Michigan tight end Erick All (83) celebrates his touchdown with teammates during the second half of the Big Ten Championship Football game against the Iowa Hawkeyes at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, Indiana on Saturday, December 4, 2021. Michigan won 42-3 . (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
It doesn’t feel right to be writing – or reading about – football at the end of May.
The game gets enough pub. Really too much. This is spring, baseball season. (And pro basketball and pro hockey every night. Like you, I’m for the Edmonton Oilers.)
But the Iowa baseball team was playing Penn State in the Big Ten tournament in Omaha when I was writing this in downtown Cedar Rapids, and I saw little of most of the downtown residents to lead me to believe they were even remotely knew what happened there game.
When the Iowa football team plays South Dakota State or Nevada, people here have their antennas up. It seems it takes an NCAA tournament to get locals dialing into college baseball.
Speaking of baseball, Ray Liotta died in his sleep this week at the age of 67. Liotta played Shoeless Joe Jackson in Field of Dreams, the film that brought Iowa’s corn up close and personal to the world. “Corn” means more than one thing.
Speaking on Dan Patrick’s radio show last year, Liotta said, “I read (‘Field of Dreams’) and it was only my third film. And I said, ‘This is so silly. This guy hears voices and he has a corn field. He makes a baseball field and removes the corn?’
“When I read the script, I thought it was the stupidest, stupidest thing. And obviously I was wrong.”
But was it him? Anyway… football.
There were signs this month that the Big Ten will soon be realigning their divisions for football, or, more likely, eliminating divisions altogether. Would that be good or bad? As always, the answer is not as important as its value in temporarily distracting us from the horrors of the world.
Nothing the conference decides will be as incredible as the move it made on December 13, 2010. On that fateful day, then-Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany announced that the divisions would be named Legends and Leaders.
They could not be called East and West because the schools were not separated geographically. Instead, the league chose pompous names that were spurned for three years until teams were moved and the format was — get that! – East and West.
This is how things will look this fall for the ninth year in a row. Maybe this will be the year the West Champion prevails in Indianapolis, but it’s certainly not a bet. Because the east masters are 8:0 against the west winners.
The motivation for junking the divisions is largely this: the game hasn’t always featured the top two teams in the conference, which are always Ohio State and Somebody Else. So it wasn’t always Fox’s greatest gift.
For example, last year the top two 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 Eastern and defeated the Western champion. Twice that was Wisconsin, twice Northwestern.
However, it is incorrect to say that the East has eclipsed the West in terms of football performance. Last season the East was 11-10 against the West. That was a typical record of the last eight years of neck-and-neck races.
Take Ohio state out of the equation and the West was better at the 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 to west. Iowa is a pretty scintillating 46-23. Not quite as sparkling as Wisconsin’s 50-17 and four West titles to the two Hawkeyes, but still pretty bubbly.
The East has the Marquee Program and Marquee Programs #2 and #3 (Michigan, Penn State). But it also has three of the conference’s bottom four teams over the past eight years in Indiana, Maryland and Rutgers.
So there’s no need for the West members to hang up their helmets in shame as the divisions disappear and it’s a big group of 14 teams fighting to be in the top two after the last Saturday in November.
If the schedules fit and a team is particularly good, a Wisconsin or Iowa or Northwestern can still make it to Indy.
Oh, Penn State beat Iowa 5-2 on Thursday. At baseball.
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