BENNER: Carving up the Big Ten ... and other hot topics

August 7, 2010

Of this, that and the other as the lazy, hazy, not-so-crazy days of summer begin to wind down:

Indiana University and Purdue University someday playing for the Big Ten football championship—in Indianapolis at Lucas Oil Stadium—with a berth in the Rose Bowl or even the Bowl Championship Series title game on the line?

Hey, a guy can dream, can’t he?

But with Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany saying competitive balance trumps geography as the Big Ten (12) brings the University of Nebraska on board and divides in half for football, it’s conceivable the Hoosiers and Boilermakers could end up in opposite divisions.

Yes, Delany also made it clear that protecting long-standing rivalries will be an essential plank of future scheduling. That means the Old Oaken Bucket game still will be an annual part of our sporting landscape.

But with “competitive balance” given priority, who’s to say that IU and Purdue couldn’t be split? And that would at least present the possibility of each winning its division and advancing to the title game. Same goes for any of the other traditional rivalries, such as Michigan-Ohio State, Michigan-Michigan State, Illinois-Northwestern or Wisconsin-Minnesota.

Anyway, I’m going to take a stab at predicting the future alignment, naming my divisions the “Reed” and “Duke” divisions in honor of former commissioners William Reed and Wayne Duke which, by the way, is a really good idea.

The Reed Division: Ohio State, Penn State, Nebraska, Illinois, Indiana, Purdue.

The Duke Division: Wisconsin, Michigan, Michigan State, Iowa, Northwestern, Minnesota.

In my view, that “top-loads” each division with three (more or less) traditional powers: Ohio State, Penn State and Nebraska in the Reed, and Wisconsin, Michigan and Iowa in the Duke. And geographically, they kind of align into north/south divisions.

In any case, it will be fascinating to see how it all plays out. And any alignment might at best be temporary since Delany indicated expansion talk still is on. Unfortunately, Notre Dame has been essentially ruled out, which is too bad. I still maintain that the Irish will one day regret life on Independent Island, but if Bryan Kelly revives football and keeps NBC happy, maybe not. In the meantime, Delany may now heed the call to look east and make a run at Pittsburgh, Rutgers or Syracuse—or maybe all three.

Props, by the way, to Indiana Athletic Director Fred Glass for standing solidly in football coach Bill Lynch’s corner, when the easiest way to quiet critics would be to stick a “must-win-this-many” number on him. But yes, this is a critical year for Lynch’s Hoosiers to take a step forward.

Happy to see the folks of Anderson reap the benefits of welcoming the Indianapolis Colts to training camp. The presence of the Colts is no cure-all for Anderson’s woes, but there’s nothing wrong with seeing the city with a three-week smile on its face.

OK, did anyone else find it at least a little curious that NFL Players Association representative Jeff Saturday of the Colts weighed in on the labor dispute between local hotels and employees, but was silent when two of his teammates violated terms of their contracts by not participating in mandatory workouts earlier this summer?

And not to question the motives of Reggie Wayne and Robert Mathis, who proclaimed their devotion to their teammates by reporting to camp on time, but might it have been just a little bit about the money they could have lost had they held out, especially with a potential labor dispute looming?

Interesting, too, that only in professional sports do we anoint sainthood on athletes who honor their contracts.

Speaking of the possible labor impasse, the hand-wringing has begun over the impact it might have on the 2012 Super Bowl here in Indy. Cockeyed optimist that I am, I believe the game will go off as scheduled on Feb. 5, 2012, but that’s not to predict the season leading up to the Super Bowl couldn’t be abbreviated or delayed at the outset.

I’ll tell you this: If they do lock out the 2011 season and lay waste to our Super Bowl, I will never buy Colts’ season tickets or watch the NFL again.

Well, maybe.•

Benner is senior associate commissioner for external affairs for the Horizon League college athletic conference and a former sports columnist for The Indianapolis Star. His column appears weekly. He can be reached at bbenner@ibj.com. He also has a blog, www.indyinsights.com.


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