Eric Crouch

Nebraska quarterback Eric Crouch pitches before getting hit by Iowa’s LeVar Woods (97) during a game on Sept. 23, 2000, in Lincoln, Neb. The Cornhuskers won 42-13 that season, the last time the two programs met. Iowa closes the regular season at Nebraska in 2011. AP Photo/Dave Weaver)


We all can breathe a big sigh of relief now.

The Big Ten announced its new divisional alignments for football on Wednesday night - in a special 90-minute, made-for-their-own-TV-network show - and they did what we all had been hoping for.

They preserved that precious Iowa-Purdue rivalry.

That is who the Hawkeyes will play each year as their "protected crossover game."

They won't be playing Wisconsin every season. They won't see much of Illinois. Ohio State and Penn State will pop on and off the schedule.

But at least the great Iowa-Purdue legacy rolls on. Thank goodness.

I guess this is what we should have expected from a league led by a man who often makes the most rudimentary concepts sound like nuclear rocketry. Jim Delany and the Big Ten managed to take something that could have been very simple and make it much more complicated than it needed to be.

In essence, it looks as if they did what Michigan and Ohio State wanted and let the rest of the chips fall where they may. Some of those chips fell into the right places, but you get the feeling it happened purely by accident.

Delany, speaking on the Big Ten Network's special, said the division decisions were based on three guiding principles: Competitive equality, rivalries and geography.

They did OK on the first one, but botched an easy opportunity to do a much better job on the other two.

They could have - and should have - done something simple by splitting the league along purely geographical lines: Give us an Eastern Division and a Western Division and it would have been fine.

It would have impacted fewer rivalries than what they gave us. And if geography was a criteria, as Delany earlier had said it would not be, the East-West thing would have been perfect.

And it would have been much more balanced from a competitive standpoint than anyone would have you believe.

We've heard a lot of moaning - mostly from Columbus and Ann Arbor - that "you can't have Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State in the same division because those are the Big Ten's big three."

That's unfiltered hogwash. That's the popular perception. It's not the facts.

Over the past two seasons, there are four Big Ten teams that have not appeared in a bowl game either year and one of the alleged big three is actually part of the little four.

During those two seasons, the six teams that would have made up the West in a purely geographic breakdown have gone 94-61. The powerhouse East went 82-68.

Delany and his guys insisted on basing this on records dating back to 1993, when Penn State joined the Big Ten. (Why should something that happened 17 years ago count as much as what happened last year?)

But even using that as a yardstick, the East-West thing would be reasonably balanced. Wisconsin's winning percentage since 1993 is a surprisingly good .682, which isn't terribly different than Penn State's .703 or Michigan's .695. The West also would include Nebraska (.760) and Iowa (.580) while the East would have Ohio State (.796).

In reality, Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State aren't the big three so much as that trio combined with Nebraska, Wisconsin and Iowa comprise a big six.

In the end, all the Big Ten did was tweak the simple East-West model by swapping Wisconsin and Illinois for the two Michigan schools. In the process, it fractured some pretty good rivalries.

The big loser would seem to be Wisconsin. It was thrown into the same division as Ohio State - something no one, Michigan included, wanted - while being separated from its three obvious rivals: Minnesota, Iowa and Nebraska. It gets to play Minnesota every year on the crossover thing, but it will play the Cornhuskers and Hawkeyes only 40 percent of the time.

Iowa came out of this pretty well. It gets to keep the Minnesota rivalry, it gets an exciting new annual series with Nebraska and, oh, it keeps alive that thriving rivalry with Purdue.

Thank goodness.