Friday, November 23, 2012

The Hypocrisy Of The Big Ten

A lot has been made of the Big Ten Championship game and its role for the conference both now and the future.  When Nebraska was originally added to the Big Ten and the conference applied for the right to host a conference championship game, it was supposed to be a positive for the conference.  Not only would it give the conference another high-profile game, but it was a great way to showcase the league's best teams in the last week before the bowl selections.

However, this concept has completely gone out the window during the past two seasons.  Everyone was aware that the conference championship game could give the Big Ten title to an undeserving team.  As much as people believe Wisconsin was the best team in the conference last season, MSU (7-1) not only had a better record than Wisconsin (6-2), but they also beat the Badgers in head-to-head play.  As much as it probably pains people to admit, MSU was probably more deserving than Wisconsin for the Big Ten title last season.  Unfortunately for the Spartans, the new conference championship game opted to award Wisconsin because they won the only game that mattered, the one in Indianapolis.

This may have been unfortunate and irked a lot of people in East Lansing, but most people got over it pretty quickly.  However, the events of this season have completely blown those off the map.  Now that Nebraska has secured its bid to Indy, we all know the match-up that will occur next week.  It will be a battle between Nebraska (7-1) and Wisconsin (4-3) for the Big Ten Championship.  Of course, Wisconsin still has a game left to play against Penn State, but they have already secured their bid to due the ineligibility of Ohio State and Penn State.

Now, I don't want this to become a debate about whether the Buckeyes and Nittany Lions should be eligible.  Those are both completely different discussions.  What I want to highlight is that the Big Ten is giving a title shot and a potential bid to the Rose Bowl to a team that could potentially finish 4-4 in conference play, 3rd in their division, and 6th in the Big Ten.  To me, that thought is just absolutely insane.

I say that because I just don't see a reason I should believe Wisconsin is deserving of either a shot at the Big Ten Championship or a bid to the Rose Bowl.  What have they done to deserve this?  Just happened to be placed in the same division as Ohio State and Penn State?  The sad thing is that this is probably the truth of this situation.  Instead of adjusting the system for this season, the Big Ten opted to remain steadfast in its divisions and conference system and have given an undeserving team a shot at the title.

Now, some may have not considered other options, so let's just run down a few.  Remember, I'm only pointing out changes for this season.  For most years, these would be crazy changes, but with two teams ineligible in one division, changes are actually a legitimate proposition.  So here are a few things I came up with that could have fixed this problem with general fan support:

  • Go Back To The Old System:
    • This would have never happened, but it actually would have given Nebraska a clear-cut Big Ten championship, assuming you discount the ineligible teams.
  • Remove The Divisions:
    • This would have probably been the most likely change.  Instead of having divisions, just combine all the teams and select the top two teams that are eligible.  This would have created a rematch between Michigan and Nebraska for the title.  This would have probably been a better game than the current matchup.
  • Create A Hybrid Championship Game:
    • This is my favorite option, but would probably have been the least likely.  Leave the system as is, but if there is no clear-cut division winner in the Leaders Division, just select the second most deserving team in either division.  What I mean is that if an ineligible team won a division, open it up like the previous option and just select the two teams with the best Big Ten records.  This way you don't get a team like Wisconsin who will win 5 Big Ten games (at most) going over teams like Michigan with 7 conference wins.
The bottom-line here is that the Big Ten had plenty of options to correct the problems that have occurred this season.  Normally, I'm not a fan of one season structural changes, but with the current set-up and the fact that two teams are ineligible in one division, any of these options would probably have been better than the current scenario where a team with a .500 record in Big Ten play could win the championship.

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