A Big East – Big Ten Football Conference Realignment Proposal


Keith R. Thompson,

October 2007

In the mid to late 1990’s Major League Baseball and its insightful commissioner Bud Selig toyed with the idea of realigning baseball’s aging Division structure. What existed were some obsolete league arrangements juxtaposed next to some long-standing competitive rivalries among select teams. Notwithstanding these fixtures, however, the league still felt that other natural rivalries were not being capitalized on despite the success of inter-league play. This proposal, however, fell apart at the seams. It was clear that although Major League Baseball’s intentions were grand the league nevertheless underestimated the premium which many fans and teams placed on many of these long-established competitive relationships.

Not so in the College Football landscape where, except for a few entrenched rivalries among the few storied and established programs, teams are not heavily wedded to many predetermined non-conference arrangements. It therefore appears that realigning some of the conferences may eventually strengthen the entire college program. One such change that may make a lot of sense and benefit all concerned is moving Penn State from the Big Ten to the Big East Conference.

Currently the Big Ten has eleven members which exceeds its formal ten-member charter established in 1984; and the last of those schools to join the conference was Penn State in 1990 (they began football play in 1993). Meanwhile the Big East has always operated with only eight members for its football conference – despite 16 for its basketball program – since its founding in 1991. This has resulted in the Big East playing a paltry seven-game conference schedule, while the Big Ten – which plays a traditional eight-game conference schedule – is forced to skip some annual matchups owing to an abundance of talent. Consider the 2006 season. Michigan and Wisconsin both went 7-1 in Big Ten conference play to finish second behind the Ohio State Buckeyes. However, the Wisconsin Badgers impressive 12-1 season and deserved top-ten finish in the final ranking has to be colored ever so slightly by the fact that they did not play the Buckeyes at all in conference play. Their one loss came against the Michigan Wolverines in their fourth game of the season. If the Big Ten truly had a ten-member conference then they – like their Pac Ten counterparts – could play a nine-game conference schedule thus ensuring that each team plays every other each season, and a true conference champion can be crowned.

There is no doubt that Michigan and Ohio State are the two powerhouses in Big Ten football, and playing each other every season is the true test of their championship mettle. However, shouldn’t every other Big Ten team similarly get to annually test their program’s strengths against both of these football juggernauts. It can be argued that allowing a football program to avoid at least one of those teams in a season can provide a significant boost to that program’s chances of winning the Big Ten crown. In 1995 & 1996, for example, the Northwestern Wildcats won at least a share of the Big Ten title both of those seasons despite not playing Ohio State either year. The Big Ten needs to get back to a ten-member conference, with a nine-game conference schedule to ensure that every team plays every other team each year, and to sustain the legitimacy of the Big Ten championship.

Likewise, the Big East needs to strengthen its conference play by adding another legitimate football powerhouse. This will ensure that the Big East – following the departure of traditional powerhouses Boston College, Miami University and Virginia Tech – will not be treated as a junior varsity conference by some media outlets within
the current BCS structure.

Both objectives can be accomplished by moving Penn State from the Big Ten to the Big East Conference. Maybe the most logical way to implement this strategy is to execute a straight swap. The Big Ten is a football behemoth while the Big East – with the likes of Georgetown, Villanova and UConn, among others – is one of the nation’s premier basketball conferences. With Marquette now a top basketball presence and a more natural fit in the Mid-West (and likely more natural rivalries with Wisconsin and Minnesota) it could be transferred to Big Ten basketball while slotting Penn State – which does appear to possess some natural rivalries with Pittsburg, and possibly Rutgers – into both Big East football and basketball.

Unlike Major League Baseball, this is a clear case in which realignment can benefit everyone involved.

2007 PER Sports, Inc.

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