Big Ten: No Half-Stepping

The Big Ten conference announced today their divisions for when they become a 12-team conference in 2011. Having the one-track mind I do, my very next thought after looking at the competitive balance was the marching competitive balance. Which division is the stronger marching division?

(Because of the amount of attention paid to preserving the Ohio State-Michigan rivalry when crafting the divisions, I will refer to the impersonally named X and O divisions as Ohio State and Michigan, respectively.)

Admittedly, I'm not intimately familiar with each of the marching bands in the Big Ten, but I'd like to think I've got at least some idea of each of them. At first glance, I gave the nod to the Ohio State division as the marching frontrunner; I know Ohio State, Penn State, and Wisconsin to all be heavy hitters at halftime. I acknowledge Michigan as a big boy in the other division, but I'm considerably less impressed or less familiar with the others.

I then figured there was a somewhat objective way to figure this out: Sudler Trophy recipients. For those who aren't aware, the Sudler Trophy is awarded annually (now biannually) to an outstanding marching band. The trick is this: No band can receive the award twice. As such, it is logical (and yes, I recognize the fallacy that exists and choose to ignore it for this purpose) to state that the first marching band awarded the Sudler Trophy is the best collegiate marching band, and each year it is awarded to the best of the rest. The Trophy, awarded by the John Philip Sousa Foundation, seems to have a pretty solid Big Ten bias, but since we are talking about the Big Ten here, that isn't a problem.

Ten of the soon-to-be-twelve Big Ten teams are already Sudler Trophy winners; Wisconsin and Minnesota are the two outliers. This puts five winners in each division, an even split. So to break the tie, I decided to go to the numbers. Using the belief that the best won first and so on, I was able to assign a number to each champion based on their ranking, or distance from the first champion. Big Ten member Michigan, awarded the first trophy in 1982, gets a 0 for their distance from the number one spot; Illinois, the second champion, gets a 1, and so on. It follows, then, that the division with the lowest aggregate score  is the "better" marching division. Here's what the numbers told me:

Michigan Division
Michigan 0
Michigan State 6
Iowa 8
Northwestern 10
Nebraska 14

Ohio State Division
Illinois 1
Ohio State 2
Purdue 13
Penn State 23
Indiana 25

With a score of 38 to 64, it looks as though the Michigan Division is our marching tradition champion.