regarding the legendary rivalry series between Michigan and Ohio State. In addition to where they would be placed — same division or not — there’s the matter of when they would have their annual regular-season meeting. With one exception, it’s been the final weekend every year since 1935.

Delany told ESPN he could see both scenarios — Michigan and Ohio State in the same division or split up — being embraced. He indicated that no decision has been made on when the game will be scheduled.

A major factor in the scheduling process is that, starting in 2011, the Big Ten will stage a championship game pitting the two divisional winners. The inaugural affair will be played at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.

“You could make a good argument that Michigan and Ohio State should never really be playing for a divisional crown,” Delany told ESPN.

“I would put Michigan-Ohio State among the top five events in all of sports for rivalry. It’ll get played. Now the question is: How best to play it? Are they in the same divisions or are they not? Do they play in the last game, the second-to-last game, the third-to-last game? How to do that is still under discussion.”

Alvarez implied that it shouldn’t be hard to figure out how the 12 schools will be arranged in the two divisions. He said there are four distinct tiers of teams, led by the four that have won national championships in the past 25 years: Ohio State, Michigan, Nebraska and Penn State.

The next level has UW and Iowa “within a hair” of one another, according to Alvarez.

Using comparative data compiled since 1993 when Penn State made its Big Ten football debut, Northwestern and Purdue would likely lead the next grouping, followed by some mixing and matching of Illinois, Indiana, Michigan State and Minnesota.

“All you have to do is take a look at our criteria and we haven’t varied from that,” Alvarez said. “We have volumes to look at — records over the last 20 years … bowl records, non-conference records, non-conference opponents’ records, conference records, everything.

“If you go with competitive equality, you divide it up and basically you seed it. Then the next thing is saving rivalries. You can’t get all of them, but you can get close.”

It’s seems certain that UW and Minnesota will be in the same division, meaning they’ll be able to continue playing for Paul Bunyan’s Axe as part of the most-played rivalry among Football Bowl Subdivision schools (119 games dating back to 1890).

Even though the Badgers and Iowa will be in different divisions doesn’t necessarily mean their trophy game — the Heartland Trophy goes annually to the winner of a series currently led by the Hawkeyes, 42-41-2 — will be disrupted.

“We’re all going to protect one rivalry,” Alvarez told the Associated Press on Tuesday. “We’ve decided that and we’re going right back to what we’ve talked about, competitive equality.”

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