Division alignment that makes sense to least common denominator college football fan. What a concept!
The Big Ten is set to fix a two-year mistake when they realign divisions along east/west lines in 2014. Sources told ESPN.com that the league will go with a geographic split in 2014, with time zones expected to be the rough divider. The only question now is the treatment of Purdue and Indiana, both which are located in the Eastern Time Zone (along with Maryland, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Penn State and Rutgers). Either Purdue or Indiana will move to the West to even out the divisions.
While nothing is finalized, here's how the two divisions may look:
Replacements for the current "Legends" and "Leaders" division names are still being considered but c'mon, they'll be "East" and "West." Neither Indiana nor Purdue cares much for football so I'm not sure it matters either way, but Purdue has historically been the better program. I'd imagine the Boilers will earn the golden ticket out of what is shaping up to be a loaded Eastern Division headlined by Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State and Michigan State for competitive balance purposes. West Lafayette is a tad closer than Bloomington to both Evanston and Urbana-Champaign, which should make the decision a bit easier.
Sending Indiana east also ensures that Indiana and Rutgers can restart their storied rivalry on the gridiron that will likely have some ridiculous name and trophy awarded to the winner.
This all starting to make much more, well, sense. Ohio State and Michigan won't have to move The Game off the final weekend of the regular season to possibility of back-to-back meetings in the Conference Championship Game. Nebraska and Wisconsin will now meet yearly. So would Michigan State-Ohio State, Michigan State-Penn State (Land Grant Trophy), Michigan-Penn State, Northwestern-Wisconsin, Iowa-Illinois, Iowa-Wisconsin and Nebraska-Wisconsin.
The only rivalry game seemingly lost in the shuffle is Indiana-Purdue, which, if the discussions hold, would be the Big Ten's only protected crossover. The rest of the games would rotate giving the rest of the league as much scheduling flexibility as possible.
It's looking like a nine-game conference schedule will go into effect starting in 2016, meaning that everyone NOT named Indiana and Purdue would play six division games and three inter-division games against a rotating slate. This ensures that programs see teams from the other side more than once every six seasons as they will in the ACC.
This isn't rocket science. It's actually pretty straightforward and only requires the league brass swallowing some pride and realigning and rebranding the divisions to make some bit of sense. All the Big Ten is doing here is dividing along geographic lines, taking a few of the protected cross-over rivalries and moving them within the division in the process.
Here are the Big Ten's current protected cross-overs:
Minnesota - Wisconsin
Michigan - Ohio State
Northwestern - Illinois
Iowa - Purdue
Michigan State - Indiana
Nebraska - Penn State
If Purdue goes to the "West" Division and Indiana the "East," all the league is doing is taking the first five protected cross-overs and moving them within the division. The loss of the last protected cross-over, Nebraska-Penn State, is mitigated by the fact that both programs will have more appropriate geographic rivals within the division (Nebraska gains Illinois and Wisconsin, Penn State gains Michigan, Michigan State, Rutgers and Maryland).
Couldn't the ACC do something similar? Shouldn't it?
Here are the ACC's current protected cross-overs:
Like the Big Ten, the ACC has five or six protected cross-over rivalries that are probably worth salvaging -- Clemson-Georgia Tech, Florida State-Miami, N.C. State-North Carolina, Syracuse-Pittsburgh and Wake Forest-Duke. Boston College-Virginia Tech is debatable and Louisville-Virginia is most certainly forced.
If the conference would flip four protected cross-overs, placing them within the division, the ACC could also have sensible divisions that make sense geographically and preserve (or in some cases enhance) existing rivalries. Here's how:
1. Take the following protected cross-overs -- Boston College-Virginia Tech, Clemson-Georgia Tech, N.C. State-North Carolina, Syracuse-Pittsburgh and Wake Forest-Duke -- and move them within the divisions. BC, Virginia Tech, Syracuse and Pittsburgh would make up the ACC "North" and Clemson, Georgia Tech, N.C. State, North Carolina, Wake Forest and Duke the ACC "South."
2. Leave the protected Florida State-Miami cross-over as is, while sending Florida State to the ACC "South" and Miami to the ACC "North."
3. Place Louisville and Virginia in the ACC "North."
The resulting divisions are:
The glaring hole in the ACC / Big East "Buyer's Remorse" division split is the loss of the South's Oldest Rivalry. Like the Big Ten plans to do and the PAC-12 does with the California schools, Virginia-North Carolina would become one of the ACC's only protected cross-over rivalries. Florida State-Miami would be the other. This would ensure that both the Cavaliers and Tar Heels (and Seminoles and Hurricanes) would still meet yearly, while giving all programs the opportunity to travel to Florida every other year for recruiting purposes.
As one of the ACC's founding members, Virginia will HATE this alignment at face given that the Cavaliers would be aligned with the ACC's Division of Big East Misfit Toys. The counter is that this alignment gives UVa games with four members of the Coastal Division -- Miami, North Carolina, Pittsburgh and Virginia Tech -- while losing Duke and Georgia Tech as yearly opponents. Of the other three founding ACC members that would be separated from Virginia -- Clemson, N.C. State and Wake Forest -- the Cavaliers don't play any of those three opponents yearly with today's alignment so UVa is no better or worse off.
Perhaps the objection to realigning the divisions is grounded on academic concerns, which, I wouldn't put past the UVA/UNC/Duke brain trust. It's likely not a coincidence that five of the six lowest rated schools per USN&WR all call the ACC's Atlantic Division home -- #58 Syracuse, #68 Clemson, #72 Virginia Tech, #97 Florida State, #106 N.C. State, #160 Louisville). While UVa wouldn't share a division with Duke and Carolina and would be forced to associate with the likes of Louisville and Syracuse (even though Virginia is set to become Louisville's permanent cross-over rival), the above alignment would create more balanced divisions academically. Then you stop and realize that balancing conference divisions for football and baseball along for academics is incredibly stupid.
Alternatively, you could split the North Carolina schools as they are today, sending North Carolina and Duke to the ACC "North" and Wake Forest and N.C. State to the ACC "South." The divisions would then look like this:
Here, the only permanent cross-overs become between the Carolina schools. North Carolina-N.C. State and Duke-Wake Forest would be played annually. The rest of the cross-divisional opponents would rotate. If the ACC ever decided to go back to a nine-game conference model for football, the league could then also protect North Carolina-Wake Forest and Duke-N.C. State, just as the PAC-12 scheduling model protects the California school rivalries. The issue with this with an eight game sched is you lock the Carolina schools into playing only Carolina schools from the other side. The other issue is the Florida challenge, with both Florida schools on the same side.
This is an incredibly long-winded way of saying I think that the ACC should use the addition of Louisville to realign the divisions along "north" / "south" lines. Use a hybrid permanent cross-over scheduling model -- the same one employed by the PAC-12 and soon the Big Ten -- to give the schools that want greater flexibility just that, while perserving long-standing rivalries and the dream of a Florida State-Miami rematch in the ACC Championship Game.
If a guy like Delany is willing to go back on the Big Ten's initial failed divisional alignment, there's no reason why the ACC couldn't follow suit. Time elapsed shouldn't be a factor as to whether the ACC chooses to realign the divisions or bolt on Syracuse, Pittsburgh and Louisville into the existing setup.
Please don't leave the ACC left holding the nonsensical divisional alignment bag. If fans outside the ACC still can't tell you which conference members are "Atlantic" and which are "Coastal" nearly a decade after breaking into two divisions, now is as good a time as any to revisit this, no?