Big Ten Divisions and Schedules For 2011, 2012 Officially Released

They are exactly what we thought they were, as announced by the Big Ten Network:

Division 1: Michigan, Michigan State, Nebraska, Iowa, Northwestern and Minnesota

Division 2: Ohio State, Penn State, Illinois, Wisconsin, Indiana and Purdue.

Teams will play eight conference games, with games against all five other teams in their division, one protected cross-division rivalry (Ohio State for U-M, obviously), and two rotating cross-division games. Please note that these divisions only apply to football, and not to other sports. Michigan will play Ohio State at the end of the season.

The rest of the cross-divisional games are: Minnesota-Wisconsin, Penn State-Nebraska, Iowa-Purdue, Northwestern-Illinois, Michigan State-Indiana

Michigan’s 2011 and 2012 in-conference schedules were also released, and are as follows [you can find a pdf of the entire Big Ten schedule here]:

2011 (starting 10/1): Minnesota, at Northwestern, at Michigan State, bye, Purdue, at Iowa, at Illinois, Nebraska, Ohio State

2012 (starting 9/29): bye, at Purdue, Illinois, Michigan State, at Nebraska, at Minnesota, Northwestern, Iowa, at Ohio State

The official statement from the Big Ten:

The winner of each Big Ten division will meet in the inaugural Big Ten Football Championship Game, to be played December 3, 2011, at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. The championship game will determine the Big Ten Champion and the conference’s participant in the Rose Bowl Game or Bowl Championship Series National Championship Game.

The Big Ten football division alignments will include a division featuring Illinois, Indiana, Ohio State, Penn State, Purdue and Wisconsin, and a division featuring Iowa, Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Nebraska and Northwestern. Each school will play the other five schools within its division and will also face three teams from the other division, including one cross-division matchup guaranteed on an annual basis. The guaranteed cross-division matchups are Illinois-Northwestern, Indiana-Michigan State, Ohio State-Michigan, Penn State-Nebraska, Purdue-Iowa and Wisconsin-Minnesota. Names for each Big Ten football division will be announced at a later date.

“Over the past several months, Big Ten staff and directors of athletics have met on several occasions to discuss and finalize division alignments,” said Big Ten Commissioner James E. Delany. “We focused on competitive equality, traditional rivalries and geography. We considered multiple models and countless permutations in an effort to achieve the most competitively balanced divisions while at the same time respecting our traditions, preserving existing rivalries, and creating opportunities for the establishment and growth of new rivalries. We have listened to the feedback from our institutions, alumni and fans, and while we understand that no final alignments could possibly satisfy all of our constituents, we believe that we have achieved a very exciting result.”

I will refer you to what I wrote earlier, since I am in the middle of an ill-timed fantasy football draft:

You know what? I’ll take it. I know there’s a lot of consternation out there about competitive balance and how this affects The Game (the possibility that the Michigan-Ohio State game in the regular season could be somewhat meaningless, especially if only intra-divisional games count in the Big Ten Standings). I think when it comes down to it, however, The Game will still be The Game, and with how up-and-down college football is from year-to-year, let alone how much things can change in the span of a mere decade, there will always be some imbalance in the divisions one way or the other. Does everyone really expect Northwestern to buck 130 years of tradition and become a perennially decent team, especially if a big-name school tries to lure Pat Fitzgerald away?

I’m just saying, take a step back and look big picture here. We have what should be a tremendous rivalry between two tradition-rich schools with great fanbases in Michigan-Nebraska. The Little Brown Jug will be played for each and every season, like it should be. The already-bitter rivalry with Michigan State should only intensify. The Wolverines will get to duck Penn State and Wisconsin every once in a while, which should ease some of the team’s schedule difficulty. There will be a Big Ten Championship Game at the end of the season, like there should be — who doesn’t love big-time conference title games? Most importantly, The Game is in its rightful place, at the end of the regular season. And finally, unless every other writer claiming to have the inside scoop is astoundingly incorrect, Dennis Dodd is wrong, which makes this all feel very, very right.

On Saturday, the Big House will be full again, and we’ll all be enjoying (and stressing about, of course) the thing we should all be focusing on anyway: The Team, The Team, The Team.

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