By Adam Hoge-
CHICAGO (CBS) It’s been nearly a year since the Big Ten announced the addition of Nebraska to the conference. It was a coup that no one could criticize and it was a move that put the Big Ten back on the map.
Those in the Midwest would argue the conference was never lagging behind the SEC and Big 12, but the truth is that the lack of a conference championship game was costing the Big Ten exposure and money. But when the Cornhuskers accepted Jim Delany’s invitation to join the conference June 12, 2010, everything changed for the better.
At least it was supposed to.
Everything that has happened since that day has been a colossal disaster. Who knew when I wrote this nearly six months ago that things would only get worse?
The focus of that piece was Delany’s unfortunate decision to split the Big Ten’s divisions the way he did and name them the, ahem, “Legends” and “Leaders” divisions. Those names continue to be a public relations nightmare, but the Big Ten has much bigger problems now.
What has happened at Ohio State over the last six months is a huge black eye for the conference and depending on the severity of any punishments handed down, it could end up being the worst event in the Big Ten’s long-respected history. Seriously.
Look, the new logo is bad. The division names are even worse. And it sucks that traditional rivalries like Wisconsin-Iowa and Michigan State-Penn State had to be broken up because of the way the divisions were split up.
But that doesn’t hold a candle to the conference losing Ohio State as a national powerhouse, even if it’s just temporary. The Big Ten was barely surviving Michigan’s irrelevance – seems like ages ago when Ohio State and Michigan played each other as the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in 2006 – and if Ohio State goes down the same road, the Big Ten’s reputation will take an even worse hit.
The Buckeyes have won at least a share of the Big Ten title in each of the last six seasons and have appeared in six straight BCS bowl games. They are also the only Big Ten team to ever play for the BCS National Championship, doing so in 2003, 2007 and 2008.
I’d like to go over that last sentence one more time if I could: In the 13 year history of the BCS only ONE Big Ten team has ever played for the national title. One.
The Buckeyes won it in 2003, but lost 41-14 to Florida in 2007 and 38-24 to LSU in 2008.
If the team dominating the Big Ten for the last six years can’t hang with the SEC’s best in the National Championship Game, what is going to happen when the Buckeyes aren’t even there anymore?
That’s where Nebraska comes in. The Cornhuskers may be the Big Ten’s only hope.
After going through its own period of irrelevance, Nebraska appears to be inching back toward the upper echelon of college football under Bo Pelini. And with Michigan still recovering from the Rich Rod experiment and Ohio State threatening to go down the same road, the Big Ten needs a hero.
Either Michigan or Ohio State has had a share of the Big Ten title in all but two seasons since 1997. At this point, it looks like 2011 will be the third time neither school shares the conference title in that time frame.
It’s your move Nebraska. It’s your move Wisconsin. It’s your move Penn State. We’re not talking about just one year of success. The conference needs a new power or it is going to slip further and further behind the SEC.
This is the new Big Ten. Yes, the one with the weird logo and the confusing division names. But it’s also the one in which Ohio State and Michigan are not the face of the conference. At least for now, they aren’t.
These are important times for the Big Ten and Delany needs to provide a positive spark. You know, something like adding Nebraska to the conference. That’s right, he already did that.
If only he could go back and change everything that has happened since.
Do you agree with Adam? Post your comments below.
Adam is the Sports Content Producer for CBSChicago.com and specializes in coverage of the White Sox, Blackhawks and college sports. He was born and raised in Lincoln Park and attended St. Ignatius College Prep before going off to the University of Wisconsin-Madison where he earned a Journalism degree. Follow him on Twitter @AdamHogeCBS and read more of his blogs here.