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Big Ten shakeup to bolster rivalries

Officials put focus on geography when forming 2 divisions

– Big Ten football will split into East and West divisions of seven teams each as of 2014, with the additions of Maryland and Rutgers to the conference.

That switch from the current six-team alignment will create shakeups for teams, including a move in 2016 to a nine-game conference schedule.

“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,” Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany said in a statement. “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.”

Indiana and Purdue are the only cross-division rivalry recognized by the Big Ten, and the two will have a protected game that will preserve the Old Oaken Bucket Game at the end of each season.

“It is an exciting time for the Big Ten Conference and we are very appreciative to our leaders for maintaining the great Old Oaken Bucket rivalry we share with Indiana,” Purdue coach Darrell Hazell said in a statement.

However, that’s about the only thing that will stay the same for both teams.

The geographic alignment will change the annual conference matchups dramatically.

Purdue athletic director Morgan Burke said he is pleased with the decision because it makes sense from a money standpoint and in developing regional rivalries in football. It works better for the fans, and for teams like Nebraska and Maryland, in a conference that is now far-flung.

“You’ll have some of those trips, but it won’t be an every year occurrence,” Burke said. “East-West made the most sense. That’s kind of the way the league has evolved, from the East Coast to the middle of the heartland in Nebraska.”

But parity might be an issue in the short term.

The Boilermakers move to a division with only two teams better than .500 against Big Ten competition in 2012.

Meanwhile, the Hoosiers will contend with perennial powers Ohio State, Penn State and Michigan in the East, as well consistently solid Michigan State and newcomers Maryland and Rutgers.

Purdue’s opponents – Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota, Nebraska, Northwestern and Wisconsin – might pose a problem to first-year coach Hazell.

“There’s years when each one off these schools has been a nationally prominent team,” Burke said.

But there’s no question an Ohio State team that went undefeated in 2012, loaded Michigan and Penn State squads, Michigan State and the newcomers will be a tougher test for IU.

It’s a challenge IU athletic director Fred Glass said his program will meet with gusto.

“We’re in a division with the teams our fans most like to see and our players most like to play against,” Glass said. “I know it’s perceived that there’s more traditional powers in the east, but we embrace it. … To be the best, you have to beat the best.”

Along with the division switches, Big Ten programs must prepare for a nine-game conference slate. That means one less nonconference matchup, along with a new regulation that says Big Ten teams cannot play programs outside the FBS in their non-league schedule.

“I would like to continue to be regional in that regard if we can,” Burke said. “I think it better serves fans for both schools. It will probably make our jobs a little bit easier.”

It does present a problem for the Boilermakers in the coming year, though. Purdue and Notre Dame have a standing in-state rivalry that will be made difficult by both Purdue’s schedule and the new ACC slate for the Irish.

“We’re mindful of the tradition,” Burke said. “We’re going to have to do what’s in our best interest of both our schools.”

Glass would like to keep things close to home for the nonconference slate, as well.

He and coach Kevin Wilson have taken a “schedule up” approach for the Hoosiers.

“Our schedule lines up pretty well also,” Glass said. “We’re not going to have to cancel any games.”