Iowa A.D.: No current Big Ten expansion plans but geography heavy factor in 2014 football realignment
IOWA CITY -- The Big Ten has no current intention to expand beyond 14 schools and geography will play a major role in determining football divisions, Iowa Athletics Director Gary Barta told The Gazette.
"Weíre going to make decisions based on 14 schools," Barta said. "Thatís what we are. And weíre going to base it on the principles because thatís who we are. If someday the world changes again and we have to add or subtract schools, weíll keep our principles in play. But weíre 100 percent on adding Rutgers and Maryland to the schools that we have, and thatís it."
Maryland and Rutgers were accepted as the league's 13th and 14th members in November. Maryland officially will join the league in 2014, and Rutgers appears certain to do so as well.
Via conference calls, Big Ten officials and school administrators have discussed a revamped football alignment for the 2014 season. When the league added Nebraska in 2011, the primary tenet was competitive equality, with rivalry preservation and geography as secondary factors. A few geographic rivals, primarily Iowa-Wisconsin, were separated into opposite divisions. The schools had played one another 72 times in a 74-year period, but the divisional alignment placed the rivals on a current track to meet just four times every 10 years.
"I think itís clear that geographically we have a chance to readjust with the addition of Rutgers and Maryland," Barta said. "So maybe we can get back to a little bit more of a geographical, keep more of the rivalries in play. If we can do that and have good competitive balance, that would be the home run. That definitely would be my preference.
"I just want to make sure that if we do it, weíre not too far out of whack in terms of competitiveness. But I think if you look at what likely could be two or three scenarios related to geography, I think we have a chance. Weíll be doing that in several meetings here."
"I think just because of the way our conference sets up contiguously," Barta said. "The last go around we all had a chance to identify who we would want as our natural rivals. If you just make a circle outside the state of Iowa, itís Minnesota, itís Wisconsin, itís Illinois, itís Northwestern and itís Nebraska now. Those make great sense as a starter. What you have to try to figure out†ó Iím not saying that anybody else hasnít looked at it†ó but those are natural. If you go to the Eastern side, thereís some natural schools. You just have to figure out how to split it after that."
Football alignment is just the high-profile piece in a series of important discussions for league officials. They are slated to meet face-to-face in February, and other football topics include future television contracts, the next round of bowl negotiations and whether the league adds a ninth conference game. Officials also will discuss the potential for divisional play in basketball and Olympic sports as well as travel concerns.
"People are focused on that (realignment), but in our case we have 24 sports," Barta said. "We have to decide whatís in every sport. Our coaches' groups are doing that right now. Each sport is sitting down with their peers and talking about do we have a conference championship, do we have divisions, do we have round robin ... Sport by sport itís different."
The league also will reconsider the football division names "Legends" and "Leaders."
"I know Iím probably not in the majority, but I really do like Legends and Leaders," Barta said. "I like what they stand for. But at the same time, itís not very high on my list. Iím much more focused on making sure that whatever we come up with is competitive, is as fairly balanced as possible and keeping rivalries. Iím much more focused on that than whatever you call them. They could be called ĎAí and ĎBí and Iíd be fine with that. But, also, it was interesting to watch how it became a distraction. Thatís not good, either.
"Everything's on the table."