Big Ten Has Protected Cross Division Rivalries

Once the Big Ten schedules were released a few weeks ago, I, like many other football fans looked at the future cross divisional opponents Penn State would play in the next four seasons. There was one common denominator: Iowa.

At first, I thought it was a coincidence because my understanding was each team in the Big Ten would play nine conference games, six in their division and three randomly chosen in the opposite division. That does not appear to be the case.

Similar to the protected rivalries that existed when the Big Ten had the Leaders & Legends divisions, each school will play one other school in the other division every year. At first, I was not too sure about this, so I checked other schools and found that every school follows the criteria through 2021. Here they are:


Penn State-Iowa
Ohio State-Nebraska
Michigan State-Northwestern

By a simple glance, it is obvious that the Big Ten was attempting to match up fair competition for both sides. These matches seem to allow competitive cross-divisional games every year, for example Iowa this year. However, a subtle problem is not protecting some of the less-known rivalries, like Penn State and Minnesota.

It is unclear if these secret, protected rivalries will carry on past 2021, or will the Big Ten reshuffle these protected cross divisional games depending on the recent success of the each program? For example, perhaps Minnesota replaces Nebraska as the second best team in the West, will they play Ohio State every year? There doesn’t seem to be a pattern for why certain pairs were made and the Big Ten website didn’t clear anything up for me.

This is all I could find on the Big Ten website:

Beginning in 2016, each school will play three teams from the other division as part of its nine-game schedule. The cross-division games will include one protected matchup on an annual basis between Indiana and Purdue

This is slightly confusing. They acknowledge that there is a protected matchup on an annual basis between Indiana and Purdue, but don’t mention other schools having any sort of protected matchup. Yet, the schedules have been released and up to 2021, every Big Ten school has a cross divisional rivalry game. Perhaps by not listing other schools having protected rivalries it allows them to change them without as much uproar from fan bases.

Regardless, Penn State will continue to battle Iowa for another four seasons.

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