First, though, a little background is in order, for those of you who may have arrived fashionably late to this discussion. I proposed the radical realignment of the college football conferences, which included moving Northwestern from the Big Ten to Conference U.S.A. and adding Miami (Ohio) to the newly-formed Midwestern Conference along with most of the current Big Ten.
While objections were raised at Around the Oval, I managed to answer these criticisms to A.T.O.'s satisfaction, so much so that he came around to my way of thinking and said he'd be glad to see the RedHawks join the Buckeyes in the same conference.
Brutus Buckeye is jazzed about finally getting an in-state rival!
Dave, however, saw it differently, offering his thorough explanation of why the Wildcats did not deserve a demotion, to which I responded with a few facts of my own.
Dave's latest salvo is linked to above and I suggest reading it in its entirety. His most salient points, though, are these:
The fact that Miami can only beat a single Big Ten team over the course of 30 years hardly qualifies them as belonging in a Big Ten like conference. . . .
Neither of these teams are good against unfamiliar foes. . . . Miami has four losing out of conference seasons since 1998, and Northwestern has two. They both have two winning out of conference seasons during that time frame, but Northwestern has maintained a .500 twice more than Miami. Finally, Northwestern has only one 1 win out of conference season, Miami has four. Take what you wish from this, but I maintain it gives Northwestern an edge.
Dave also notes the irrefutable fact that a winning record in Big Ten play is a more impressive achievement than a winning record in M.A.C. play.
Admittedly, not the same thing. (Image courtesy Online Sports.)
I persist in having certain differences of opinion with Dave, for one simple reason. Dave's data (and mine) indicate that, while Northwestern and Miami (Ohio) both are good against perennial conference foes, neither is particularly effective against uncommon out-of-conference opponents.
This fact suggests to me that, if the RedHawks got games against Big Ten teams year in and year out, they would become competitive over time . . . not right away, but eventually. The fact that a common conference affiliation would require teams like Iowa, Michigan, Ohio State, and Wisconsin to travel to Oxford as often as Miami traveled to Iowa City, Ann Arbor, Columbus, and Madison bolsters my conviction.
However, Dave makes a good point that the flipside of this is also true. While Northwestern has struggled against the RedHawks and against the teams with which I have lumped the Wildcats together in my "new look" version of Conference U.S.A., N.U.'s history suggests that, after a few years of seeing these new teams on an annual basis, the Wildcats would be effective against those unfamiliar squads, as well.
In sum, I believe Dave makes an excellent case for the proposition that Northwestern does not deserve to be demoted, but his argument appears to apply equally as well in support of the notion that Miami (Ohio) would become competitive if given the chance to play with the big boys.
Shouldn't the fact that the Wildcats' resurgence was engineered by this guy count against them at least a little?
In light of the foregoing, I would like to propose a compromise.
Promote Miami (Ohio). Include Northwestern in the new Midwestern Conference. Demote Illinois to Conference U.S.A.
Geographically, the switch is easily enough accomplished; both the Wildcats and the Illini are located in the Land of Lincoln, so Illinois could simply take what had been Northwestern's spot in Conference U.S.A. and Northwestern could simply occupy the Midwestern Conference vacancy created by Illinois's ouster. No other teams in either conference would need to be reshuffled to accommodate the swap.
Reasonable football fans may differ over whether Northwestern's or Miami's achievements over the course of the last decade are more impressive, but no one can doubt seriously that Illinois has been worse than either of them.
Generally, the Fighting Illini have been bad for a long time. In the 40 seasons from 1966 to 2005, Illinois has posted just 13 winning records. Although the Illini attended eight bowl games in the 11 years from 1982 to 1992, Illinois has had only one winning record in conference play since 1993 and the team has been to just one January bowl game in the last 15 years.
The N.C.A.A. has banned Chief Illiniwek from appearing at bowl games in which the Fighting Illini take part, but, really, when is that ever going to be an issue?
Northwestern's 1995 run was surprising, but the Wildcats proved that their Big Ten title was no accident by going 9-3 in 1996 and being competitive fairly consistently thereafter. Illinois, by contrast, won a recent conference championship that subsequently was revealed as a complete fluke.
The Illini went 10-2 in 2001, but that stellar record was indicative of no larger change. Illinois ended the 2000 campaign by losing six of the squad's last eight games and the team began the 2002 season by dropping five of their first six decisions.
In the last 10 years, the Illini have gone 1-7 in Big Ten play twice (1996 and 2004) and 0-8 against the league three times (1997, 2003, and 2005). Illinois has gone 1-23 in its last 24 Big Ten contests.
I'm sure the turnaround is going to start any day now.
Dave has convinced me that Northwestern deserves to remain in the same conference with the best of its Big Ten brethren. I continue to believe that the evidence supports my decision to elevate Miami (Ohio), provided that the RedHawks use the opportunity to make some stadium upgrades to bring them into line with their new league competitors.
The solution, then, is simple. Reward both the Wildcats and the RedHawks for their undeniable achievements, drop Illinois along with Indiana for the failure of the Fighting Illini to field a competitive football team, and let every squad involved play at its own level.
I leave it to Dave to determine whether this compromise is acceptable to him. Dave---and the rest of you---what do you think?