What’s old is new again, right? And that appears to be what may be happening in college football.
Reports came out on Wednesday that the Big Ten Conference is exploring the idea of removing its East and West Divisions.
Iowa AD Gary Barta talked to The Athletic and two main items they are looking at is getting rid of divisions and reducing to eight conference games.
“We’ve had several conversations,” said Barta. “One of the things that we’re watching is whether it’s related to The Alliance, which we’re talking through and/or, what gives us the best opportunity to have the most success in the College Football Playoff format? We’re wondering if we’re going to know what the format is before we have to make that decision … but we have had active conversations about the schedule beyond 2022.”
The reality in the Big Ten is that the West has been incredibly weak. In fact, no West Division team has won the conference in the eight years since the format was introduced and the last time a West Division team even played its opponent within a touchdown was 2017 when Wisconsin lost to Ohio State 27-21.
And regardless of what the Big Ten decides to do, it’s another feather in the cap of the Big 12 Conference, who removed divisions when the league went to 10 teams. And then, when the Big 12 brought back the conference championship game in 2017, the league wisely started to promote the fact that it was the only Power 5 league to truly have the two best teams in the conference playing for the crown.
I always thought the Big 12 didn’t pump its chest enough about this early on, but they eventually came around. And now here we are, with the Big Ten exploring the idea of removing divisions, which feel incredibly antiquated in a sport that continues to evolve faster than a Patrick Mahomes to Tyreek Hill touchdown.
That being said, the Big 12 is exploring the idea of returning to divisions in 2023, when the league expands to 14 teams temporarily, before being reduced back to 12 in 2025, when OU and Texas leave for the SEC.
And while it makes sense, we’ve written extensively about different ideas the league can use, is it possible the Big 12 should just stick to what it’s been doing, even when it expands, especially if other leagues are realizing it’s the best way to capitalize in a future world of College Football Playoff expansion?
There may be some merit to that and it is definitely worthy of a discussion for commissioner Bob Bowlsby and the rest of the decisionmakers in the league.
One thing the Big 12 hasn’t always been good at is staying ahead of the curve in college football and seeing into the future. On this issue of divisions, they may have been a good five years ahead of their competitors. So before giving that all up, see where things stand around the sport, what other conferences are doing, and make the best decision for the future of the Big 12 Conference that works well beyond 2025 in a College Football Playoff expansion world.