MADISON – As a player at Wisconsin, Chris McIntosh performed during an era in which football divisions were not on the Big Ten’s radar.
The Big Ten was comprised of just 11 teams back then. Nebraska was still in the Big 12, Maryland was in the ACC and Rutgers was in the Big East.
When McIntosh replaced Barry Alvarez as UW’s athletic director last summer, the Big Ten had used a divisional system to crown its football champion for 10 seasons.
With the NCAA’s Division I Council ruling Wednesday that conferences no longer need to use divisions to hold a title game, it is possible the Big Ten could move to eliminate its divisions.
“Divisions are one of those things that are up for debate right now,” McIntosh said. “In terms of what is best for Wisconsin? I am a believer that we’ll play whoever is on our schedule and we’ll compete for a championship, whether that is with divisions or without divisions. ”
UW, Ohio State and Michigan finished 7-1 to share the title in 1998 when McIntosh was a junior. The Badgers finished 7-1 in 1999 to win the title outright, one game ahead of Michigan and Michigan State, in McIntosh’s senior season.
“I’ve had experience as a player here at a time when there weren’t divisions,” McIntosh said. “I do think if we were to move away from divisions that you’ve got to get to a clear champion. There are ways to do that. ”
Scheduling will always be a controversial topic.
The ill-fated Legends and Leaders setup existed for only three seasons, from 2011-13. League officials then set up the divisions based on geography in 2014 and went from eight conference games to nine in 2016. The extra conference game meant teams went from playing two crossover games to three.
Teams set to face weaker crossover opponents generally had an advantage in the race for a division title.
“One of the drawbacks of divisions, in terms of how we have scheduled thus far,” McIntosh said, “is the inconsistency with which you play crossover opponents. That is one of the things that could be a benefit of doing away with divisions. ”
UW has played a full Big Ten schedule seven times under the current East-West alignment. The outlier came during the COVID-19 season of 2020, when UW wound up playing just six league games.
Excluding the 2020 season, UW’s crossover games have been against Michigan (five times), Rutgers (four), Maryland (three), Ohio State (two), Michigan State (two), Penn State (two) and Indiana (one).
The Badgers are set to play at Ohio State, at Michigan State and host Maryland in 2022.
“I think it is a good thing for our players to visit each campus over a four-year period,” McIntosh said. “I think it is part of the experience. I think it is also good to see a rotation of opponents from top to bottom on a more consistent basis. ”
League officials are comfortable with a nine-game conference schedule. But if the divisions are disbanded, will teams have protected rivalry games that are played every year?
Remember that UW was placed in the Leaders Division and Iowa in the Legends Division in 2011 and the rivals did not meet for the first two seasons of that arrangement.
“Barry and Gary Barta accepted what might be best for the Big Ten might not be the very best for that particular game,” McIntosh said, referring to Alvarez and Iowa’s athletic director. “I think over the course of time, generally speaking, there has been an approach in which the decision-makers-the athletic directors and coaches and presidents-have done what is best for the Big Ten.”
The Pacific 12 wasted little time in announcing it would determine its 2022 football champion based on overall winning percentage. The Mountain West announced Friday it will drop divisions after the 2022 season and other leagues are expected to scrap divisional play.
There are larger issues being discussed as well. Those include potential Name, Image an Likeness abuses, the transfer portal and whether the Power 5 leagues will break away from the NCAA, for football only, and govern themselves.
“We are living in a dynamic period of time for college athletes and we’re in the thick of it right now,” McIntosh said. “I think it is a healthy thing, whether it is football or on a more broad basis, to reevaluate everything right now.
“And there is so much debate and so much uncertainty right now and the NCAA is going through a transformation process.
“Postseason in football is up for debate. Everything is up for debate right now and I don’t think that is unhealthy. If it is going to be, now is the right time for that to happen. “
UW’s last Big Ten title came in 2012. The Badgers have reached the league title game in 2016, 2017 and 2019 under Paul Chryst. They lost to Penn State in 2016 and to Ohio State in 2017 and 2019.
Under the current format, the East Division is 8-0 in title games.
“I’m confident that our program is on strong footing and that we can be competitive with anybody,” McIntosh said. “The expectation for our program hasn’t changed. That is that we’re fighting for championships. ”