116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
It doesn’t feel right to be writing about football — or reading about it — in late May.
The game gets enough pub. Too much, really. This is spring, baseball season. (And, pro basketball and pro hockey on a nightly basis. Like you, I’m rooting for the Edmonton Oilers.)
But Iowa’s baseball team was playing Penn State in the Big Ten tournament in Omaha as I was writing this in downtown Cedar Rapids, and I saw little from most downtown denizens to make me think they were the slightest bit clued in to what was happening in that game.
If Iowa’s football team is playing South Dakota State or Nevada, people here have their antennae up. It seems to take an NCAA tournament to get locals here to dial in to college baseball.
Speaking of baseball, Ray Liotta died in his sleep at age 67 this week. Liotta played Shoeless Joe Jackson in “Field of Dreams,” the film that brought Iowa corn to the world up close and personal. “Corn” means more than one thing.
Last year, Liotta said this on Dan Patrick’s radio show: “I read (”Field of Dreams“) and it was only my third movie. And I said, ‘This is so silly. This guy hears voices and he’s got a cornfield. He makes a baseball field and removes the corn?’
“When I read the script, I thought it was the silliest, silliest thing. And obviously I was wrong.”
Was he, though? Anyway … football.
This month, it became apparent that the Big Ten will soon realign its divisions for football, or more likely, scrap divisions altogether. Would that be a good or bad thing? As always, the answer doesn’t really matter as much as its value in momentarily distracting us from the horrors of the world.
Nothing the conference decides will be as incredible as the move it made on Dec. 13, 2010. That fateful day, then-Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany announced the divisions would be called Legends and Leaders.
They couldn’t be called East and West because the schools weren’t split up geographically. So instead, the league chose pompous names that were scorned for three years until the teams were moved around and the format went to — get this! — East and West.
That’s how things will be formatted this fall, for a ninth-straight year. Maybe this will be the year the West champion prevails in Indianapolis, but it’s certainly not the way to wager. Because the East champs are 8-0 against the winners of the West.
The motivation for junking the divisions is largely this: The game hasn’t always featured the conference’s two best teams, which always are Ohio State and Somebody Else. Thus, it hasn’t always been the greatest gift to television partner Fox.
Last year, for instance, the two best teams were the Buckeyes and Michigan. The Wolverines played Iowa in the league title game, and won, 42-3.
In the previous four years, Ohio State won the East and defeated the West champ. Twice that was Wisconsin, twice it was Northwestern.
It’s false, however, to say the East has dwarfed the West in football performance. Last season, the East was 11-10 against the West. That was a typical record of the last eight years’ of head-to-head.
Take Ohio State out of the equation, and the West was better in that time. Also, take water out of the equation and Lake Michigan is a big hole.
The Buckeyes are 61-5 in Big Ten play since the league went East/West. Iowa is a rather sparkling 46-23. Not quite as sparkling as Wisconsin’s 50-17 and four West titles to the Hawkeyes’ two, but still pretty fizzy.
The East has the marquee program and the Nos. 2 and 3 marquee programs (Michigan, Penn State). But it also has three of the conference’s worst four teams over the last eight years in Indiana, Maryland and Rutgers.
So, the West members needn’t hang their helmets in shame once the divisions go away and it’s one big cluster of 14 teams fighting to be among the top two after the final Saturday of November.
If the schedules break right and a team is particularly good, a Wisconsin or Iowa or Northwestern will still make it to Indy.
Oh, Penn State beat Iowa Thursday, 5-2. In baseball.
Comments: (319) 398-8440; email@example.com