Even though there are no indications that Notre Dame is wavering on its decision to keep charting an independent path rather than join the Big Ten, it still makes a lot of sense.
And just in case that changes, the possibilities of a two-division Big Ten are intriguing. There's no obvious can't-miss alignment scenario. But here are a couple that could work.
NORTH: Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin
SOUTH: Illinois, Northwestern, Penn State, Notre Dame, Indiana, Purdue
OR. . . .
EAST: Notre Dame, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Indiana, Purdue
WEST: Illinois, Northwestern, Penn State, Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin
No matter how it's done, preserving traditional rivalries would be important. I don't see Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State ever being separated. Similarly, Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin probably shouldn't be separated. Indiana-Purdue, and Illinois-Northwestern, also are rivalries that should be preserved. And remember, it's not like the divisions would be all that separate. Teams would play the schools in the other division half the time.
The North-South plan would have the advantage of letting Penn State and Notre Dame, who met regularly before Penn State joined the Big Ten, anchor the South. It also would make the North a very rugged division, considering that Iowa and Wisconsin have established themselves as strong alternatives to traditional powers Ohio State and Michigan.
My East-West plan would allow the Irish to maintain their annual rivalries with Michigan, Michigan State and Purdue. It also would keep the three Indiana schools together. (And if Dallas can be in the NFC East, Penn State can be in the Big Ten West.) Nor would I be a fan of non-directional names, such as the ACC's Atlantic and Coastal divisions.
Other possibiliites would be the Grange and Nagurski divisions. Or the (Wayne) Duke and (Jim) Delany divisions. Now you see the appeal of the good old North-South.
I tend to favor my North-South plan, because I think ND-Michigan-Ohio State in one division (the East) would be too many traditional powers in one place. On the other hand, with the North-South arrangment, the Ohio State/Michigan-driven North still would be awfully rugged, considering what Iowa and Wisconsin have been doing.
The only way to achieve better balance, though, would be to break up more rivalries. And that doesn't make sense to me, particularly because predicting which programs are going to advance and decline down the road is not easy to do.
Bruce Weber formally welcomes another top recruiting class to Illinois today when basketball's early signing period begins.
The class includes Jereme Richmond, a 6-5 forward from Waukegan; Meyers Leonard, a 6-11, 215-pound center from Robinson, and Crandall Head, a 6-5 guard from Rich South.
All are considered four-star recruits. Richmond is ranked 36th among the nation's seniors by Rivals.com. Leonard rose to 39th and Head at 81st. Richmond, who committed to Illinois while a high school freshman, is projected as a small forward. Head, the younger brother of former Illini star Luther Head, is projected as a shooting guard or combo guard. Head is expected to be sidelined by a major knee injury this season.
In other Illini basketball news:
* Jeff Jordan will miss Illinois' first two games because he played in a non-sanctioned 3-on-3 last summer, the NCAA has ruled. The junior guard will miss Illinois' opener against SIU-Edwardsville Friday and Northern Illinois on Tuesday, and will be eligible to return against Presbyterian on Nov. 21. Jordan had quit the program last spring before returning this fall.
``It was an innocent thing,'' Weber said. ``We feel bad for Jeff.''
* It's looking more and more like freshman guard Joseph Bertrand will redshirt. Bertrand, who underwent knee surgery in September, won't play in Illinois' early games to protect his redshirt status. The knee needs rest, but if Bertrand rests it, he loses valuable practice time in what's shaping up as a very competitive situation for playing time.
* Jordan's absence will give Weber more minutes to spread around as he tries to settle on a starting lineup and a rotation.
Four starting jobs look solid, with freshman guard D.J. Richardson joining the three returning junior starters--Demetri McCamey, Mike Tisdale and Mike Davis. The final-starter position is shaping up as a battle betwen junior Alex Legion, freshman Brandon Paul and senior Dominique Keller.
Legion, who has a big offensive upside but must dig in on defense, would add an explosive dimension. Paul, who played well as a starter in the final exhibition game against Quincy, has a bright future. And Keller is a bit unorthodox, but brings energy and a knack for scoring when he's on his game.
In the end, look for the players to sort things out by delivering when they have opportunities.
``It could be matchups,'' Weber said. ``It could be how they're doing that week. Maybe someone is better coming off the bench. Or do we have all of our better offensive players in at one time? That's our biggest dilemma right now. That's what we have to figure out.''