Big Ten realignment was a hot top during Big Ten media days, but it doesn’t make sense for the Iowa football team or the rest of the conference.
Since expanding and bringing in the likes of Nebraska, Rutgers, and Maryland, the Big Ten has been trying to figure out the best approach for handling conference football games. The first attempt was to create a Legends and Leaders divisions (which made absolutely no sense), but regardless of the terrible approach to naming, the general alignment of schools didn’t make sense. The Iowa football team lost its rivalry game to Wisconsin, and geographically the teams were a bit more dispersed.
The original breakout of the divisions was were as such:
Legends: Iowa, Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Nebraska, and Northwestern
Leaders: Ohio State, Purdue, Penn State, Indiana, Illinois, and Wisconsin
Competitively speaking, that breakout may have been on to something, but when Rutgers and Maryland joined, realignment needed to happen again and the Big Ten went with a more geographically cognizant (and much easier to remember) approach, which is what we have today.
West: Iowa, Nebraska, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Northwestern, Purdue
East: Michigan, Michigan State, Penn State, Ohio State, Indiana, Maryland, and Rutgers
Again, geographically it makes sense, but in the past few years, it hasn’t made much sense competitively speaking.
The west has been down for a few years. Purdue, Minnesota, and Illinois are generally at the bottom but Nebraska has also had one of the worst stretches in the history of the program, Wisconsin hasn’t found a quarterback since Russell Wilson, and the Iowa football team is pretty consistently in the 7 to 8 win range. Northwestern has managed to take advantage of this and even snagged a Big Ten West title last year, but nobody is counting Northwestern as a national powerhouse anytime soon.
On the other side though, one could make the argument that four of the top five teams in the entire conference are there with Michigan, Michigan State, Penn State, and Ohio State. Moreover, the top teams each year has really been Michigan and Ohio State, but instead of getting a matchup in the Big Ten Conference Championship game, the loser of their annual rivalry game stays home while a (potentially worse) team from the West goes to take on the winner.
I could go into each coaches quotes at Big Ten media day, but this article by Scott Dochterman of The Athletic sums it up quite nicely.
While I understand in recent years the divisions maybe aren’t as competitively balanced as you would like, long-term it doesn’t make sense to redo the realignment in a major way.
Nebraska will be back (as much as it pains me to say it), and Wisconsin in the last two decades has been one of the most consistent teams as has the Iowa football team. Purdue under Jeff Brohm is looking like a better team especially with Rondale Moore, and Pat Fitzgerald has basically built the Northwestern Wildcats into the Hawkeyes of Illinois. Illinois is stuck in crap, but so is Rutgers in the East so who cares, and Minnesota is one of those teams that doesn’t strike fear in many people and they won’t until they can consistently keep in-state recruits in-state.
My point is, the West has been done, but it’s on the come up. You move these teams around and you could possibly hinder some fantastic progress that in the long run will be great for the Big Ten. Furthermore, it just makes too much sense geographically. The closer teams are, the more cost-effective it is and the better turnout you will get from opposing team fan bases.
If they still wanted to explore the possible realignment question, one thing Dochterman mentions that I would be on board with is switching Michigan State and Purdue. That wouldn’t disrupt the geographical continuity, it would put more balance on the competitiveness of each division and it wouldn’t disrupt the rivalries too much (there would certainly need to be a protected rivalry between Michigan and Michigan State, but other than that, not a big deal).
So while Big Ten realignment was the rage at Big Ten media days, I just don’t think it’s a good long-term play for the Iowa football team or any team in the conference.