The Big Ten will abandon its Legends and Leaders format in 2014 when Maryland and Rutgers join the conference, instead opting to go with East and West Divisions.
Maryland will play in the East Division along with Rutgers, Michigan State, Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan and Indiana. The West Division will consist of Illinois, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Nebraska, Iowa, Purdue and Northwestern.
The divisions will really only be a factor in football, at least for now. The Big Ten is expected to tackle the basketball schedule next. The league will also move to a nine-game conference schedule for football beginning in 2016.
The divisions are based almost strictly on geography, which should make it easier for fans to figure out which teams are grouped together. It should also help make travel a bit easier. The Big Ten did a nice job of also keeping in place a number of football rivalries while taking geography into consideration.
For Maryland, it’s obvious that they have been thrown into the much more difficult division in terms of football competition. Other than Wisconsin and Nebraska, the West Division is awful. In the East Division, the Terps will regularly tangle with football powers like Ohio State, Penn State and Michigan, and it’s not like Michigan State is a slouch.
The good news is that Maryland is sure to see a major increase in attendance at Byrd Stadium with big-time college football powers on their schedule every year. Even if the Maryland football program continues to flounder, which it shouldn’t, Terps fans will be interested to see some of these matchups. It’s also expected that there will be a ton of fans from visiting teams such as Ohio State, Penn State and Michigan making their way to Byrd.
The fact that Maryland will play these programs on a regular basis should also provide a significant boost when it comes to recruiting. Top players want to play against the top teams, and they will certainly get that opportunity if they decide to commit to the Terps.
The other bit of positive news is that Michigan isn’t what it once was and Penn State is obviously in a tough spot right now. Maryland is also coming from a conference that was probably faster and more athletic than the one they will join. Strength along the lines might be an issue, but Maryland should be able to put some of the best athletes out on the field in all of the Big Ten.
There is little doubt that the Terps were a better team in 2012 than 2011, and it seems highly likely that they will make another leap forward in 2013. With the Terps set to join the Big Ten in 2014, the program could be peaking at just the right time.