So long Leaders. Later Legends.
Iowa’s football team will find itself with no shortage of border rivalries under new Big Ten division alignments approved Sunday.
The Big Ten Council of Presidents/Chancellors and league athletics gave unanimous approval to geography-based alignments that leave the Hawkeyes in the middle of a division that includes five opponents from border states.
Beginning in 2104, Iowa will play annual games against the other six members of what will simply be called the West Division — Illinois, Minnesota, Nebraska, Northwestern, Purdue and Wisconsin.
Former Hawkeye division rivals Michigan and Michigan State will shift to the East Division, joining Indiana, Ohio State, Penn State and Big Ten newcomers Maryland and Rutgers.
For Iowa, the shift restores two currently dormant rivalries. The Hawkeyes have not faced Illinois since 2008 and have not met Wisconsin since 2010, although the Badgers return to the Iowa schedule this fall.
“The one thing we have heard the most about from our fans since we went to the current set-up two seasons ago is that they value the games against our traditional border rivals,” Iowa director of athletics Gary Barta said. “Now, the importance of a particular rival may change depending on if you are in the Quad-Cities, Mason City, Council Bluffs or Dubuque, but it is a message we have heard throughout the state.”
Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany said administrators spent four months discussing potential alignment models and after a series of six meetings and a public opinion poll, they eventually agreed on one based on the primary principle of geography.
He said the divisions approved are “consistent with the public sentiment expressed in the poll.”
For the 2014-15 seasons, the 14 Big Ten teams will play eight-game conference schedules including games against two teams from the opposite division.
Under the approved plan, Big Ten teams will move to a nine-game conference schedule beginning in 2016, including three games each year against opponents from the opposite division. Big Ten teams have played nine league games before, but not since the 1983 and 1984 seasons.
In even-numbered years, teams from the East Division will play five home games and West Division teams will all have four home conference games. In odd-numbered years, West Division teams host five conference games and play four on the road.
Only one cross-division rivalry, the match-up between Indiana and Purdue, will be preserved on an annual basis. Other match-ups will rotate to a degree where schools are guaranteed to face every team in the other division at least once every four years.
“I would prefer eight (conference games) to nine, but I can live with nine,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. His concerns about the potential inequities of the five-home, four-road alignment were addressed by the conference, having all teams from the same division play the same number of home games each year.
For Iowa, the plan also allows the Hawkeyes to maintain their series against Iowa State without a change in the current agreement, which takes Iowa to ISU in odd-numbered years and brings the Cyclones to Kinnick Stadium in even-numbered years.
“We certainly want to continue to play Iowa State,” Barta said. “I don’t sense a desire for that game not to be played. It’s something that is important in our state.”
With the Big 12 already playing nine league games, the announced alignment allows both Iowa and Iowa State to maintain a schedule that includes seven home games annually, an important financial element to scheduling at both schools.