The days of a two division format in the Big Ten and other conferences could be numbered. The NCAA is working to review a rule change that would allow conferences to have the ability to determine how a conference championship game can be arranged, allowing conferences to abandon the long-standing NCAA policy that only division champions may compete in any sanctioned conference championship game.
And this could be a major change for the Big Ten.
When Nebraska joined the Big Ten in 2011, it allowed the Big Ten to hold its first conference championship game in football. The NCAA previously required conferences to have at least 12 members in order to be eligible to organize a conference championship game, made popular by the SEC following its addition of Arkansas. With Nebraska bringing the conference membership to 12, the Big Ten split its membership into the awkwardly-named Legends and Leaders Divisions.
Without looking it up, which division was Penn State in? The answer is down below.
When the Big Ten made its most recent expansion to welcome Maryland and Rutgers to the conference, the conference took advantage of the newest members to remake its division lineup with a more traditional East and West format. And, for many of those years, the perceived dominance of the East has been a recurring storyline. What happens when the two best teams in your conference are pit in the same division?
That’s often just the way things go sometimes for every conference, but this appeared to be a more pressing concern for those following and covering the Big Ten, which has seen every Big Ten championship game since the 2014 expansion won by the champion of the East Division (Ohio State five times, Penn State, Michigan, and Michigan State once each). The last four Big Ten championship games have been decided by double-digits.
So, with the NCAA preparing to allow conferences to dictate their own championship game terms, and with a mega-media rights deal in the works, it makes too much sense for the Big Ten to use this opportunity to reshape its conference championship game plans.
The Big Ten will not be alone. The ACC has taken the lead on expressing an interested in changing its conference championship game format, and the PAC-12 is another conference many expect to follow suit. The SEC, on the other hand, may see no reason to mess with a good thing. But how the dynamic changes when Oklahoma and Texas join the conference remains something to watch.
But changing the championship game is one thing. REarranging a conference schedule without the limits of forced division matchups is something else entirely. How the Big Ten handles that may be the more intriguing development to watch unfold. Will schools have protected matchups? If so, who would Penn State be paired up with, especially if Ohio State and Michigan remain locked in their heated rivalry?
These are all questions that will have to be answered, and for every member of the Big Ten as well. What may seem best or most attractive for Penn State may not be for another school, and vice versa.
The times are changing, and so is the way a Big Ten champion will eventually be crowned.
Trivia answer: Penn State was a member of the Leaders Division from 2011 through 2013.
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