I recently posted the eleventh and final installment in my series proposing the radical realignment of the college football conferences and perhaps the most impassioned reaction has come in response to my proposal to establish the new Midwestern Conference.
My proposed successor league to the Big Ten would consist of twelve teams split into two divisions. The Northern Division would be comprised of Iowa, Iowa State, Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. The Southern Division would consist of Illinois, Miami (Ohio), Missouri, Notre Dame, Ohio State, and Purdue.
Over at Maize n Brew, there was some good-natured incredulity over my decision to include the Fighting Irish, the Tigers, the Cyclones, and particularly the RedHawks, so it appears an explanation is warranted.
Largely, my conference selections were determined by making reference to a map of the United States. This led to the placement of the Arizona and Colorado schools in the Mountain West Conference, the Nevada schools in the Pacific Coast Conference, and the Pennsylvania and Virginia schools in the Eastern Conference, which simply made geographic sense.
Likewise, Iowa State and Missouri are more closely aligned with Big Ten country than with Big 12 country. The Cyclones' in-state rivalry is with a Big Ten team, the Hawkeyes, and I tended to place two teams from the same state in the same league wherever practicable. The Big Ten is centered around the Midwest and the Show-Me State is Midwestern, however much the presence of authors such as Mark Twain and Tennessee Williams may have given the place a bit of Southern flavor.
Yes, he spent a large part of his formative years in St. Louis, but he was still a Southern writer. Why? Because his nickname was Tennessee. When the moniker you go by is the name of a Confederate state, you're a Southern author. By the same token, Dr. Henry Jones, Jr., was a Midwestern action hero.
As I noted at the time, Notre Dame's inclusion makes obvious sense to everyone who is not either a Fighting Irish fan or a supporter of a longstanding rival of the Golden Domers'. South Bend is located in the same state as two current Big Ten teams (Indiana and Purdue) and, while I booted the Hoosiers for reasons of parity, the connection between Notre Dame and such Big Ten mainstays as Michigan and Michigan State is undeniable.
That just leaves Miami (Ohio), which I freely admit is the most controversial of my Midwestern Conference selections. It is fair to say, though, that the RedHawks have the most underrated of the Division I-A programs, at least from an historical standpoint.
For one thing, the similarity of nomenclature often causes the school in Oxford, Oh., to play in the shadow of the one in Coral Gables, Fla., in spite of the fact that the M.A.C. squad has recorded more victories than the Hurricanes, the two teams have virtually identical all-time winning percentages, and the northernmost of the two schools was a university before Florida was a state.
There can be no doubt that Miami University is home to elite-quality coaching; Ohio State's Woody Hayes, Notre Dame's Ara Parseghian, and Michigan's Bo Schembechler all coached the then-Redskins.
I'm going to go out on a limb here and say these guys were good enough for the Big Ten.
Since Miami (Ohio) joined the Mid-American Conference in 1948, there have been numerous meetings between Big Ten teams and the M.A.C. squad. While many of these games were won handily by the major conference powers, the RedHawks have been competitive with the Big Ten through the years.
Miami defeated Northwestern in 1955 (25-14), 1964 (28-27), 1982 (27-13), 1995 (30-28), 1999 (28-3), and 2003 (44-14). Miami defeated Purdue in 1962 (10-7), 1973 (24-19), and 1975 (14-3), and the Redskins tied the Boilermakers in 1974 (7-7). Miami defeated Indiana in 1966 (20-10) and 1977 (21-20).
Miami also lost narrowly to Indiana in 1958 (12-7) and 1996 (21-14), to Purdue in 1961 (19-6), to Michigan State in 1975 (14-13) and 1979 (24-21), to Ohio State in 2000 (27-16), and to Iowa in 2002 (29-24).
It should be noted, also, that, of the 19 games against Big Ten teams mentioned in the preceding two paragraphs, only one---the RedHawks' meeting with the Hawkeyes in 2002---took place in Oxford rather than in the Big Ten team's home stadium. Obviously, under the aegis of the Midwestern Conference, Miami (Ohio) would host Illinois, Iowa, Missouri, Notre Dame, Ohio State, and Purdue every other autumn as part of an annual arrangement alternating home and away.
Until you walk out of Oxford, Ohio, with a win, you don't get to call yourselves the Yager meisters.
Finally, as a Georgia fan, I have to lend credence to the Bulldogs' won-lost records against each of the 12 Midwestern Conference schools. The 'Dawgs are 1-1 against Michigan, 1-0 against Michigan State, 1-0 against Missouri, 1-0 against Notre Dame, 1-0 against Ohio State, 2-0 against Purdue, 2-0 against Wisconsin . . . yet 0-1 against Miami (Ohio). I, for one, am satisfied that the RedHawks can run with the big boys.
An equally lucid constructive criticism came from Michael of Braves and Birds, who was concerned that, because the Wolverines and the Buckeyes played in different divisions, there would be many years in which Michigan and Ohio State played back-to-back games against one another: first in the final game of the regular season, then again in the Midwestern Conference championship game.
While I did not discount this concern, I deemed it a risk worth taking, especially since, if I had my way, Georgia would run the same risk every year by ending the regular season against the Bulldogs' permanent Western Division rival, Auburn, rather than against Georgia Tech.
Michael replied that it would be better to put the schools from Ann Arbor and Columbus in the same division. I actually considered that possibility when realigning the conferences, but I determined that it was not a practical solution.
Unless a conference is spread out in a randomly scattered pattern like the A.C.C., there are only two ways to separate the league into divisions: longitudinally or latitudinally. When I first set up the Midwestern Conference, it was designed to look like this:
The problem with that alignment is that the Eastern Division is substantially tougher than the Western Division. Probably four out of every five years, the Midwestern West would come down to the winner of the Iowa-Wisconsin game, but the Midwestern East champion would face a brutal schedule with the Wolverines, the Spartans, the Fighting Irish, and the Buckeyes all in the same division.
The thought of having to face an Eastern Division schedule on a yearly basis has driven Kristin Davis to drink.
Under that arrangement, it seems likely that the second-best team in the conference routinely would spend the first Saturday in December watching the top team in the league taking on the fourth- or fifth-best squad in the Midwest. The disparity simply seemed too extreme, so I opted to split the conference up into Northern and Southern Divisions, which are much more balanced.
I am grateful for the feedback I have received on this proposal and I hope the foregoing explanations are convincing to the commentators who offered objections or, at a minimum, that they provide some insight as to the thought process by which I arrived at my conclusions.
Naturally, I would welcome additional observations and critiques, which I hope you will feel free to contribute in the comments below or in the diaries to the right.