Oates: Delany's hints on divisional alignment favor UW rivalries

2010-08-02T20:00:00Z 2010-09-02T10:15:20Z Oates: Delany's hints on divisional alignment favor UW rivalriesTom Oates | 608-252-6172 | toates@madison.com madison.com

TOM OATES CHICAGO — Big Ten Conference commissioner Jim Delany was uncommonly revealing Monday, saying there will be no name change for the Big Ten despite the addition of Nebraska in 2011, there almost certainly will be a conference championship game in football next year, divisional alignment will be determined in 30 to 45 days and adding a ninth conference game won’t happen immediately but probably will within a few years.

But not even the conference’s all-powerful commissioner had an answer for everything at first day of the Big Ten’s football media get-together.

Delany revealed little about the most pressing question — how the Big Ten would split into two divisions for football — other than to repeat his statement that fostering competitive balance would be the No. 1 consideration followed by protecting existing rivalries and geographical concerns, in that order.

Perhaps that’s because Delany himself doesn’t know how the conference will be divided. Sources say everything is on the table in these discussions.

However, Delany did offer one tidbit that should be of interest to University of Wisconsin fans: The time frame that will be used in discussions regarding competitive balance will be a school’s performance over the last 17 seasons.

“We think probably the appropriate time frame for measurement probably starts around 1993 when Penn State came into the conference,” Delany said. “We moved from 95 to 85 scholarships back in those years, it was the beginning of the Coalition, Alliance, BCS continuum and we think that’s sort of the modern Big Ten. So we’re looking at that 17-year stretch and trying to assess where institutions fall out, what they’ve accomplished and we’re using that sort of as the basis to determine what would be a balanced, fair, competitive segmentation of divisions.”

That statement paints UW’s future location in an entirely different light than if the time frame were over longer. That’s because the Badgers’ body of work since the 1993 season is better than Iowa’s, equal to Penn State’s and not all that far behind Ohio State’s, Michigan’s and Nebraska’s.

UW’s success over those 17 years, could — indeed, should — enhance its chances of remaining with its traditional neighborhood rivals when the final alignment is revealed. Here’s why:

Most observers figure that because Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State and Nebraska are four of college football’s seven winningiest programs, they will be divided equally among the two divisions, with UW and Iowa, the next-best programs, also being split up. Indeed, the most persistent rumor regarding divisions has been UW, Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota and Illinois in one division with Penn State, Nebraska, Iowa, Northwestern, Purdue and Indiana in the other.

But is creating a geographical peculiarity really necessary when there is not all that much difference among the six programs right now?

A western division with UW, Nebraska, Iowa, Minnesota, Northwestern and Illinois would be perfect for protecting existing rivalries, fostering new ones and making it easy for fans to go to away games. However, that would leave Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State in one division and some people think that would leave the Big Ten hopelessly imbalanced.

But would such an alignment be that imbalanced? A comparison of UW and Penn State over Delany’s 17-year time frame refutes that claim.

Since 1993, Penn State’s overall record is 147-62, UW’s is 145-65-3. Penn State’s conference record is 86-50, UW’s is 80-53-3. Both schools have won three Big Ten titles, but UW is 3-0 in Rose Bowls and Penn State is 1-1. In all bowl games, UW’s has a 10-5 record, Penn State has a 10-3 mark.

UW doesn’t have Penn State’s national reputation and that will undoubtedly hurt its chances of getting an alignment it prefers. However, UW coach Bret Bielema is out to change that and stated again Monday that he would like UW to be part of a season-ending rivalry with Nebraska along the lines of Ohio State-Michigan.

“I’m not oblivious to the fact that Ohio State and Michigan is a big deal,” Bielema said. “Now, would I rather it be Ohio State and Wisconsin? Absolutely. But you can’t ignore history. I think it’s a big deal and I would like to see that (for UW). We already have it existing with Minnesota and Iowa, so you wish it could be one of those teams. But if it’s not, give us (Nebraska).”

Given the way UW has performed over the last 17 years, why not?

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