Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The New Big 10 Divisional Alignment Part III: Too Much Tradition?

Dennis Dodd at CBS Sports argues that the Big 10 paid too much respect to tradition in terms of it scheduling with the new division alignment.

His particular complaint was that the Ohio St.-Michigan game would remain on the last weekend of the season:

The problem is that tradition won out over that bold, bright world. "The Game" will remain on the last Saturday in November, diminishing the chances for a rematch in the championship game.


"There was discussion, Delany said, of moving Ohio State-Michigan to earlier in November. That would have at least created a better possibility for a rematch. The loser would have at least had a chance to "rehab" itself by winning out over the next month. Do-or-die on the last Saturday in November makes it mostly die for the loser."

I do not understand this. If the two teams play earlier in the season, that would have just as big of an impact on the divisional race as a game on the last weekend of the season. Actually it would seem that it would more likely lead to a re-match in the Title game. If one of the team's is in a do-or-die situation and the other has already clinched its division, the team in the do-or-die situation will probably have a greater chance of winning than an earlier point in the season. The non-do-or-die team would presumably be the better team, as they already won their division. So under normal circumstances, like an early November game, they would be more likely to win, decreasing the probability of a re-match relative to the last week of the season.

Actually the problem with this setup is that the re-match is too likely. The same two teams playing on back-to-back weeks is less intriguing than other possibilities. The obvious solution to this problem would have been to put Michigan and Ohio St. in the same division.

Monday, September 13, 2010

The New Big 10 Divisional Alignment Part II: Geography

I had planned to have a couple of posts last week that I just did not have time for and am going to try and catch up this week.

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

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

In some respects this is a curious course. The conference could have split down geographically pretty easy into:
East: Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio St., Penn St., Indiana and Purdue

West: Illinois, Northwestern, Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota and Nebraska

Typically I think that many people worry too much about geography when determining divisions. How can the Dallas Cowboys be in the East? How can the Indianapolis Colts be in the South? However, I think these concerns are overblown. The two reasons for having geographically compact divisions are that they lead to greater rivalries and that the timing of games work out better if the teams are in the same time zone. However, in the Cowboys case, would the rivalries actually be more intense if the Cowboys played in the same division as the Saints and Texans than they are with the Eagles, Redskins and Giants? The time-zone issue is less important for the Cowboys because the game times are either completely pre-set for national games or during the day. Also one time zone difference is not that important like the three-zone difference between Eastern and Pacific.
Returning to the Big 10 expansion, time zones probably don’t matter too much in this case. However, the biggest rivals tend to be between the teams that are next to each other, so why not just break down the divisions geographically. The East with Penn St., Ohio St. and Michigan might be a little stronger than the West. But the West would still have Nebraska, Iowa and Wisconsin, so it would not be any bigger of a mismatch than the current Big 12 North-South breakdown.

Friday, September 3, 2010

The New Big 10 Divisional Alignment Part I: The Importance of Tradition

With the expansion of Nebraska to the Big 10, in order to allow a championship game, the conference had to split into two divisions:

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

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


(For some background and additional analysis of this issue see:



Adam Rittenberg at ESPN says that the divisional alignment was based on economics, in particular having a marketable championship game and ignored tradition. I agree with that.

I think one of the big appeals of sports is rivalries. Since sports are a zero-sum game, you cannot increase interest by increasing the average number of wins. Rivalries can make certain games matter more and thus increase the entire "interest" pie. To develop rivalries you can depend on:

1. Tradition. The easiest way is to have traditional rivals already in place.

2. Geographical proximity. Having two teams near each other increases interest in a particular game since the opposing fans might travel to the games or interact with opposing fans on a regular basis.

3. Big or competitive games. Think Cowboys-49ers or more recently Colts-Patriots. In the Big 10 a good example might be Penn St.-Iowa in recent years.

I think the Big 10 really dropped the ball in not keeping some of their rivalries intact. Wisconsin is not in the same division as what I would assume to be their three biggest rivals: Minnesota, Iowa and Michigan and will only keep their rivalry game with Minnesota (each team has one rival in the other division). Penn St. and Michigan St. are not in the same division. Even the recently developed Penn St.-Iowa game is no more.

In Part II, I will discuss the issue of geography.



Thursday, September 2, 2010

College Football Season is Here

Given the state of the Cubs and the outlook for the Bears, I am ready for college football. This sentiment should be obviously necessary from the fact that I just admitted to following minor-league baseball pennant races. One big plus of I-A college football is that I am not as connected to any specific team, though I do root for Virginia Tech and Penn St, so I do not lose interest as quickly.

I hope to have a couple of posts on various college football topics over the next week or so. Meanwhile, here is a link to my past posts on a college-football playoff.

A Cubs-Redbirds Pennant Race

The Chicago Cubs have had a bad season and the Cardinals have had a bad couple of weeks. However, one area where both teams are doing well is their AAA affiliates. The Iowa Cubs and Memphis Redbirds have the two best records in the Pacific Coast League. Unfortunately for the two teams they play in the same division, so only one of them will make the postseason, and the two teams square off with a four-game series to end the season. Iowa currently sports a one-game lead, thanks to a nine-run ninth inning comeback last night.

The incompetence of the major league Cubs has gotten so pathetic that I am now more closely following their top three affiliates, all of whom are in pennant races. The AA Tennessee Smokies are running away in the Southern League and the Advanced-A Daytona Cubs are trying to stay in the race in the Florida State League.