On Sunday afternoon the Big Ten announced their conference realignment plan and the move to a nine game conference schedule, the former of which begins in 2014 and the later in 2016. If you were shocked, surprised or moved by the news that happened then we'd love to know what rock you've been living under because it must be fun to hibernate for that long.
But, back here in Big Ten country, there appears to be two reactions to the new division alignment and it's left the conference in a position of damned because they did and damned if they didn't. Damned because they did the smart thing and allowed geography and tradition win out over modern-day buzzwords and they would've been damned had they just left it alone and split up the conference's two most eastern schools.
Some teams came out on the positive end and some on the negative end of this switch. Yet, not everyone was a winner or loser because… well, frankly, because not everyone in this realignment is a winner or a loser – some are just staying even in this realignment.
So, in that vein it's time we take a look at who came out as winners and who lost in the battle that was realignment 2.0:
Nebraska: The Huskers trade out Michigan and Michigan State and take on a budding rivalry with Wisconsin and can continue a very interesting series with Northwestern – the strangest of bedfellows in the Big Ten since realignment version 1.0 occurred. If there was ever a way to make the Huskers feel even more at home in the conference this was it – Michigan vs. Nebraska and Michigan State vs. Nebraska just didn't get the juices flowing the way their matchups with Wisconsin and Northwestern have over the past two years.
Wisconsin: I put UW in the winner category for the simple reason that the reigning three time Big Ten champions don't have to mess with Ohio State, Michigan, or Penn State on an annual basis. If that's not winning in this scenario I don't know what is… Not only that but getting the battle for the Heartland Trophy back with Iowa is huge. It's the game realignment 1.0 killed – in fact it's one of three trophy games that got axed the last time around. Almost every Wisconsin fan I've talked to misses that game A LOT. Badger nation has to be the biggest winner of anyone in realignment 2.0 in the B1G.
Iowa: Iowa wins because this program can climb back towards the upper third of the conference quicker (on paper at least) in their new home than their current one. As we said before adding one of their major rivals in Wisconsin is a major win for the Hawkeye faithful. Missing that game just didn't make the season feel whole for a lot of Iowa fans. Also, swapping out Michigan and Michigan State for Wisconsin and Purdue should make things just a bit easier on them when they do make their comeback.
Penn State: This may surprise a few, but here's why… They are no longer the eastern most team in the conference and don't feel so much like outcasts. Other than the last few seasons and a budding, competitive series with Wisconsin there hasn't been a lot of organic rivalry blood burning and some would say this grab was to keep the Nittany Lions happy. Now with annual contests against Maryland and Rutgers there's a chance for rivalries reunited (Maryland) and competitive games (Rutgers) to help in major recruiting battles that are to come for the Nittany Lions.
The Fans: Overall the Big Ten fan is arguably the biggest winner of this whole round of expansion. Why? Well, no more mnemonic devices to attempt to remember who's in what division – it's much simpler this time around. Add in the fact that all but one rivalry trophy is protected (little brown jug won't be protected & when's the last time that game has been competitive?) and those of us who love the tradition that exists in this conference (unlike any in the country, as we have more trophy games than any other conference) got what we wanted. Oh, and did I mention we won't be subjected to back-to-back weeks of "The Game?" If not… Ya, that's a major plus if you ask me.
Ohio State: Life was a bit easier in the Leaders division for tOSU and life won't be easy in the East, that's for sure. They lost out in this realignment because they must now contend with the WHOLE state of Michigan. Oh, and because "The Game" could really cost them a chance at the Big Ten championship. Never good when one game could make or break your season every year, outside of the rivalry aspect of course. However, they aren't the biggest loser like some think – all they've really traded away in competition are the three-time defending champions for a team that's on the rise (Michigan) but isn't quite back to it's old self just yet. In the long term it's likely not to be an even trade, but for now it's more win than loss if you're talking about on the field results over the past 5 years or so.
Michigan State: I put the Spartans on the losers list for two reasons and the first is because no matter what would've happened this fan base would've bitched. Throw them in the West with the Badgers, Huskers, and Wildcats and they would've bitched about not having their main "rival" on their schedule annually (Michigan for those who couldn't guess). Sometimes these fans are almost as insufferable as Buckeye fan, I swear. For a team that's won exactly two conference titles in the past 25 years they sure are a spoiled and entitled bunch….
Secondly I put them in the losers category because their road to a Big Ten championship has gotten a lot harder. They've traded Northwestern, Minnesota, Iowa, and Nebraska for Ohio State, Penn State, Maryland, Rutgers, and Indiana. With the exception of Maryland (at this point, we'll see what happens when they have any healthy QB's) every one of the trades is a complete upgrade in toughness for their schedule. On paper their going to have it a lot harder in their new home than they did in their previous.
Rutgers: Why do I say one of these new teams that are lucky enough to be invited to the best damn conference in the country is a loser? Well, sure they get Penn State and Maryland as close neighbors to help get accustomed to life in the B1G, but I'd put this team in the same category as the Spartans – meaning they are going to be in a battle to get out of the middle of the road and they have the potential to do just that with all the talent in NJ. Problem is there won't be many, if any, easy games for this newcomer and gaining a foothold with the top NJ recruits also requires winning a lot of games. The inner/outer format would've been better for the Scarlet Knights, but again… they're going to get a chance to prove their mettle as a team just like the Spartans.