Confused about Big Ten tiebreakers? Let me explain

Confused about Big Ten tiebreakers? Let me explain

Indiana can win the Big Ten Leaders Division. That's right, the Hoosiers. In football. For real.

So can Purdue. And Ohio State ... at least until the NCAA steps in and says "Not this year, Hoosiers."

The long shots are shorter than before. In the past, Indiana would have to outdo 10 other schools to win the conference. Now, the number is five.

And the Hoosiers don't even have to win the title outright. Two-way tie, three-way tie, four-way tie. It's all good in the divisional format.

The folks in charge of the Big Ten are taking this division title thing very seriously. No chance for any misinterpretation of the rules. It's spelled out in tiny little type across the Big Ten's multiple media forums.

The goal is this column is to simplify the rules. Make it very easy for you to figure out how a team wins the Leaders and represents the division in the first conference championship game on Dec. 3. The winner receives the Stagg-Paterno Championship Trophy.

Let's start with the basics.

Rule No. 1 — Team with the best Big Ten record wins its division. Let's call this the "Stating the Obvious Clause." Yet, there has been some confusion on this. Some think that only division games count when it comes to deciding a champion. Bzzzzz. It's an eight-game conference season, not five games. If the Big Ten someday goes to 16 or more schools, then maybe division games will be the only ones that count. But for now, all eight Big Ten games are part of your conference record.

Rule No. 2 — Ties between two teams are decided by the winner of the game between the two. Let's call this the "Glad We Beat Those Guys Clause." If Illinois and Wisconsin are tied in the final standings and Wisconsin won the game in Champaign, Badgers move on and Illini stay home.

Rule No. 3 — Three-way ties are broken with one of seven sub-rules. Let's call this the "You're Going to Have to Pay Attention Clause." First tiebreaker: head to head records between the three schools. For the sake of argument, let's say the three in question are Illinois, Penn State and Wisconsin. If Wisconsin beat the other two, it wins the tiebreaker. But if they each went 1-1, we move on to the second tiebreaker, which is the schools' records within the division. Let's say Illinois went 4-1, Penn State 3-2 and Wisconsin 5-0. Badgers win again. But what if they were all 4-1? On to tiebreaker three. Records of three tied teams is compared against the next highest placed teams in the division, starting with No. 4. Let's say Purdue is fourth. If Wisconsin beat the Boilermakers and Illinois and Penn State didn't, Wisconsin moves on. If two teams beat Purdue and the third didn't, then you revert to Rule No. 2. Told you needed to pay attention.

The fourth tiebreaker is a comparison of all common conference opponents. No surprise, in the case of Illinois, Penn State and Wisconsin, there are no common Legends Division opponents for all three. Illinois doesn't play Nebraska. Penn State doens't play Minnesota. Wisconsin doesn't play Northwestern.

So, skip on to the fifth tiebreaker. Had to know this was coming. Eventually, the BCS standings come into play. If there is a three-way tie, the team with the highest overall BCS ranking the week of the Big Ten title game moves on to Indianapolis. Other leagues have used the rule with disastrous results. Put me in charge of the Big Ten and the BCS standings have nothing to do with determining a division champion, a league champion or where we do our grocery shopping. It's bad. Make that evil.

Tiebreaker six, one that should be ahead of tiebreaker five, gives the edge to the team with the best overall record. In this case, that would be Wisconsin. And tiebreaker seven, our favorite, comes down to a random draw. What, no vote of league presidents?

Hoosier heaven

Now, how do we get Indiana to the championship game? Not all that tricky.

First, the Hoosiers must win their final five Big Ten games. That means knocking off Iowa, Northwestern, Ohio State, Michigan State and Purdue. Piece of cake.

Wisconsin can't finish any better than 2-4 in its final five games. Why? Because in a tiebreaker with Indiana, the Badgers have a 59-7 edge. Wisconsin beats Ohio State and Minnesota and loses to Michigan State, Purdue, Illinois and Penn State. That's a 4-4 conference finish.

Illinois can't go any better than 2-3 in its final five. That means wins against Penn State and Wisconsin, but losses to Purdue, Michigan and Minnesota. The games against the Legends Division are critical for the Hoosiers.

Ohio State can't keep the momentum from Illinois going and loses four of its final five. No intervention from the NCAA needed.

Penn State can finish no better than 1-4 in its final five. That means a win against Wisconsin and losses to Northwestern, Illinois, Nebraska and Ohio State.

Purdue can't go better than 3-3 in its final six conference games. That means wins against Illinois, Wisconsin and Ohio State and losses to Michigan, Iowa and Indiana.

There you have it: Indiana wins. At 6-6 overall, the Hoosiers will need to win at Lucas Oil Stadium to even be bowl eligible. After what they've been through, it's a piece of cake.


There are more rules when it comes to picking a Big Ten division winner. Like, what happens when the winning team isn't eligible. Let's call this the "Ohio State is Killing Us Clause."

Basically, it goes back to the original tiebreaker rules.

Making sure to cover all of its bases, the Big Ten has a contingency to name a conference champion in case the title game isn't played. Let's call this the "Sky is Falling, Literally, Clause." At that point, do we really care who wins the Big Ten title.

Have any more questions? Contact Jim Delany at the Big Ten offices.

Bob Asmussen covers college football for The News-Gazette. He can be reached at 217-351-5233 or at

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