The Big Ten Conference once drew chuckles for naming its football divisions "Legends" and "Leaders." It created imbalance by dividing East and West.
Now, with the future of college football up in the air, the league may well join other conferences that have already taken the step of eliminating divisions and pitting the top two teams regardless of geography against each other in its title game.
"I think a lot of the athletic directors in the Big Ten that I've talked to are proponents of scrapping the divisions and saying the best two teams ought to get a chance to play for the conference championship," Nebraska athletic director Trev Alberts said Monday on his monthly radio appearance.
"And that would be my opinion as well."
From a purely competitive standpoint, the move makes sense.
Teams that are now in the Big Ten's East Division have won nine conference title games in a row, the last eight coming since the league switched from Legends and Leaders to East and West. Wisconsin won the first two iterations of the contest, in 2011 and 2012.
But it's not as simple as the snap of a finger.
The Big Ten is currently in the middle of a massive media rights negotiation that will decide who broadcasts the league's games, and how much that network will pay for the privilege. That number won't be small.
As long as the Big Ten's schools keep getting eight-figure payouts from the conference's television deals, television will have as much say as any entity in when or whether the league makes the switch.
There are other factors too, Alberts explained. The television part is a big piece, but what will access look like for a College Football Playoff that seems on the verge of expanding? How does a conference that firmly plants its roots in the concept of rivalries keep those traditions alive in a radically different scheduling model? And, what will college football look like in five, 10, 20 years? Will it govern itself? Will the NCAA or something like it even have a say?
"So I think when you combine all of those different factors, it’s much more nuanced, I think, than this easy, ‘Well why don’t we do this?'" Alberts said. "And I think that the Big Ten — well, I know that the Big Ten is being very thoughtful, very careful."
That's to say nothing of actually scheduling the games.
"The challenge is, when you have numbers that don't make sense, or when you can't get enough round-robin games in football, it's how do you create competitive equity, especially if you're not going to have divisions?" Alberts said.
"Every single year it's going to be, 'How could Wisconsin or Nebraska win the championship that year? They didn't even play Penn State or Michigan State.' That's what you're going to get."
True schedule equity, Alberts said, could take 25 or 30 years to eventually even out.
"The reality is this: we're hearing a lot about a lot of different ideas. And it's conjecture, and it's opinions, and quite frankly, a lot of it comes from a position of personal interest," Alberts said. But it just adds a little bit to the confusion. Quite frankly there are a lot of questions, and there's a lot of work that is going on behind the scenes, and yes, there is some thought to that."
The move has already been made in other conferences.
The Pac-12 this coming season and the Mountain West in 2023 will do away with divisions and have the top two teams in the league play each other for the conference title.
That plays to what Alberts said.
"I think you're going to see more deregulation. And I think you're going to see, league-to-league, different approaches to it."
The Big Ten is likely headed that way as well. It won't happen in 2022, though even Alberts half-jokingly warned that things could always change.
But as college football continues to go through the early stages of what looks like massive upheaval, even the staid Big Ten is likely to change at some point.
"This isn't something that can get easily changed," Alberts said. "We happen to be the only Power Five (conference) that's in the middle of media rights negotiations. That really impacts some of this stuff for us."