If you've heard a little more bellyaching recently, it's probably coming from the west, where Nebraska fans are BACK UP IN ARMS after Wisconsin canceled its Week 2 contest against the Cornhuskers as a COVID-19 outbreak begins running its course through the Badgers locker room. This, like so many other things, must be a conspiracy against Nebraska, because... reasons.
Here's the crux of the issue (as if details are really what matter here) — the Big Ten's color-coded outbreak classifications have Wisconsin in only Red/Orange territory, which is incrementally better than Red/Red; as it stands as of Wednesday, the Badgers were reporting six players and six others positive with the virus, including starting QB Graham Mertz and head coach Paul Chryst. May their recoveries be swift and complete, obviously.
Wisconsin AD Barry Alvarez said the program needed to "get our arms around this and control the virus," which technically doesn't sound like what the CDC recommends with regards to distancing, but we get what he's trying to say. Nebraska fans, on the other hand, think Wisconsin's robbing them of a game and getting off easy with a "no contest" (a stipulation universally agreed upon by the Big Ten's membership before the season, of course).
This tweet *from Nebraska's radio network* was deleted after a few hours, but rest assured after about 90 minutes the voting was about 80/20 that yes, the brave men from Nebraska would be playing through the outbreak of the virus. Then it went viral and slipped below 50% in favor of playing, since the rest of the country has not lost its goddamn mind, and the post went down shortly thereafter.
We're not here to debate Nebraska fans on COVID, of course. They've shown since August that you're better off trying to debate a Teddy Ruxpin — they'll both repeat the same things, but at least Teddy won't clog up your Twitter mentions for a week straight. It's all so tiresome, and it's not getting better.
No, we're here to think ahead, and to imagine a world where the Big Ten comes to its senses and realizes that Nebraska's not worth the headaches that come with its constant demands for attention and recompense.
Fortunately, that's a future well within reach.
SCENARIO 1: Eliminate Nebraska and Rutgers, go to 12-team conference
You get rid of an athletic department with a dreadful football program, a men's basketball program that's scarcely better, and which never made much sense geographically. You also get rid of Rutgers.
The West/East divisions stay in place, with six per side, and although fans will be sorry to see easy wins fall off the slate, the conference can return to five divisional games, three cross-division games, and four non-conference games. Fewer strangers out east and enough flexibility to schedule aggressively with other Power 5 programs? Hard to say no.
Rutgers would probably cry foul, as it's been on good behavior recently and has shown some signs of life in revenue sports. A judge would probably agree, meaning that part of the exit plan would be very expensive in a way that would be hard to justify during These Uncertain Times. The money from New Jersey TVs would be tough to let go as well. Even with fewer mouths to feed, ultimately the Big Ten looks like it's sacrificing financial strength for peace and quiet. Tempting but probably not the move.
A backup plan at best.
SCENARIO 2: Drop Nebraska, add one of Pitt, Syracuse, or Boston College
The Big Ten has signaled for a while now that its future includes the northeast, and there's a handful of Big East-turned-ACC newbies that would likely jump at the opportunity to luxuriate in the Big Ten's academic prestige with minimal athletic drop-off. Sure there's media rights to take care of, but contracts were made to be broken at the right price. Worth noting that of the three candidates, only Pitt is a current AAU member, but Syracuse and Boston College are both top-60 national universities according to the U.S. News and World Report's rankings, putting them squarely in the Big Ten's standards of excellence, and membership in the Big Ten's lucrative academic consortium might swing the balance for AAU inclusion in the future.
Well, you've got yourself a conference that's once again in need of divisional realignment, and just giving Indiana to the West doesn't do much with the conundrum of Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State's triangle of doom in the East. At the same time, the Big Ten's sacred history of rivalries must be protected.
So here's how you do it.
Purdue goes EAST to link up with in-state rival Indiana and the new addition. Michigan and Michigan State join the WEST to balance out the divisions at 7 again. And your protected rivals are as follows:
- Illinois - Indiana
- Iowa - Pitt/BC/Syracuse
- Michigan - Ohio State
- Michigan State - Rutgers
- Minnesota - Maryland
- Northwestern - Purdue
- Wisconsin - Penn State
The last piece of the puzzle, of course is the divisional names, since it's a bit silly to have the Michigan schools in the West and the Indiana schools in the East. "Legends and Leaders" was mercifully ditched and not to be revisited. If only there were some other two-pronged mantra exclusive to the Big Ten...
Yes, your new divisions are The Weight Room and The Community. Love it. Embrace it.
Automatic upgrade. Call me, Kevin Warren.
SCENARIO 3: F*&k it, drop Nebraska, add Syracuse AND Pitt AND Boston College
If you're taking a slice off the ACC, why not take the biggest slice possible? The move to 16 programs unleashes another round of frantic realignment, and the Big 12's fragile alliance gets shaken when West Virginia joins AAC expats Cincinnati and Memphis in restoring the ACC to something like full strength... a perfect opportunity for Nebraska to rejoin its brethren in the Big 12 and restore the conference's geographic balance in the plains. Call the separation from the Big Ten mutual and call it good.
The Big Ten gets its academic stalwarts and a dominant foothold in the Northeast, with no doubt left on its ability to tap into the region's massive television markets and money. The academic consortium positions itself even further as the most dominant research group in the nation. Football gets three bowl-quality programs with as rich a history as just about anybody that would be available. Men's basketball would cement itself as the best conference in the nation annually. Lacrosse? Buddy, we can play some lacrosse.
The football conference divisions REALLY need to get realigned at this point, and two eight-team divisions might as well be two eight-team conferences with a scheduling agreement; there's some teams you might not see for a decade or more. We need a better solution.
ACTIVATE THE POD PLAN.
- Michigan State
- Ohio State
- Penn State
- Boston College
For football purposes, the nine-game schedule is preserved with a three-game round robin in each of the pods, a protected annual rivalry with one team in each of the other three pods, and a rotation of one of the other three teams from each of the other three pods.
Your protected rivals are as follows:
- Illinois: Northwestern, Indiana, Syracuse
- Iowa: Michigan, Penn State, Rutgers
- Minnesota: Wisconsin, Pitt, Maryland
Purdue: Michigan State, Ohio State, Boston College
- Michigan: Iowa, Ohio State, Maryland
- Michigan State: Purdue, Pitt, Rutgers
- Northwestern: Illinois, Indiana, Syracuse
Wisconsin: Minnesota, Penn State, Boston College
- Indiana: Illinois, Northwestern, Boston College
- Penn State: Iowa, Wisconsin, Maryland
- Pitt: Minnesota, Michigan State, Rutgers
Ohio State: Purdue, Michigan, Syracuse
- Boston College: Purdue, Wisconsin, Indiana
- Maryland: Minnesota, Michigan, Penn State
- Rutgers: Iowa, Michigan State, Pitt
- Syracuse: Illinois, Northwestern, Ohio State
At that point the Big Ten could either hold a four-team pod-winner playoff or just pick the best two. Either way that's a problem you're only considering when you're crossing the finish line of sweet, sweet realignment magic with no Nebraska in sight.
A bold new future that will probably never, ever happen.
What do you all think? Do these plans make sense or make TOO MUCH sense? Would AAU cornerstones Kansas or Missouri answer the call? Would it be worth it to make the call? Aren't you tired of Nebraska, just in general?
GO IOWA AWESOME.