I’m guessing many of you already have this straight in your heads, but after Nebraska’s win over Michigan State this is certain to come up this week.

To me, the official Big Ten division tie-breaker rules aren’t crystal clear after a quick read.  I think the confusion is that technically Big Ten conference teams have three types of records:

  • The division record (5 games)
  • The overall conference record (8 games)
  • The overall record (12 games)

Here are the key elements on the B1G conference championship rules from the official site, with some comments to clarify what it means.  Hat tip to Big Ten media relations lead Scott Chipman for confirming this:

1). Divisional Champion ruleThe Big Ten football championship will be decided by a game played between the two division champions.    Clarification:  The division champion is the team with the best overall conference record that is, in the eight conference games played…divisional record has no bearing).

2). First Tie-BreakerIf two teams are tied, the winner of the game between the two tied teams shall be the representative.   Clarification:  So that’s easy if you are clear on how two teams can tie, and that’s based on overall conference record as discussed in 1).

3). Three Team Tie-Breaker rules.  Official rules in italics, with clarifications where necessary:

The following procedure will determine the representative from each division in the event of a tie:

If three or more teams are tied, steps 1 through 7 will be followed until a determination is made. If only two teams remain tied after any step, the winner of the game between the two tied teams shall be the representative.

  1. The records of the three tied teams will be compared against each other.  Clarification:  This refers to the record in the games played between the three tied teams, in other words, if one team is 2-0 against the other two teams, that team would win the tie-breaker.
  2. The records of the three tied teams will be compared within their division. Clarification:  This is where the divisional record (5 games) comes into to play.
  3. The records of the three teams will be compared against the next highest placed teams in their division in order of finish (4, 5, and 6).  ClarificationThis gets spicy now, but it looks like they take the three tied teams and see how they did against the #4 team in the division (then if necessary #5, then #6).  Remember that if along the way a tie is broken (e.g., two of the 3 tied teams beat the #4 team, but the other lost to the #4 team), it reverts to head-to-head to the 2 teams that beat the #4 team.
  4. The records of the three teams will be compared against all common conference opponents.  Clarification: Effectively this is doing what #3 does if the three tied teams all played a team or teams in the other division.  Michigan, Nebraska and Michigan State will have each played Ohio State at the end of the season, for instance.
  5. The highest ranked team in the first Bowl Championship Series Poll following the completion of Big Ten regular season conference play shall be the representative in the Big Ten Championship Game, unless the two highest ranked tied teams are ranked within one spot of each other in the BCS poll. In this case, the head-to-head results of the top two ranked tied teams shall determine the representative in the Big Ten Championship.   Clarification:  So after all that, if there’s still a tie, they go to the BCS unless the two top teams (of the three tied) are within one spot of each other.
  6. The team with the best overall winning percentage [excluding exempted games] shall be the representative.  Clarification:  OK, this is where the rest of the schedule (12 games) comes into play.
  7. The representative will be chosen by random draw.  Clarification:  Ping pong balls?  Draw straws?

To Michigan fans—I wouldn’t worry too much about any of this until after the Illinois and Iowa games.  The net of this right now in the Legends Division:

Nebraska remaining games (Northwestern, at Penn State, at Michigan, Iowa)
Michigan State (Minnesota, @ Iowa, Indiana, @ Northwestern)
Michigan (@ Iowa, @ Illinois, Nebraska, Ohio State)

  • Nebraska controls their destiny – win out and Huskers go to Indy.  In this case they would at worst tie MSU for record and win tie-breaker on head-to-head.
  • Believe it or not, Iowa also controls their destiny!  Win out and they go.  No matter what happens they will win the by virtue of the first tie-breaker (they will have defeated the other team(s) they are tied with).
  • If Nebraska falls (say, to Penn State or Michigan), Michigan State takes the wheel if they win out.  They would have a better conference record than Nebraska and even if Michigan wins out, they would take the head-to-head tie-breaker.
  • Basically Michigan must win out to have a shot.  The issue is the loss to MSU-they have to get around MSU.  Michigan State must lose to someone for their second conference loss.  If State loses and Michigan wins out, the Wolverines go to Indy because they’ll have dealt Nebraska their second conference loss.  Michigan can wease in by virtue of a three-way tie between two-loss Michigan, Nebraska and Michigan State, but it will require some in-division advantages (either overall division record – say, if State loses to Iowa and Michigan loses to Illinois but wins the rest AND Nebraska wins their games other than Michigan).

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  1. This is exactly what I was trying to piece together! Please do this every week as long as Michigan is still in the running.

  2. I am in a debate right now about whether divisional standings are based on divisional play or conference play. Your point number 1 clearly states that it is based on conference play. I am looking for the source of that clarification. Could you point me to it? Thanks.

  3. @Jon
    Jon, direct quote from Scott Chipman, media relations from the Big Ten “Greg, Big Ten division champions are based on the eight-game conference record (I.e. 7-1, 6-2, etc.). Five-game division records are used as the second tiebreaker, after head-to-head match ups.”

  4. Perfect!! this is the ammo i need. Thanks.@Greg – MVictors

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