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INDIANAPOLIS — The Big Ten Conference’s Leaders and Legends still are fresh in Barry Alvarez’s mind.
Iowa was in the Legends. Wisconsin was in the Leaders. The rivals had two seasons — 2011 and 2012 — where they didn’t play each other.
“We lost Iowa,” said Alvarez, the longtime Wisconsin athletics director who now works as a special adviser for football at the Big Ten. “That’s not fair for our fans. It wasn’t fair for us. … That was sad.”
The Big Ten has not made any official decisions about divisions yet, but the elimination of them seems to be an inevitability at this point.
The ACC and Pac-12 already announced plans to scrap their divisions and the Big Ten will, at a minimum, rework the divisions anyway with its upcoming additions of USC and UCLA in 2024.
Iowa athletics director Gary Barta previously said he expects the Big Ten to eliminate divisions when USC and UCLA are in the mix.
That leaves a significant possibility of some Big Ten rivalries receiving the same fate that Iowa-Wisconsin received.
“I hope we don't have to go through that again,” Alvarez said of the Iowa-Wisconsin break.
Some schools, such as Maryland or UCLA, don’t have as many natural rivalries worth playing annually as Iowa or Ohio State.
Barta would like Iowa to play all of its geographic rivals on an annual basis although he realizes it’s “just not possible to do them all.”
“I want to play Minnesota, I want to play Wisconsin, Northwestern, Nebraska, the bordering states, particularly where we have trophy games,” Barta said earlier this month. “I would like to play each of those every year.”
Ferentz similarly described it at Big Ten Media Days as “wonderful” if Iowa could “play all the border states.” He’s not losing too much sleep over it, though.
"I'm so beyond worrying about all that stuff,“ Ferentz said Tuesday. ”I think that train has totally left the station.”
If the conference chooses only two rivalries to protect, that could lead to some difficult decisions. The lack of natural rivalries for Nebraska also complicates matters.
If the conference only protects two rivalries and Iowa-Nebraska is one of them, that means either Iowa-Wisconsin or Iowa-Minnesota will lose its annual status.
Even if three are protected — Nebraska, Minnesota and Wisconsin, for example — that would mean not annually playing against a Northwestern team that’s been competitive with Iowa recently and a neighboring Illinois team with a former Hawkeye as its coach.
Northwestern Coach Pat Fitzgerald expects the decision of choosing which rivalries to save to be a “complicated” process. His concerns are less about who plays annually and more about how often do you play everyone else.
“I think it's less about the rivalries and more making sure that our players and our fans are able to step into every venue and able to experience the pageantry of Big Ten football,” Fitzgerald said.
Just don’t bring back Legends and Leaders.
“I still don’t know which one we were in,” Ferentz said to the laughter of many reporters. “I shouldn’t admit that.”
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