WEST LAFAYETTE – The NCAA approved two significant changes on Wednesday, including eliminating division requirements for conferences to decide championship game participants.
The Division I Council also voted to eliminate the number of players a football program can sign in a new recruiting class during the next two academic years.
The Big Ten will likely eliminate divisions at some point but not in the immediate future.
Following Wednesday’s announcement, the Pac-12 issued a statement saying the league has abolished the division format starting with the upcoming season. The top two teams will play for the Pac-12 title based on conference records.
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The Big Ten isn’t ready to move that fast. Look for the conference to keep its East-West division format in the short term and is expected to wait and see the structure for the College Football Playoff, which will remain at four teams until after the 2025 season.
Eliminating divisions is a yearly discussion among Big Ten athletic directors but the topic wasn’t part of the agenda at the recent conference meetings last weekend in Chicago, Purdue athletic director Mike Bobinski said earlier this week.
“There are lots of different models that you would have to consider and evaluate as you might want to schedule going forward – how many opponents do you protect each year? What’s the rotation through the rest of the teams?” Bobinski said during an interview in February.
The Atlantic Coast Conference aims to eliminate divisions and adopt a 3-5-5 scheduling format – three permanent games and rotating playing five schools every two years. Dumping divisions would allow home-and-home matchups with every conference opponent in a four-year cycle.
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Can the Big Ten reach that type of balance in a 14-team league playing nine league games and how many rivalries need to be protected if divisions were eliminated? The Purdue-Indiana game isn’t going away, similar to Michigan and Ohio State. Other trophy games would stick but some wouldn’t be played every season.
It’s no secret the Big Ten East is the powerhouse of the two divisions and the two best teams typically come from that side of the conference.
If the league did away with divisions, it’s not impossible to see a scenario where Ohio State and Michigan could play in consecutive weeks. The teams currently square off on the Saturday after Thanksgiving and the Big Ten championship game is the next weekend.
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Would a rematch in another week be good for the league and television? And what if it happened several years in a row?
From Purdue’s standpoint, the elimination of divisions would make it more difficult to reach the championship game. By playing in the West, the Boilermakers know the six opponents they’ll face every season, along with the end-of-year matchup against Indiana.
After five seasons under Jeff Brohm, the program is in a better position to challenge for the West title but still has plenty of work to reach the No. 1 spot, evident by the combined 1-8 record against Wisconsin and Minnesota. Brohm, though, is 4-1 against Iowa and 13-7 against West teams not named Wisconsin and Minnesota.
With no divisions, how the schedule unfolds – other than the protective rivalries – would play a factor if Purdue makes a push to the top of the standings. In the end, the Big Ten usually decides what’s best for the league and not individual schools.
The NCAA Division I Council also approved a measure that removed the cap on signing no more than 25 players in a recruiting class. The number was increased to 32 in October to deal with transfer portal issues but now a program can sign as many players as it wants in a single class but can’t exceed 85 total scholarships on the roster.
Mike Carmin covers Purdue sports for the Journal & Courier. Email firstname.lastname@example.org and follow on Twitter and Instagram @carmin_jc
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