The rumors and reports were all true, as it turns out. Well, all the rumors and reports about Big Ten alignment, anyway. And by "all" we mean the ones that split it east and west with Purdue going west. Well, most of the rumors and reports were about that. So there. IT'S ON. IT'S SO ON.
The Big Ten made the announcement on Sunday morning that the east-west alignment would take effect in 2014, and that a 9-game conference schedule would begin in 2016. Here's more from commissioner Jim Delany's announcement:
"Big Ten directors of athletics concluded four months of study and deliberation with unanimous approval of a future football structure that preserved rivalries and created divisions based on their primary principle of East/West geography," said Big Ten Commissioner James E. Delany. "The directors of athletics also relied on the results of a fan survey commissioned by BTN last December to arrive at their recommendation, which is consistent with the public sentiment expressed in the poll."
"Big Ten directors of athletics met in person or by conference call six times from December to March to discuss a new Big Ten football model," Delany said. "The level of cooperation and collaboration was reflective of what we've come to expect from this group of administrators who have worked extremely well together on a number of complex matters over the past several years. We are all looking forward to ushering in this new era of Big Ten football."
With the new geographical alignment in place, the protected interdivisional game has gone the way of the single-bar helmet, with the lone exception of Purdue-Indiana since the Boilermakers so graciously headed west. No matter; Iowa doesn't need one. All its rivalries—and even the games that the other teams consider rivalries—are now locked into place.
Let's take a look at them, in (mostly) alphabetical order.
Iowa State: Iowa State is not in the Big Ten—don't know if y'all knew that—but this news does directly affect the Cy-Hawk Series. As The Gazette reports, the nine-game schedule creates a rotation of five B1G home games one year and five B1G road games the next, so the Cy-Hawk Series slides in perfectly with that.
Here's Gary Barta's quote to the Gazette:
"As it turned out, the way it's split, we're able to keep our seven home games, which I've said from the beginning is critical," Iowa Athletics Director Gary Barta said. "All of us agreed that we needed to preserve seven home games. In order to do that, the 5-4 split was critical for us in Iowa to continue our rivalry with Iowa State. It worked out. We had the opportunity to continue to play that game uninterrupted."
One indirect but necessary consequence of this is that Iowa will not be leaving the state for non-conference games after 2016, which we're sure local fans are all right with. Iowa schedules seven home games a year, which means five road games. Well, all five are now locked up; it's either five road games in the Big Ten or four Big Ten road games and a trip to Ames. And then that's it.
This also means that the two other non-conference games probably aren't going to be very good. Iowa will be hard-pressed to find a decent opponent that'll come to Kinnick without even a prayer of meeting the Hawkeyes again at even a neutral site, much less setting up a home-and-home. At the very least these games will be against FBS opponents; the Big Ten nixed future FCS games a couple months ago.
Illinois: Iowa-Illinois isn't a rivalry, insofar as there's no trophy and it's never been a protected series. Hell, in the history of the Big Ten, it holds the distinction of being one of the most skipped games ever, thanks to a 14-year hiatus in the '50s and '60s, a 4-year break that ends in 2013, and a period of infrequent scheduling in the '20s and '30s.
But here's the thing: Illinois has a habit of imagining rivalries. The worst is its completely unrequited hatred for Michigan (yeah, I know), but there's also a lot of animosity in Champaign-Urbana for Iowa. A lot of it has to do with the Bruce Pearl-Deon Thomas thing from a quarter-century ago, but it's not just basketball. Remember how Arrelious Benn talked about how much he hates Iowa? He's not an isolated case. Of course, it's not going to be as heated on the gridiron just because Illinois fans don't care about football (and with that program who can blame them?), but this game's going to mean something extra for the orange and blue for sure.
Minnesota: "WHO HATES IOWA?" "WE HATE IOWA!" "WHY DO WE HATE IOWA?" "A CRUSHING SENSE OF SELF-LOATHING AND INADEQUACY!" (crowd goes wild)
The pig's staying in Iowa City, Gophers. Local lodging rates are quite reasonable so you can come visit Floyd all you like. But he stays in Iowa City.
Nebraska: Shut up shut up shut up shut up 10 years ago this rivalry would have been awesome we're just going through some things right now shut up yes you're probably going to keep winning whatever Bo's not that great shut up let's talk about something else. NO WAIT NOT THE NEXT TEAM ALPHABETICALLY SHIIIIIII----
Northwestern: I hate you, alphabet.
This is honestly one of the most fascinating dynamics in the Big Ten. When Iowa was good (strong to quite strong, if you will), Northwestern was the pesky underling, a middling-at-best foe that inexplicably had Iowa's number.
Now, though, Northwestern's the ascendant program while Iowa's looking average. And now it's Northwestern that has more on the line when the two teams meet, while Iowa's the team with the chip on its shoulder after Northwestern had that habit of "accidentally" injuring Iowa's best player in multiple seasons. And yet when the two teams met in 2012, Northwestern practically ran Iowa off the field in the first half before a late charge led to a deceptive 28-17 final.
So will Iowa ever return the favor of ruining a great season and pulling off a big upset? Well, Northwestern's looking mighty strong in 2013, and the game's at Kinnick. If Iowa wins that game, that might be the most satisfying win Iowa fans see all year.
This may not be a rivalry, but it's starting to mean something to both teams and their fanbases.
Purdue: OUR MOST HATED RIVAL. The rivalry didn't go away, it was made canon. That is the level of importance this rivalry has for not only Iowa and Purdue, but the Big Ten as a whole. Is Iowa-Purdue the best rivalry in the conference? With all due respect to what Ohio State and Michigan have going, yes. Iowa-Purdue IS the Big Ten's best rivalry. It's just a fact.
Wisconsin: Admit it—it was really depressing to see Wisconsin off in another division, the Heartland Trophy relegated to part-time status. You can't fault the Big Ten for giving Wisconsin's protected game to Minnesota, being that they have one of the oldest, most-played rivalries in college football. But it was still depressing.
Wisconsin is come home to its natural geographical rivals after a stint in which there was one team in its division from a neighboring state, and that was Illinois. That number's up to four out of a possible six; only Michigan and Michigan State continue to elude the Badgers, and they shouldn't even really count, since the Upper Peninsula might as well be its own state/country/planet.
Football is just more fun when Iowa and Wisconsin get to play each other. Modern Wisconsin football was formed in Iowa's image by a former Iowa assistant head coach, and it was honed into the most physical team in the conference by a guy who has a friggin' Tigerhawk tattooed on his leg. Bret Bielema's gone now, of course, but this is the only one of these rivalries that feels more like a kindred spirithood (new word alert) than a cause for acrimony.
Not that that makes hoisting the brass bull any less sweet, obviously. It's still football and it's still a 60-minute battle. But Iowa-Wisconsin is like when two drinking buddies meet after a long time away. To which we say, hello, old friend. Football and beers soon, yes?
This divisional setup absolutely could not be better for Iowa, and Iowa's probably the single biggest winner in the Big Ten with the new arrangement. There's seven protected annual games (counting ISU), all of which are significantly meaningful to either Iowa or its opponent. All the trophy games are back on an annual basis. Ohio State is off the schedule more than half the time, and so is Michigan. Most importantly, PURDUE HAS NOWHERE TO HIDE. So bring on 2014!